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Posts Tagged ‘biography’

Lucy Van Pelt as therapist.

Jeannie Schulz, widow of the creator of Peanuts, offers some further thoughts on David Michaelis’ Schulz and Peanuts. Earlier postings on the subject can be found here, here, and here.

Jeannie Schulz’s comments:

There is an issue that Michaelis brings up a number of times in the Schulz biography which has completely baffled me in that he seems to take an accusatory tone that Sparky didn’t get therapy for his “problems”. I am not sure how it is attributed, but the statement is that Sparky didn’t go to therapy because he was afraid it would alter his creativity (or words to that effect). Sparky did, in fact, go to two different therapists at two different times. But that is not the point I want to make.

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Above: the cartoonist and his creation

David Michaelis’ biography of Charles “Sparky” Schulz has been something of an obsession with this blog: it’s a big book and a challenging one, given the way it mixes facts (or apparent facts) with interpretation. Jeannie Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow, has sent along some comments she has on the Michaelis book (comments that will also appear on the Cartoon Brew site). Anyone interested in the subject should read Jeannie Schulz’s comments very carefully. They are extremely thoughtful and show a very close and attentive reading of the Michaelis biography, bringing to bear not just her 26 years of marriage to Schulz but also her unparalleled knowledge of his life prior to marriage (as an heir, Jeannie has done exemplary service in preserving her husband’s legacy, keeping both his work and memory alive). To my mind, they represent the most serious critique the Michaelis biography has yet received.

JS notes on the BIO

12/12/07

I wanted to get back to this blog when I could with a few more observations on Michaelis’ book.

Part of David Michaelis working thesis in the book appears to rest on the theory that Sparky suffered from his mother’s coldness and lack of attention.

Michaelis portrays Sparky’s mother, Dena, as a typically cold Norwegian and hypothesizes, from this and from an interview comment that as kids they were not invited into the Schulz’s house, that Dena was distant and unfriendly.

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The Biographer as Enemy

In earlier posts, I suggested that biography is akin to fiction writing, both activities involving the taking of stray facts and hints about a life to make a narrative. But there is another sense in which biography is diametrically opposed to literature. Poets and novelists take the raw material of life and transform it into literature. Biographers take literary texts and, in a gesture of reverse-alchemy, turn them into evidence about life. If biography is, in some fundamental and inescapable way, anti-art, then it’s easier to understand why so many biographers seem to have a grudge against their subjects, an unstated animus that leads many non-fiction writers to find fault with creative artists. Good examples of this tendency are Lawrence Thompson’s biography of Robert Frost and Michael Shelden’s life of Graham Greene. As William H. Pritchard once noted, you can glean a great deal of Thompson’s attitude towards Frost just by looking at the index, which has entries like “Anti-intellectual,” “Baffler-teaser-deceiver,” “Brute,” “Charlatan,” “Cowardice,” “Depression, moods of,” “Enemies,” “Hate,” “Insanity,” “Pretender,” “Puritan,” “Rage,” “Retaliations, Poetic,” “Self-Centeredness,” “Spoiled Child,” and in a fine final flourish, “Vindictive.” As for Shelden, in his biography he raises that possibility that Graham Greene was the guilty party behind an unsolved murder of the 1930s.

In Philip Roth’s new novel Exit Ghost, Nathan Zuckerman ponders a proposed defamatory biography of his mentor E.I. Lonoff. This leads to some waspish ruminations on the relationship between biography and creative writing: “An astonishing thing it is, too, that one’s prowess and achievement, such as they have been, should find their consummation in the retribution of biographical inquisition. The man in control of the words, the man making up the stories all his life, winds up, after death, remembered, if at all, for a story made up about him, his covert brand of baseness discovered and described with uncompromising candor, clarity, self-certainty, with grave concern for the most delicate issues of morality, and with no small measure of delight.” But of course biographies are an inescapable part of our documentary-obsessed aged. Shortly before writing Exit Ghost, Roth made arraignments to allow a literary biography of his own life to be written by his longtime friend Ross Miller.

Post Script: Any discussion of Roth and biography should mention Alan Lelchuk’s 2003 novel Ziff: A Life in which a character very similiar to Lelchuk tries to write a biography of chararacter equally reminiscent of Roth. Of course since Roth has in the past portrayed a Lelchuk-inspired figure, we’re deep in a hall of mirrors or in the mouth of a self-consuming serpent. There was also an earlier Roth novel, The Counterlife if I’m not mistaken, where Nathan Zuckerman was confronted by the possibility of someone writing his biography. And Roth’s 1988 memoir The Facts includes a critique of the author’s retelling of his supposed true story written by his imaginary alter ego Zuckerman. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Zuckerman’s first appearance was in the novel My Life As a Man (1974) , where he was created as a near-likeness by the equally fictional Peter Tarnopol. A prospective biographer of Roth will have to deal with the fact that he’s already blurred and multiplied his own life story by frequent and involuted re-tellings. Good writers have many lives inside them; Roth has one life that’s taken so many forms as to feel like a crowd.

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