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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

I do not recall ever wishing to read more by Harper Lee-- To Kill a Mockingbird seems perfect as it is, and if that is all that Ms. Lee felt she had to say, certainly it was a plentiful and powerful statement. In many ways I feel closer to Mockingbird today than I ever did-- it is the touchstone piece in my Lawyers in Movies class, and I do not think I've wrung its meaning dry yet. If prior experience teaches us anything about artistic works and artistic intention I think one of the things we should know by know is to trust the artist on the question of what should be released into the world. There are very few works that have sat in drawers or on shelves unreleased which deserved rescue from obscurity: I suppose Kafka's novels qualify, and A Confederacy of Dunces, and I'll have to think some in order to come up with more of a list. Will I read Go Set a Watchman? I'm not sure, but I am wary about it. Harper Lee had a long time to think about releasing it-- I'm inclined to trust her earlier judgment.

| Comments:
"If prior experience teaches us anything about artistic works and artistic intention I think one of the things we should know by know is to trust the artist on the question of what should be released into the world."

My sense -- based on, among other things, the existence of the bootleg phenomenon in pop music -- is to the contrary: if something is released that the artist did not wish to be released, it probably doesn't do any harm to the rest of the work.

Qualification: assuming that the artist's reason for not releasing the work is aesthetic and not some other reason. Suppose I woke up one morning and found that Philip Roth had died and made me his literary executor (God forbid). If I found a novel in his effects that was marked "doesn't hang together thematically -- don't publish this," I might well publish it anyway. If I found a document entitled "unpublishable and unhappy recollections of my ex-wife Claire Bloom," I might leave that to be dealt with 100 years from now.
 
If I understood the story correctly, her agent sent her back to work, but both manuscripts were completed, "Watchman" ahead of "Mockingbird", which makes artistic intention more intricate in interpretation than we might otherwise judge, even if Lee never did produce a third work. The story also says the manuscript was 'lost', and lately found pasted to the back of an original of "Mockingbird", which adds a little to the untold story and the mysteriousness of its disappearance. But yeah, "Juneteenth" is an interesting book, to raise a comparison with another "lost" and recovered novel, but it's not "Invisible Man".
 
I had "Juneteenth" in mind, actually. And "Islands in the Stream", and a few others. Of course, the opposite case can be made, as alkali points out. If Max Brod had been true to his charge we wouldn't have "The Trial", and that would have been unfortunate. The middle ground is the Bob Dylan ground: I made this music, but I didn't release it at the time. Here it is now. Both "The Basement Tapes" and "Self Portrait" sets in the current Bootleg Series are, in my view, superior to the originals, and in the case of "The Basement Tapes" the 'original' wasn't released until ten years had passed from its recording. So yes, in time the artist's evaluation of the work may change.
 

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