Monday, August 27, 2007

Forgotten and Unfinished

There's a remarkably fascinating article about Ralph Ellison's legacy, in particular his unfinished second novel, in the Washington Post, courtesy of the ever-excellent Arts and Letters Daily, a length and depth of article that would be a rare appearance indeed in an English newspaper. What fascinated, as well as the literary detective tale, of piecing together the intentions of a dead author, was the detail on how Ellison's writing had become Casaubon-like in trying to get it right. The success (and financial success) of "The Invisible Man" would obviously mean his next novel had to be special - and better - and became, it seems, an impossible task. Even more fascinating was that Ellison moved to writing by computer at some point and immediately the options available to him to revise were suddenly endless. A friend complained about the wonders of modern sequencers such as Cubase - that they offered endless possibilities - whereas in the past he'd painstakingly created sounds or made edits, taking time and often irreversible. It seems that Ellison's novel had took over - and became, I think, an unfinishable work. Yet his literary executors are finishing it anyway. Whether this is a good thing or not is a moot point. In one part of the article it compares several lines - pre-and post-computer and Ellison had apparently always rewritten to expand, rather than to contain. In a recent post, Elizabeth Baines talked about the "over expansive" latest Harry Potter, and its need of an editor. Yet as a writer we all sometimes think we could write more and in depth about what we've only touched. These made up characters and made up scenes can have the depth and dimension given by a Proust, a Joyce, a George Eliot.

So it is, that I decide to check that I've "backed up" my own writings (of course, I haven't - not recently) and also to order them in some manageable way on the computer. We live in a world of hard not soft disks these days so I guess its worth saying something about folder structure. In "My Documents" (I'm PC, not Mac) you'll find a folder called "Writing" and within that sub-sections, "Poetry", "Plays", "Short Stories", "Other Novels" and a few other categories. I've got reasonably good at storing things accordingly but still something's get lost. I've not written any drama for a while, and decided to have a bit of a trawl through the "plays" folder to see what it contained. Astonishingly, for such an "occasional" side to my writing, I came up with 11 completed "dramatic works". Half of these are short film scripts, but there's a full length screenplay, a couple of potential TV dramas, a play, a verse drama, and 2 episodes of a radio sitcom. Amongst all this I found a dramatisation (for TV? who knows?) of a children's story I wrote years ago - that I simply have no recollection of turning into drama. I'm assuming I must have written it for a competition of some sort, but I simply can't remember! Also, a short script I wrote a couple of years ago refused to make itself known - and I couldn't remember the name, or the character's names. All I could remember was that there was a "sofa" in it as a prop. A laborious search of my hard disk brough up about 50 documents containing a "sofa" (Okay, I'm clearly no hard-boiled street writer), and luckily one was the one I was looking for. Ralph Ellison's executors make the point that it wasn't only the finished typescripts that held clues to the work but backs-of-envelopes, scribbled papers. How very true. For if a writer can't remember everything he wrote, why, and when, and where it is or in what state - then what hope the literary detective? Lesson to self: catalogue better.

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