One of the most controversial literary dilemmas of the last century appears to have been resolved, with the decision to publish The Original of Laura, by Vladimir Nabokov. When Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions that the novel he was feverishly hoping to finish before his death be destroyed. His wife, Vera, unable to carry out his wishes and reduce her brilliant husband’s final work to ashes, left the manuscript to their only child, Dimitri. Now in his 70s, Dimitri is faced with the same on-going choice. Does he grant his father’s last wish, or does he give the book to the world? It should be noted that Nabokov didn’t want the ms. destroyed for any reason other than that it simply wasn’t finished. So those who are in favor of publishing cry, Does that mean it should be lost to us forever?
I visited several blogs and other sites that have asked for feedback on this, and the comments are quite fascinating. The passion with which every shade of opinion is defended is remarkable. The main topic seems to be whether the final dying wishes of the author is to be respected at all costs, or does the final work by one of the true literary giants of our time belong to the world, regardless. Hmm. What if Van Gogh had wanted all his paintings destroyed after his death? Well, since he was almost totally unappreciated in his lifetime, no one in 1890 would have cared. But Nabokov lived long enough to see himself recognized for his contribution to both Russian and English literature. The question arises: To whom does great art, even unfinished great art, belong? Does it belong to the author (whom, it could be countered, is dead and gone and presumably beyond earthly concerns) or to us all?
There are many examples of unfinished works throughout the arts and even industry, from ancient times to the present. Not all had to deal with the legal or ethical matter of their creators wishing their works destroyed upon their deaths, but one famous example that did is the entire body of work by Franz Kafka. Max Brod, Kafka’s lifelong friend and supporter, published Kafka’s body of work posthumously, and against Kafka’s dying wishes. In his own defense, Brod said that he told Kafka he wouldn’t destroy the manuscripts, and that he (Kafka) had better find someone else to execute his wishes if he was so set on it. We can assume Kafka never did replace him, for whatever reason.
How about you? If the decision had been up to you, what would you have done with Nabokov's final work – publish, or let it perish?
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.