Random! Postmodern Bio Blurbs


Daniel Hartley in 3:AM Magazine:

Gone are the golden days when an author’s bio blurb read like an obituary. Date and place of birth, occupation, current abode, names and dates of publications, year of death (if applicable): this was, apparently, all an educated public really needed to know about their writers to be able to ‘place’ their work. And as staid and conventional as that may now seem, there’s a lot to be said for this approach, not the least of which is avoiding bio-blurbs like this: “X lives in New York with her three cats. She makes cookies out of the weirdest things (and they taste REAL GOOD!). Her favourite word is ‘red’ and when it snows she wears sandals.” The only reasonable response to such postmodern narcissism is, firstly, to remind the author that we don’t actually give a damn about his or her personal idiosyncrasies, and, secondly, to ask them to grow up.

That said, it is not only younger writers who fall foul of this idiotic celebration of so-called eccentricity; as well-known a writer as Stephen Fry informs us in the author bio to his Ode Less Travelled (a wonderful book, as it happens) that “[h]is powers grow daily and his disciples are many” and that “his best friends are flowers”. Likewise, Neil Gaiman tells us that he is “a messy-haired white male author trapped in the body of an identical white male author with perhaps even less-tidy hair”, which, as author bios go, is hardly a knock-out. The point here, though, is not to be a killjoy, to declaim like a troubled old soul that the good days are behind us; rather, it is to point out an increasing trend of egoism fused with an insidious celebration of “randomness”.

Indeed, if there is any word in the English language whose current popularity is profoundly and boringly unrandom, it is “random”. Intellectual after intellectual, from Fredric Jameson toDavid Harvey and Terry Eagleton, have shown us that the shifts in the structure of the capitalist mode of production following World War II resulted in a new “cultural logic” which reflected those shifts. The upshot was a rejoicing in the ephemeral, the fleeting, the contingent, the hybrid, the liminal, the accidental, the fragmentary, the part, the border: the random. Randomness and the affirmative cries of “Random!” which accompany it are constitutive aspects of this cultural logic which has been unfurling since the postwar boom. That means that any indulgence in this logic leaves itself open to that once terrifying Enlightenment adjective: “uncritical”.