We had a long discussion recently about an author’s personal background here. The discussion centered around whether or not an author’s personal background was fair game. Particularly if an author’s background appears to relate to their work (or illuminate parts of their work).
I would like to suggest that an author’s background may be an important part of any discussion of a piece of literature. It might not be the only thing to discuss (what’s the plot like? What is the use of language? How believable are the characters, the dialogue?) – but it could be a part of the discussion.
Many famous authors are just as famous for their lives as their work (Byron, Hemmingway, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, etc.) It’s hard to divorce where the fame over the work ends and the noterity begins.
Could we appreciate those authors (Byron, Hemmingway or Dosteovsky) without knowing some of their personal life? Of course – many people aren’t aware of some of the more colorful parts of the authors’ pasts. I think it leads to greater understanding of an individual work. Knowing a war was going on when something was written – and that the author either opposed or supported that war. Or understanding the McCarthy trials, and reading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.
Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
But it’s also problematic if people write only from their own direct experiences.
I once heard a male author remark that he could write from the female perspective because he had a wife and three daughters. Something didn’t sit right with me about his comment.
I don’t think male authors can always write well about the female perspective or vice versa. What I think irks me is the idea that one novel or one piece of work is the sum total of a population’s “experience”. And this goes for women, men, gays, mormons, etc.
Historically, there are “under-served” populations that did not have their own voices in art and literature. As mentioned in this exponent post – some populations are overlooked by publishing in favor of majority authors.
Does this mean that one population (like men) can’t write about another population (women)? Is one opinion more or less valid?
I believe moderation is the key. I think each serious author has the obligation to research the populations they are writing about. I think it would be disingenuous for me to write about flying planes in Alaska – as I’ve never even been to Alaska. With that said, imagination is a component, and part of the process. I don’t have to have been a pilot in Alaska to be able to write about those experiences.
Which leads me to mormonism.
Authors (bloggers or authors of published work) shouldn’t have to prove mormon credentials or tell everything about their own mormon experience(s) in order to write about mormonism, growing up mormon, or living amongst mormons. There is a long discussion on Andrew’s blog here about this very topic.
To me, it seems like another version of the age-old convert vs. born “in the covenant” mormon. The insidious argument that because someone was not born LDS, they don’t really know mormonism, can’t really know mormonism. And it is true, just as someone who is born Roman Catholic is different than someone who converts, mormons also have different histories.
Yet with that said, the one experience or perspective doesn’t invalidate the other. Many faithful LDS might not like reading what we write, those of us who have left the LDS church in whatever capacity. That doesn’t mean that we can’t try to better understand where the faithful are coming from; and that we can’t speak up about our experiences and opinions.
An author shouldn’t have to explain where they come from, or what their beliefs are, before stating their opinion. But they should be prepared to defend what they’ve written.