Monday, 20 June 2016
The Afterlife Of Books - Flash Fiction
Collaborations do not afford good literature. As proven by the collusion of stonemason (a serif font for god’s sakes) and your own agent who had penned the epitaph on your tombstone. “Doubtless in Heaven he will be composing some bon mots for the Lord”. What like your His speechwriter or something? Your inner editor would cavil at ‘doubtless’ since the word possesses a range of shades of meaning from probable to certainty. You might rather have opted for the blue pencil inscribing ‘unequivocally’, but there didn’t seem to be pen and paper in whatever this non-state of being you currently resided in. Consonant to being on a life support machine but with minimal brain activity you surmise. Akin to when you used to participate at literary conventions.
Yet you are preserved here for whatever purpose. In the fleeting moments of mindfulness permitted, you calculated it was due to your books attaining the cachet of the canonical. Such exalted eminence confers true immortality it seems. For all the good that redounds on a deceased you. To be endowed stature without any physical body at all. A corpus sans corpus. See how the pun survives death. God’s cosmic joke? Just like I always wrote. Maybe your agent was right, maybe if you entertain God with a well turned phrase that cracks his stern countenance, then you get togo again down there one earth. Only problem is God hasn’t put in an appearance and you can no longer string together two words. You are entirely reliant on your past body of work.
There were no hidden manuscripts. No abandoned novels for passing on to a designated writer to complete. Nor had you buried any work in a time capsule to be uncovered and published a hundred years later as some of your contemporaries had hit on for inexplicable reasons. Yet even with no more new works to be published, there were still reissues and new editions of your work and each sale passed through the ether and delivered you a prod in whatever non-protoplasmic state of you existed. A notch on the bedpost of your eternal rest, yet not sufficient to rouse you fully. No, that came with the critique that followed such a sale. For here in the empyreal, you got to experience what down there on earth self-published writers felt when they received notification of a new review. The only cognisance granted you in your perpetual sleep was to digest the critique offered by each and every one of your post-mortem readers. For all the good that it did you. Though perhaps you shouldn’t be quite so churlish, since the continuing royalties will see your family comfortably provided for. The philistine ingrates that they are, one son the professional sportsman and the other a lawyer. You momentarily wondered whether the lawyer had fleeced his sibling out of his share by now, but Elysium’s own censors and legal eagles quickly shut down your narrow window for thought processes. Narrow, it rated more slender than an arrow slit casement in an old stone castle. Hey that’s not a bad metap-
The evanescent periods of time allocated were only to cogitate on a review. Not that you were privileged any right of reply. That made this amorphous condition somewhat of a trial, nay a torture even. Maybe this wasn't the literary realm of the august and the sublime, perhaps it was actually purgatory. The Devil has all the best tunes, but you don’t figure Him to be much of a reader. Instead you are forced to consume a slow but never-ending drip feed of the living’s responses to your moribund output of yore. What does any of it matter now? not to you. And not to the readers either. You could see attitudes shifting slowly (not that you had any concept of time up/down here). No more did you get the sustained terms of sentience when your books were made into a film or TV dramatisation, or some literary critic obligingly reinvestigated you on some anniversary or other so that sales took a spike. You were presumably now off the school curriculums since you no longer received the feeble blip around exam time, when the students were forced to offer their own opinions on your work but found the task beyond their capabilities and trotted out the received notions of their teachers. What happened when you dropped out of people’s consciousness altogether? Membership of the literary canon revoked, presumably you ceased to exist in such renowned status here in literary heaven/hell? A fate that must have befallen Stephen King some considerable time ago? Not that you have any sense of time passing.
Maybe there was a way of foreshortening the process. After all, what exactly was the value of this non-existence being force-fed your own work back to you by people beyond your own time? Unfortunately it seems your books had changed with context. You could absolutely accept the criticisms offered by these new, contemporary readers. Well figuratively perhaps, since you didn’t actually know what world they occupied, nor what their values were. Nonetheless, you could recant all your work now and bring all this slow torture to an end. Nothing lasts for ever. God? Satan? You’d like to compose a posthumous work. A palinode.