Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Public Diaries, Private Letters

Via Russell Smith recently in Globe and Mail, a report on the unearthing of a Ted Hughes poem about the night his estranged wife, Sylvia Plath, killed herself.

I am not going to delve too deeply here in the poem itself, in part because I am not much of an expert on either of them. It is difficult reading, reading him trying to work through his cruelty toward his clearly distressed ex-wife. I do find it interesting that many of the articles speak of the fact that "feminists" hated him because of this, as though everyone else applauded him for leaving his wife and her tragic end...surely this poem expresses his own understanding and working through of the ways in which he was also responsible for her death.

There is a relationship here between the release of this poem, and the battle underway for the release of the remaining manuscripts of Franz Kafka, which was exhaustively and brilliantly written about recently in the New York Times magazine by Elif Bautman.

What do we share? What can we share about others? The battle to keep Kafka private is fascinating - he had instructed Max Brod to burn everything, but he knew also that Brod would not do it. Given we also know that Kafka burned much of his own writing, one can also presume that his request was a gesture of modesty (which Brod then used to build the myth of Kafka) and not a request. What is playing out now seems to be an extension of that very conversation, a case study in the subtleties of conversational implicature...

But what do we do with Hughes' letter? Someone was surely going to come along to find it, but Melvyn Bragg discovered it after learning of its existence from Hughes' ex-wife, so there is a sense that she, and perhaps Hughes himself, had wanted it to be published at some point.

Over the past while, I have been writing a lot of letters, and a lot of other things, and I have no desire to have them see the light of day, certainly not while I'm alive. However, I have written nearly everything online. And I have a public forum (here) to express things in the way I wish to express them.

If I'm hit by a bus tomorrow, does anyone have a right to crack open my account and read everything I wrote (not that anyone would!)? One can delete, but do things really get deleted? Should one be able to mark certain electronic letters as "confidential", or "to be destroyed"?

What do you think?

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