The death of the author

When I find an artist – author, musician, painter – who excites me completely, from head to toe, it sometimes suits my appreciation of their work if they’re long since dead. I know that sounds ghoulish, but it isn’t meant to be: whether it’s at all laudable…. Well, that’s of course for you to decide.

If the artist has already passed on, you can discover all their works from the historical record of their bibliography; consume each of them that you can get acquire in turn, in whichever order you like; but often do so in a way that produces counterpoints that the original chronological order obscured (but, even then, you will always have chronologies such as Deutsch numbers already researched for you.) You can compare their work to the story of their life; embed their ideas in histories and biographies that have now long been written; and find otherwise hidden influences, research the critical opinions this way and that.

Aside from the very human sadness concerning an artist’s death – the dismissal of which probably would be a sign of ghoulishness – there’s also of course an artistic sadness in the fact that there’ll never be another Holmes story from Conan Doyle himself; and I’ve often found myself wishing I could  give effusive thanks to authors I was reading at the time, who I cannot ever thank: Dickens, Austen, Buchan. But there’s also a thrill in knowing you have everything available to you: that however incomplete the author’s realization of their ideas in their lifetime, your understanding can at least approach completeness. You can attack adaptations or extrapolations such as the recent, amazing Sherlock with gusto, safe in the knowledge that your forays into the unofficial are supported by canon to the right of you, canon to the left of you, and canon behind you.

The distance you begin to achieve from them means that their work has long since been fitted into a narrative that enriches each individual piece; and while critical opinion or matters of fact might change, they’re so much more likely to be a twist to the story, rather than tearing it up and starting again: even the tearing-up would only render both old and new narratives all the more interesting.

Some stories might be better because you have a chance to help write them; we tend, though, to prefer our meals fully cooked before we tuck in. As with a book, so with a bibliography. And when we’ve finished with the work, we can always move on to the life.

This entry was posted in art, artists, authors, biography, criticism, death, emotions, hope, literature, music, patterns, person. Bookmark the permalink.

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