Sunday, 1 November 2009

WORDS FOR THE FIRE

" Where would The Aeneid be if Virgil’s heirs respected his wishes to destroy it and how much would we have known of Kafka had his friend Max Brod burned The Trial and The Castle as instructed?"

The creative process that spurs from a moment’s inspiration is ever so demanding. Once its call is answered the response to it must be one of sheer commitment. Perfection is its one request. Like a lover it demands endless hours of your time and your complete devotion. Only after pouring his entire being into the craft will it be satisfied, never settling for anything less. And only then will the creator and seeker of perfection feel whole again.

Writers, the creators of fiction, masters of the perfectly tailored sentence and rulers of their conjured up worlds relish this creative process. No matter how gruelling and sadistic it may be. No matter how much time and how many people it asks them to give up, they remain faithful to it until the very end.

Vladimir Nabokov was a writer and a slave to this creative process. An author whose imagination saw no boundaries and whose pen gave us novels like Ada, Pale Fire and the bestselling violator of social acceptability, Lolita. Thirty years ago from his deathbed Nabokov worked on his 18th and what was to be his last novel named The Opposite of Laura.

Amidst his delirium and fleeting consciousness he managed to organise his plot, create his characters, and arrange his words on what totalled to 138 index cards. Nabokov died in 1977, his last wish was for his wife Vera to destroy The Opposite of Laura. His wish was partially granted for his transcripts entered a vault in a Swiss bank, where they lay untouched and unseen for thirty years, until now.

Dimitri, Nabokov’s only son recently decided to put together his father’s last novel and gift it to the world. He confessed that it was a great struggle for him whether or not to honour his father’s dying wish. Ultimately he found that it would be an immense loss for the literary world to keep The Opposite of Laura from seeing the light of day.

Dimitri’s dilemma is understandable for what should one do when he is requested by one of the most influential writers of the 20th century to destroy a piece of his work? At the onset one would be inclined to object, to speak on behalf of the art form and fight for its survival. For where would The Aeneid be if Virgil’s heirs respected his wishes to destroy it and how much would we have known of Kafka had his friend Max Brod burned The Trial and The Castle as instructed? Yet one issue remains, and as a writer I must say that I bend ever so slightly towards it. Honouring an artist’s wishes seems to me the right thing to do. For after his death the writer is painfully denied of his inherent right to discuss his work. If the creator was able to utter the words “destroy it,” referring to his own creation, then he fully believes that his creative process has not been completed and without perfection. Without full satisfaction the work is just not quite there yet, and probably never will be.

Nabokov could have understood that or maybe in his hallucinatory state uttered these words unaware of their consequences. Nevertheless his request posed the question and pushed the doors of debate wide open.

Does a writer have more of an obligation to the literary world than to his work? Does the fact that he was generous enough to share his gift with the masses mean he should be robbed of his final wishes? And why is it that the more you offer yourself the more people expect from you? A writer, at the very core, is a person and a person should always have the right to choose.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on Nov. 1st, 2009.




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