Posts Tagged ‘post mortem’

Closure by Pyre

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Misc
Tags: , , ,

When I die, if my body escapes being buried by obscurity, burn my mortal remains atop a bonfire built of all my spent spiral notebooks and unfinished works. Let mourners dance among airborne embers, red with their own last breath between mortal eyes and heaven’s lights, through the acrid air belching from melting hard drives and USB keys. If I may be allowed to have such an ego capable of imagining the possibility of my work continuing to survive despite my death, I want no trace of anything I considered unfinished or not fully realized to reach eyes other than my own (which would, by then, be jelly, dust, or whatever eyes turn into upon exposure to fire). Materials such as diaries, notebooks, and unused lines on bar napkins were never meant for public consumption.

Despite the honor people bestow upon authors’ talent and memories by yearning for more of their work after their death, those same appreciators should content themselves with what had already been released as a rare and precious gift instead of diluting an exceptional archive with what is often disappointing developmental underpinnings. However, the fact that humans are nosey and greedy creatures is an opinion I am constantly forced to revisit due to such published reminders as Curt Kobain’s Journals, Marilyn Monroe’s Fragments , and, most recently, David Yezzi’s Uncollected Hecht: An Introduction article in Poetry’s September 2011 issue.

Specifically, it was the following phrase which made me rage in sympathy for the dead poet who could not defend himself against the attack of interest:

What follows in this portfolio is a selection of poems—all uncollected, some previously unpublished—by Anthony Hecht. They are striking in their own right and even more so for the resonances they share with Hecht’s signature poems….

followed by

When Anthony Hecht died in 2004, at the age of eighty-one, his Collected Later Poems had been out from Knopf for three years. Along with his Collected Earlier Poems (1990), the volume constitutes all of the work that Hecht chose to keep in print.

So the poems the author didn’t want published are striking but primarily in how they expose a process already evident in Hecht’s other writings? If all the work Hecht had chosen to be in print, was, then why defile the poet’s wishes? Granted, artists across the board have not always valued what turned out to be their greatest contributions to society, but in a seemingly contradictory statement, what the artist thinks doesn’t matter. The great and ever propagating audience will assign value and merits to anything left behind. So long as the artist agreed to his/her work being put out for public consumption, that work is fair game. On the other hand, if the author was in his/her right mind and not happy with some piece(s), why on Earth drudge a good artist’s name through the messy interpretation of intent associated with drafts, half-expressed thoughts, or worse: personal notes.

Personal writings left behind hold no credence to the artist’s craft. Instead, such remnants speak to the artist, and what survives an artist should only be the art worthy of surviving time. Art, no matter the discipline, should stand on its own two feet and not be flavored by any externally observed aspect of the artist’s life (other than a figurative date and place stamp for historical context). Sure, art can be biographical and gushy and confessional, but such portrayals can also be fictions conjured with the sole purpose of being whatever it was the author meant them to be.

The digital era of social networking and blogging, where people cannot seem to stop themselves from archiving their confessional vomit spewed across the electronic consciousness that is the Internet, has spawned a lack of respect for privacy that is at once also a “finders, keepers” sense of entitlement. Not that this behavior is new; reporters, biographers, and publishers across the ages have been involved in digging up corpses and scraping mold off bones in the quest for money and (mayhaps) insight into the lives of those who influence this world through the sacred art of creativity. But digging up disseminations now is facilitated via the nature of how information is stored and the ability to query an ever-expanding database of humanity’s every waking thought and get results within a fraction of a second via increasingly thorough search engine algorithms.

As part of one of the generations that existed pre- and post-Internet, as a high school student who was initially warned that the Internet has no critically citable references and then three years later required to cite from that very same repository of ill repute for college papers, and, more importantly, as someone who enjoys throwing one-liners over Twitter and sharing bits of life and random thoughts via social networking platforms such as Google+ and Facebook, I recognize the entertainment, utility, and danger in being able to access thoughts that should otherwise be but invisible rumblings inside an artist’s mind. But just as anyone attempting to become known publicly should be discrete in what they show the world, the world should also be 1) smart enough to discern concentual sharing between artist and appreciator and what constitutes invasion of privacy, and 2) forgiving of the babbly nature of the social creature called man.