How many biographies have there been of Bläss? Far too many, as anyone knows.
Bläss himself was always unworthy of having his life laid out on the page. He was a middling writer, who lived a largely ordinary life, punctuated by a series of mildly interesting incidents, none of which I can recall at present. Now I can’t say I believe wholeheartedly in that wonky old concept we call ‘genius’; needless to say, Bläss is nowhere near the mark. Not even close. There are salmon steaks sitting in supermarket freezers that possess more talent than he ever did, whatever your spin on his lifestory.
And yet, much like the salmon steaks, the biographies keep on coming. Why so?
It is hard to explain. Sometime someone started something – and now no one can bring a stop to it. It was, I think, in 1957, when the first book appeared: a vague, meandering work, almost entirely without merit.
Almost entirely. There’s the rub. For there was, safely hidden below the surface, some sort of quality that attracted people – or a person, at least – enough to inspire a second attempt at Bläss’s biography. What that quality was I cannot tell. Suffice it to say that it existed, and that it has kept biographers busy for over half a century.
Each new biographer of Bläss appears to approach the project with much the same goal in mind: comprehensivity. No one would seem to believe that Bläss deserves so many biographies. Not in the least. But each of them believes that Bläss deserves one truly great biography – and that their offering is it. Greatness, however, does not necessary lie in the style, or the particular way in which they have dealt with the substance of the man’s life or work. It lies, as I have stated, in providing the most comprehensive account possible. As if this uncertain quality that so many sense in Bläss’s life will only reveal itself to the writer prepared to uncover absolutely everything there is to know about the man.
To prove this claim one need only look at the length of Bläss biographies. The 1957 life came in under two hundred pages. In 1978, we get the first two-volume tome: five hundred and ninety-six pages in all. In the 90s, there were two multi-volume efforts, the longest of which ran well over a thousand pages. Last year. however, the first of ten projected volumes was publicised. It was a mere four hundred pages, and followed Bläss up to his tenth birthday.
What spurs this desire to cover a man’s life so comprehensively? Clearly every biographer thinks that the careful approach will yield ever more fascinating details. And yet, to my mind, it doesn’t. Bläss is no less boring than he ever was. So we how know how many times he eat beef during the winter of 1924: so what? You may dig away as much sand as you like, but there are no guarantees that anything exciting will emerge. Plenty of new things, yes. But nothing remotely interesting. The man has many layers, maybe, but they all amount to the same thing in the end: mediocrity on top of mediocrity on top of mediocrity.