A biography is about human life – tracing the human life by going beyond the appearance and daily veils to bring to the surface principals that had driven an individual. I come from the premise that a biography should be about human development and progress. A biography therefore should serve as guideposts, making us understand ourselves – it should study a life and show the characteristics of that life. Life is not accident. Everything is predestinated – our walk here on earth is guided by invisible forces.
The biographer there in studying sources and talking with people to getting to know more about his or her subject should be in the final analysis develop perspectives. Unfortunately most biographers present their subject as a lifeless – shoving facts, events, careers stages, businesses and affairs of their life without providing perspectives. In this case the biographer is simply a tabular rasa (Latin meaning clean slate). The tabular rasa biographer works out facts without first feeling their energy in his or her bosom. There is no perspective or meditative study of the facts and events. If there is any it is about biases – then further go further in the wrong direction. The biographer should lay all prejudice and party zeal and through virgin mind explore issues and place them in human contexts.
And I am not saying that this is easy by all means. Take for example the scores of biographies about the life of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was by common consent, the greatest American statesman man and how dare will a biographer bring to the readers something else other than greatness? It is as Michael Lind (the policy director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation and the co-author of “The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics.”), Use to say about Abraham Lincoln. Michael Lind says that even though, he knows about objectivity and believes in it, he finds it hard to read something critical of Abraham Lincoln.
This aspect of difficulty I felt at the personal level when I set myself to write the biography of Eugen Weber. With the biography I wanted to bring to the surface those great qualities of Eugen Weber, but I knew I have to also bring the other side of issues to bring balance. So as I wrote about Eugen Weber and now came to the time to write the critical part to balance things up, so to speak, I wrote;
“Great as Eugen Weber was when we see him as the gigantic polemic, yet he has defects. a subject that could be covered and that betrayed him into incidental prolixity and discursiveness, the absence of which would have made his works far more accessible and popular and far more useful …. he wants perspective in composition, and does not know the secret of touching on themes without laboriously going into the details to the breadth there and the length thereof … ”
When undertaking to write a biography it is important to bring those issues which may not be palatable to you – it is about responsibility and integrity.