An interesting conversation about (mostly posthumous) author ownership is happening this month over on BookArmy and I’m keen to hear your thoughts on the matter, too:
of the greatest works of literature ever written would never have seen
the light of day had it been left up to their authors. If Kafka had his
way, ‘The Trial’ would have been burned after his death. Who do you
think should get the ultimate say when it comes to which texts make it
to the public – authors, publishers or readers? Has reading something
an author didn’t want published ever changed your view of them, for
better or worse? If an author wants a particular work to be buried,
should their wishes be respected, even after their death?
I think, though, that the question on BookArmy misses a few ideas.
Specifically, I wonder about the implications of ever settling such a
debate. Meaning, the debate itself raises questions of the purpose for
writing, and carries with it the implication that, if such a debate was
ever settled, that all writing would have to have a clear indicated
purpose, and would have to nearly be perpetually appointed. Meaning,
the debate itself touches on the issue of why we write anything at all.
Large topic, but it’s one that must be included in this discussion.
I think the discussion ought to include the subject of unfinished and
yet-appointed writing by any writer. I know I personally have well over
a hundred short pieces and
mid-length pieces saved as we speak. They’re just there,
sitting, to be edited and whipped into shape at some point for
some public purpose as the inclination and need may arise, but for the
most part they are all first drafts
from my daily writing habit. Now, if, perish the thought, upon my
(untimely and most tragic) death, someone were to decide to publish
them, well, I would not be putting my best foot forward because in
their current format, they are little more than sprouts. So, what about
unfinished work? Because, somehow a finished manuscript seems far more
fair game to me than some random first draft scribble tucked away
further, let us also discuss the point of keeping a finished manuscript
on-hand with the intention of it being destroyed upon one’s death.
Seems, frankly, a bit like passive-agressive grandstanding, truth be
Anyway, let us discuss and let us discuss BookArmy’s discussion. And for a little background on the wbsite, read Chicago Subtext’s archived overview of BookArmy.
Sidebar: Speaking of BookArmy, the website is giving away five signed copies of The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger. Also, while visiting BookArmy, check out their interview with Pullinger,
in which she discusses both her new book and the
often-discussed-on-Chicago-Subtext topic of the future of literature
and storytelling in our digital age.