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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.60, No.1, 59 ~ 77, 2014
Fingerprint or Photograph? The Fiction of Biographical Facts
Ira Nadel
What is the nature and reliability of facts in biography? Are they closer to the accuracy of fingerprints or the interpretative power of photographs? Beginning with Boswell`s first meeting with Dr. Johnson and Isaiah Berlin`s encounter with the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, this paper analyses the reliability of biographical fact and the importance of the biographer in filtering or distorting information. Through examples ranging from the 18th to 20th centuries, the paper analyzes how the crossing of the record with its interpretation establishes the narrative force of fact in the effort to reveal biographical truth. This is essentially a search for coherence in the life of the subject, something the reader desires and the biographer creates. The double act of the biography, identifying as it analyzes, is set against the reliability or not of the source information. Fingerprints are particularly confirmatory but their history reveals early skepticism regarding their accuracy which is being questioned even today. Photography, mixing the documentary with the interpretative, suffered a similar fate: it began as a sure form of identity used by legal authorities but by the beginning of the 20th century, it turned into an art form. Its reliability came under scrutiny as its practice became theorized. Susan Sontag`s remark in Regarding the Pain of Others that “to photograph is to frame and to frame is to exclude” is especially helpful in analyzing the immediacy of photographic records which always document incompletely. The impact of these critical perspectives on the nature of biography and possible new ways of telling a life drawing on the visualization of narrative, shape the final section of the paper.
Key Words
biography, photograph, fingerprints, facts, narrative,영미문학, 문화연구, 비교문학, 비평이론, English and American Literature, cultural studies, comparative literature, critical theory
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