Hyphen Press

Biospeak

Two demon constituents of capsule English-language biographies (for book-flaps, catalogues, CVs, and so on) are ‘currently’ and ‘based in’. ‘Cormac Wrathbone is a freelance writer and critic, currently based in London.’ What’s wrong here? It’s not just the tiredness of the phrasing.

The objection to ‘currently’ is that it’s unnecessary. The present tense already says ‘currently’, and the sentence makes complete sense without it. To add this word then introduces unwanted suggestions. There is an implication that Cormac Wrathbone will soon be heading out of town for Manchester, or maybe further afield. If you replace ‘currently’ with ‘these days’ or ‘just now’ this sense is made explicit. It would be nice to try ‘just now’ in a CV.

The objection to ‘based in’ is similar. There is a suggestion that Cormac’s place in London is temporary, or marginal. He has a bed, a small kitchen – a place to hang out domestically – in that city. But often he’s not in London at all. London is just a base for his forays into the rest of the world. Maybe at weekends he’s lodging with a partner in some other city, or once a month he’s in New York, where he has some position that requires this.

Sometimes the biography will proclaim the nomad life: ‘Cormac Wrathbone divides his time between London and New York, where he is a visiting professor of journalism.’ The best joke about ‘divides’ was made by the writer/designer/researcher/editor/publisher/radio-presenter Piet Schreuders, who in his book Lay in – lay out (Amsterdam: De Buitenkant, 1997) wrote about the author that ‘Hij verdeelt zijn tijd tussen Hampstead, Cape Cod en Amsterdam.’ He divides his time between Hampstead, Cape Cod and Amsterdam. Piet has been settled in Amsterdam since (I think) the early 1970s and I can’t imagine him ever leaving that city – except to go occasionally for a few days on a house swap with friends in Hampstead (London). I think the Cape Cod friend is more marginal than that. But ‘Cape Cod’ is certainly an unbeatable component of an author description.

Robin Kinross / 2007.08.09