Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Who is the judge?

In my last post I described the experience of publishing The Birth Machine with changes imposed by the publisher which ran strongly counter to my authorial/aesthetic intentions, and the way I then felt about the published work. In today's Guardian, Mark Ravenhill discusses similar issues, focusing this time on a writer's own 'mistakes' which he or she sees only after a work has gone out into the public domain. I touched on the fact that academics, in writing about the first edition of The Birth Machine, had written about a work which in fact I did not want to own, and Ravenhill develops an implication of this:
Whether a reader likes the play or not, it will look to them like an authoritative stream of text, a definitive statement. What I see is great black holes of missed opportunities. This is not false modesty. This is quite honestly what it feels like to open a book with my name on the cover. I'm amazed that academics haven't grasped this. Whenever an academic talks to me about my work, there's still an assumption that here is a definitive, confident text that is at my bidding.

statement that writers can always ever after see improvements they could have made to their work is very true. He argues, however, that writers should never let this lead them to suppress their work (as Deep Purple have, with Live at the Birmingham NEC 1993):
Artists aren't always the best judges as to which of their works should make it into the public domain. If his family had followed his instructions, all of Kafka's manuscripts would have been burnt and we would have lost some of the 20th century's most important literature.


Adrian said...

Its a good point he's made - that when something goes "public" you see things differently. On the odd occasions I've had things public, it has worked the other way as well, the appearance of it between hard or soft covers giving it a legitimacy that the version on my PC never got, flaws and all. I think, beyond a bit of sub-editing, you just have to let it stand or fall!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, I agree (unless something has been imposed which you never wanted to own in the first place, as happened to me). But actually I think Ravenhill's being a bit disingenuous about plays (those that are not published anyway, merely produced) - they are often changed in rehearsal anyway, it's a fluid process: sometimes you have to change lines because of the way the actors need to speak them, and if you've got a good director and you're at all the rehearsals there's a chance for you to make (minor) changes you eant to make for yourself then. Still, you do sometimes see big holes, as he says, that are simply too enormous for this sort of tweaking, and I did once have a director who refused to let me change a single word even though I and the actors wanted it changed!!!