9.224 biographies for Humanist

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 12 Oct 1995 08:25:41 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 224.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (38)
Subject: biographies

Dear Colleagues:

Recently I read one of the most entertaining biographies that has come along
in ages. I found it so delightful that I wrote back to the individual in
question, saying so. Then, this morning, I received a reply from the person,
who said that when he (so are the accidents of sex) realized how public the
bio was going to be, he then modified it to retain only the serious academic
matters, deleting the delight. This gives me pause. Not perhaps
coincidentally, I have received a number of biographies with only the
briefest of biographical statements, clipped and curt. Perhaps some of the
brevity is due to busy lives, perhaps some to a paradigm shift that has
affected common rhetorical style (never mine, I can assure you). It occurs
to me, however, that perhaps the Web form communicates the need or demand
for a serious, laconic style.

What do you all think about this Web form? I do not mean its technical
aspects, which I regard as admirable, rather the idea of Humanist that it
presents. Would it help if somehow suggested the kind of biography we would
find most broadly useful? If so, then let me ask further, what kind of bio
would you like to be reading?

Some of you will know that the idea for biographies came to me spontaneously
when in the early days I began receiving pleas from individuals to admit
them to Humanist. Many of these pleas took biographical form ("Hey, look how
interesting and worthy I am to be a member of your group...." &c.) -- by
which I discovered how interesting people's lives can be. More than
entertainment, however, I think these bios serve the purpose of introducing
people to each other, hence of forging a real sense of community, of the
identity of the group. If, as some very interesting recent work in
neuropsychiatry suggests*, the right engagement of feelings is necessary for
the mind to function properly, then a GOOD FEELING about the community to
which one belongs liberates intelligence. If there's anything we need more
than liberated intelligence, I cannot imagine what it might be.

In any case, please let me know what you think, or as we say, what is your

WM, Editor

*See Antonio R. Damasio, <t>Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human
Brain</t> (New York: Putnam, 1994), reviewed in a recent TLS.