A comment from Arthur reminds me of one of my pet hates – the fallacy of confusing the life events of an artist, scholar, etc. with the art, scholarship, etc. which they produce.
I know this parlour-psychoanalysis is fun, but it cannot be serious. It doesn’t work; it’s not even wrong. Freud (who resorted to it now and then himself) called this psychological reductionism ‘wild analysis’.
Speaking of Freud, he’s been the object of some real beauts. His death instinct idea came from his pessimism; the Oedipus complex is really just a description of his own upbringing, and so on.
Sometimes they do it the other way round – the work supposedly reveals the real person. In his biography Peter Gay cites a contemporary who called Freud – presumably because he wrote about sex – “the greatest pervert in history”. (Anything to avoid giving his work a serious think.)
‘A life’ is one kind of biography, and the ‘Letters’ are another kind of Life; but the internal story, the true story, is in the ‘Collected Poems’. The recent attempts…to pass judgement on Larkin look awfully green and pale compared with the self-examination of the poetry.
The latest instance of the art/artist fallacy appears in The New Yorker where Hermione Lee interviews orgs.tamu-commerce.edu/rothsoc/index.htm. Here’s just one instance of Lee confusing Nathan Zuckerman (the character) with Roth (the author):
H.L Your sense of Bush and what he is doing to America has certainly weighed on your spirits and infiltrated your work during these last seven years, isn’t that so?
P.R. Yes, what Bush is doing to America disgusts me, just as it has scores of millions of others. But, no, this weight has not infiltrated my work as a writer. ‘The plot against America’ is neither an allegory, nor a metaphor nor a didactic tract; ‘The plot against America’ is about what it is about, which isn’t now but then. I should add that it was conceived and the writing begun in the months before Bush even came to office.