Thursday, Jul 31, 2014 09:41 pm est

Unpublished works spark debate

Posted on April 23, 2014 | by Michael Domanico and Clio McConnell

via wikipedia.org

When celebrated Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez passed away on April 17, his legacy included more than just his status as one of the most prominent magic realists.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that, according to Penguin Random House Mexico, García Márquez left behind an unpublished manuscript. The publishing company said the author’s family had not yet made a decision as to whether it would release the tentatively titled “En Agosto Nos Vemos” manuscript.

Some of history’s greatest literature consists of work published posthumously, from Mark Twain’s autobiography to Vergil’s “Aeneid.” All great authors die before their time — the longer they live, the more of their brilliance is imparted to the world.

But when that writer passes away, whose responsibility is it to care for his unpublished wisdom? Readers will line up to buy a copy of their favorite author’s latest work, regardless of whether it was he or his family who approved the publication details. Yet, in most cases, posthumous works are unfinished.

To read and compare an imperfect composition to the rest of a writer’s body of work is asking for trouble. On one hand, it could be considered disrespectful to compare such a novel to more polished publications. Criticism of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel “The Pale King” was generally laudatory, but most reviews mention that the book was not completed before the author’s suicide in 2008 and almost certainly was not as refined as the final product would have been.

Yet, maintaining integrity is not always the highest concern in these cases. When Stieg Larsson passed away in 2004, he had not yet seen any book in his best-selling “Millenium” series published. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” would go on to sell over 65 million copies worldwide, and at the time of his passing Larsson was working on more manuscripts in the series.

Larsson’s family and long-time girlfriend fell into a legal dispute about who owned the rights to the manuscripts, with Swedish law ultimately coming down in favor of Larsson’s estranged brother and father. Currently, a ghostwriter has been hired to publish the fourth book in the “Millenium” series, set to come out in August 2015.

Larsson’s case monetizes the issue. After all, talk of literary legacy only goes so far — millions can be made from the last work of a famed author’s repertoire. The bitter dispute between Larsson’s romantic partner and his estranged family exemplifies this issue. The flow of revenue becomes more important than the author’s vision, which should not be the case. Years from now, when the dispute becomes old news and the work is all that is left, the writer’s legacy will be misrepresented by greed.

It is tempting for fans to read every last word their favorite author has written, and there is something appealing about reading a work-in-progress, but readers should be concerned about the creative integrity of posthumous publication. Unless the writer has given the go-ahead for his book to be published, it is fair to say that the piece is for his eyes only.

To release an unfinished novel or autobiography after its creator’s death is to invite unfair criticism into the memory of an otherwise unsullied reputation.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 23 print edition. Michael Domanico is managing editor. Clio McConnell is arts editor. Email them at arts@nyunews.com.

Comments

CLOSE [x]
CLOSE [x]
CLOSE [x]
profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

AS
Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.

 

DY
Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

CLOSE [x]
  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    NEWS FEATURES MULTIMEDIA SPORTS ARTS OPINION
    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.

    Next