A Higher Form of Cannibalism? (Magill Book Reviews)
After writing many biographies and one previous study of how they are written, Carl Rollyson comes to this project with an acute awareness of the paradoxical status of the biography—a perennially popular genre that is simultaneously viewed with suspicion, as invasive and disreputable. His title foregrounds the issue, engaging head-on the view of biography as a “blood sport” practiced by sleazy diggers of dirt. He attacks that stereotype in several ways: by admitting the accuracy of the stereotype in some places; by recounting his own efforts to honestly capture subjects from Lillian Hellman to Norman Mailer to Marilyn Monroe in others; by focusing on the enlightening effect of placing oneself in another's shoes (which he argues is at the heart of biography) in still others.
Rollyson's approach is wide-ranging and eclectic. He moves with equal ease from consideration of low-brow sleaze merchants like Kitty Kelley to canonic writers and works like Boswell and his life of Samuel Johnson, Johnson and his life of Richard Savage, and Richard Ellman and his biography of James Joyce. In addition, Rollyson is not shy about including stories behind the biographies that he has written, sharing insider's accounts of the jousting and questionable maneuvers that he used in pursuit of Martha Gellhorn and Susan Sontag, among others.
The greatest virtue of A Higher Form of Cannibalism?: Adventures in the Art and Politics of Biography is in its...
(The entire section is 344 words.)
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