Digesting the Material: Narrative’s Efforts to Assimilate Life
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This chapter reflects on the prevalence of digestion as metaphor in discussions of biography. It argues that the ‘indigestible biography’ is symptomatic, not just of the mal d’archive caused by a surfeit of information, but of the larger difficulty of assimilating life to narrative. The ‘biographical illusion’ (Pierre Bourdieu) that life can be rendered as a story deflects attention from those aspects of lived existence that resist assimilation to narrative, from the repetitive demands of the body to the quotidian round of domestic labour. The tension between narrative arc and animal life leaves its trace in the non-sequiturs, discontinuities and paratactical or additive structures often found in biographical texts. Attention to the quotidian opens a reading of biography that can trouble protagonistic or individualist models of cultural significance. The biographical subject may be ‘a bundle of accidents and incoherence that sits down at breakfast’, in Yeats’s phrase; biography’s attention to metabolisms, both local and general, is an often unrealised source of critical metabiographical insight.