Marianne Moore Instructs Her Biographer: "Relentless accuracy" versus "the haggish, uncompanionable drawl of certitude"
Abstract

"Marianne Moore Instructs Her Biographer: 'Relentless accuracy' versus 'the haggish, uncompanionable drawl of certitude'" : Relationships with literary executors can be troublesome for biographers of recently deceased subjects, but deceased subjects themselves also have ways of granting and withholding permission. Marianne Moore's published and unpublished writing reveals that she enjoyed biography, that she respected biographers, and that she believed "one's life has taught one something, and it is arrogant to think it might not teach others something." This essay argues that, like most forms of narrative, biography at its best is art. Whether the details are drawn from fact, as in biography, or from imagination, as in fiction, does matter, but not as much as the narrative that gives them shape. Before embarking upon a biography of Moore, this author educated herself by analyzing various approaches to biography, by reading certain postmodern novelists, and by discussing the genre with colleagues. But the person who taught her the most about how to approach this biography was Marianne Moore herself. Moore's own poetics took shape in the early twentieth century just as a significant aesthetic shift was taking place: from making to selecting. Synthetic cubism, the readymade, and straight photography simultaneously emphasized the artistic process of selection. Moore's own poetry, likewise, emphasizes selection of facts and an imaginative arrangement of them. To see with "relentless accuracy," according to Moore, is not a matter of detachment and "the haggish, uncompanionable drawl of certitude." Rather, both artists and scientists must "narrow the choice" and "strive for precision." "Relentless accuracy" demands artistic imagination and "a reverence for mystery." And it demands what Moore reluctantly calls love—not love "in the mistaken sense of greed" but love that regards its object with a mind "intrinsically and actively ample," "incapable of the shut door in any direction."