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Re: which biography?

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  • Joe R. Christopher
    David Bratman indicates he didn t make a list of Wilson s errors, and Wendell said he had one in a letter. Another is in Lindskoog s _Sleuthing C. S. Lewis_,
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 31, 2007
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      David Bratman indicates he didn't make a list of Wilson's errors, and
      Wendell said he had one in a letter. Another is in Lindskoog's _Sleuthing
      C. S. Lewis_, Appendix 5--as always with Kathryn, a mixture of points, but
      some criticisms are quite valid (at least, of Wilson's first edition; as I
      said earlier, I haven't read the 2nd and Kathryn was discussing the
      1st). George Sayer has a discussion of the major errors in Wilson's
      biography (1st ed.) in his introduction to the 3rd edition of
      _Jack_. David's praise of _The Narnian_ as the best of the biographies is
      understandable, but it's an interpretative biography almost entirely
      (except, I think, for a few unpublished letters), not one with new
      facts. But it's certainly fun to read. (Jacobs didn't read _The
      Inklings_, I think, since he messes up on the membership in at least one
      passage, etc. But his errors are minor ones.) --Joe
    • David Bratman
      ... To be specific, I praised it as the best biography to read for a person who just wants to read a biography of Lewis. Researchers should go first to Green
      Message 2 of 6 , Apr 3, 2007
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        At 11:50 AM 3/31/2007 -0500, Joe R. Christopher wrote:

        >David's praise of _The Narnian_ as the best of the biographies is
        >understandable, but it's an interpretative biography almost entirely
        >(except, I think, for a few unpublished letters), not one with new
        >facts.

        To be specific, I praised it as the best biography to read for a person who
        just wants to read a biography of Lewis. Researchers should go first to
        Green and Hooper's _C.S. Lewis: A Biography_ and Hooper's _C.S. Lewis
        Companion & Guide_. Both are fine research tools. But I wouldn't
        recommend either for the casual reader.


        At 09:44 PM 3/31/2007 -0400, WendellWag@... wrote:

        >The point of showing how many little factual errors Wilson made is to show
        >just how fast he was working.

        That doesn't prove anything. Factual sloppiness is not limited to fast
        workers. And whether Wilson worked quickly or slowly, it doesn't prove
        that he was wrong on the bigger points. In fact, given what you say:

        >In fact, it's clear that Wilson was working very fast when he researched and
        >wrote the book. Wilson is what's sometimes called a "quick study" (i.e.,
        >someone who can research a large subject and summarize it very quickly). I
        >think this is partly because he comes out of a British academic tradition in
        >which this ability is highly valued. When you spend your undergraduate career
        >writing an essay every week for your tutor which is supposed to be both
        >well-written and moderately insightful, you learn to be able to do this sort
        >of quick research and writing.

        the more quickly Wilson worked, the more I am impressed by how much of a
        good job he _did_ do.

        >one should hesitate about
        >accepting the larger conclusions that Wilson makes about Lewis. Some of
        >those conclusions are reasonable and a fairly good analysis of Lewis,
        >considering how little time Wilson spent on the book. Some of them
        >are just way off though, in my opinion.

        I agree, but I have similar mixed feelings about the conclusions of Hooper
        and Lindskoog, who each spent most of a lifetime studying Lewis. And I
        judge their broad conclusions by their broad conclusions, not by whether
        they mis-spell names or forgot which room Wheaton College keeps Malcolm
        Muggeridge's typewriter in.

        David Bratman
      • WendellWag@aol.com
        In a message dated 4/4/2007 1:46:27 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, dbratman@earthlink.net writes: Factual sloppiness is not limited to fast workers. And whether
        Message 3 of 6 , Apr 4, 2007
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          In a message dated 4/4/2007 1:46:27 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
          dbratman@... writes:

          Factual sloppiness is not limited to fast
          workers. And whether Wilson worked quickly or slowly, it doesn't prove
          that he was wrong on the bigger points.


          I disagree somewhat about this. There are specific types of errors in
          conclusions that someone who, like Wilson, isn't very well read in his subject and
          has to acquire a lot of information in a short amount of time is more likely
          to make. They tend to read strange meanings into innocent events or
          writings because they don't stop to reread or reconsider how out of character such
          misreadings are. For instance, the two boneheaded errors that were so bad
          that Wilson (or more likely Wilson's publisher) dropped without comment from the
          second edition of the book - the misinterpretation of the "Nazi, homosexual
          pleasures" letter and the misunderstanding of when Douglas Gresham saw his
          mother and Lewis in bed - are typical of fast-reading errors.

          People who are very familiar with the work or life of their subject also
          make errors, but they are different sorts of errors. It's not just that they
          tend to treat the work and life of their subject too kindly, although that
          often happens. It's also that they are so familiar with the contours of the
          subjects work and life that they fail to notice the internal contradictions in
          them. I think that they also have more trouble placing their subject in the
          larger context of his time.

          Wilson also makes errors because he wants to fit Lewis into the slots that
          he already had established in his mind before he began his research. This
          partly accounts for the weird Freudian readings of Lewis that Wilson does. I'm
          not just complaining that his readings made Lewis look bad. A careful
          psychological reading of Lewis, with some actual consulting of psychological texts,
          might or might not look more favorablely on Lewis, but it certainly wouldn't
          find it necessary to fit him in some narrow psychological category.

          Wendell Wagner



          ************************************** See what's free at http://www.aol.com


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        • David Bratman
          ... This may be true (but I m not entirely sure; see below). What s odd, though, is that of all the many critiques of Wilson s errors I ve read, none but
          Message 4 of 6 , Apr 4, 2007
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            At 03:13 AM 4/4/2007 -0400, WendellWag@... wrote:

            >I disagree somewhat about this. There are specific types of errors in
            >conclusions that someone who, like Wilson, isn't very well read in his
            >subject and
            >has to acquire a lot of information in a short amount of time is more likely
            >to make.

            This may be true (but I'm not entirely sure; see below). What's odd,
            though, is that of all the many critiques of Wilson's errors I've read,
            none but yours just now has made this argument. Most of the critics, as
            you've already noted, fall into the "death by a thousand cuts" approach.


            >For instance, the two boneheaded errors that were so bad that
            >Wilson (or more likely Wilson's publisher) dropped without comment from the
            >second edition of the book - the misinterpretation of the "Nazi, homosexual
            >pleasures" letter and the misunderstanding of when Douglas Gresham saw his
            >mother and Lewis in bed - are typical of fast-reading errors.

            It is curious, then, that WIlson introduces the first of those errors
            (first edition, p. 162) by writing, "It is twenty-two years since I read
            that letter, first published in Warnie's selection of his brother's
            correspondence, and on and off I have been thinking it over. At no time
            have I been able to see ..."

            Perhaps Wilson is lying about his experience reading this letter, but it
            seems an odd thing to lie about. Still, I know what Lindskoog would say.
            She'd say that WIlson is just wacko and there's no explanation for anything
            he does. (Why else does she - I think it was she who did this - cite his
            experience in a rock band as evidence of his mendacity?)


            >People who are very familiar with the work or life of their subject also
            >make errors, but they are different sorts of errors. ...
            >I think that they also have more trouble placing their subject in the
            >larger context of his time.

            Again, maybe. But I find it curious that Carpenter's "The Inklings", a
            book written in extreme haste (though based on a couple of years of
            extensive research for his Tolkien biography: still, if a couple of years
            isn't Wilsonian haste, it's not exactly a lifetime of detailed study
            either) is most flawed in exactly that area: understanding the Inklings in
            the context of their times, and in the context of their beliefs.


            >Wilson also makes errors because he wants to fit Lewis into the slots that
            >he already had established in his mind before he began his research. This
            >partly accounts for the weird Freudian readings of Lewis that Wilson does.

            If that's evidence of the quickness of Wilson's reading, then David
            Holbrook must have gone through Lewis's work in a nanosecond.

            David Bratman
          • WendellWag@aol.com
            ... In a message dated 4/4/2007 10:51:22 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, dbratman@earthlink.net writes: If that s evidence of the quickness of Wilson s reading,
            Message 5 of 6 , Apr 4, 2007
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              In reply to my comment:

              > Wilson also makes errors because he wants to fit Lewis into the slots that
              >he already had established in his mind before he began his research. This
              >partly accounts for the weird Freudian readings of Lewis that Wilson does.

              In a message dated 4/4/2007 10:51:22 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
              dbratman@... writes:

              If that's evidence of the quickness of Wilson's reading, then David
              Holbrook must have gone through Lewis's work in a nanosecond.



              I expressed myself badly in my last post about this. I was saying that this
              is one additional sort of error that Wilson makes, not that it was
              necessarily typical of the sort of errors that biographers who work quickly tend to
              make.

              Wendell Wagner



              ************************************** See what's free at http://www.aol.com


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            • WendellWag@aol.com
              In a message dated 4/4/2007 10:51:22 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, dbratman@earthlink.net writes: This may be true (but I m not entirely sure; see below).
              Message 6 of 6 , Apr 4, 2007
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                In a message dated 4/4/2007 10:51:22 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
                dbratman@... writes:

                This may be true (but I'm not entirely sure; see below). What's odd,
                though, is that of all the many critiques of Wilson's errors I've read,
                none but yours just now has made this argument. Most of the critics, as
                you've already noted, fall into the "death by a thousand cuts" approach.



                Also, a lot of the reaction to Wilson's book among long-time readers of
                Lewis was in reply to the way that mainstream literary outlets seemed to be
                giving a pass to Wilson. It was as though the mainstream reviewers had been
                saying, "Wilson writes very polished prose, has a major literary reputation, makes
                some snide comments that I find funny, and has a lot of glib opinions which
                fit my worldview already." The mainstream literary world seemed to be
                accepting Wilson and dismissing other opinion about Lewis because Wilson was one of
                their own. In reaction, long-time readers of Lewis dismissed Wilson because
                he wasn't one of their own.

                Wendell Wagner



                ************************************** See what's free at http://www.aol.com


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