I ask because the other day at the bookstore I came across Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura, a book that has been published posthumously. It is unfinished which leads me to suspect that it is perhaps completely different to what the end result would have been had he had the opportunity to finish it. I know everyone's method is different, but my final copy (be it assignment, article, or blog post) is often completely unrecognisable from the original dot points or words I set on the page. As a New York Magazine article states, Nabokov, though eager and delighted by what he was writing, intended for the manuscript to be burnt when he realised he was too ill to ever complete it. His wife couldn't bring herself to do it and placed it in a bank vault for 30 years. Now published it seems the publishers want to emphasise the unfinished quality of the book and have reproduced the 138 index cards that Nabokov had written the story out on. The NY Mag article states that;
"The cards are even perforated, so you can punch them out and shuffle them, as Nabokov would have done as he revised. Every page contains the author’s surprising handwriting: biggish and slanted and loopy, with generous white space around his words. (I was expecting, for some reason, tiny cramped writing that colonized every available millimeter of space.) Some of the cards are heavily revised, which allows us to see, for the first time, the work of Nabokov’s famous eraser: fuzzy little storm clouds of smudged graphite loom behind neatly rewritten words. "I'll admit the description of Nabolkov's creative process and handwritten cards makes my heart flip a little in excitement, but does this justify publishing a book the author intended no one ever to read? Sam Anderson, author of the NY Magazine review questioned that himself, and though he seemed to come down in favour of the book being published, there is a thread of justification to the article, an almost silent pleading to Nabokov himself not to judge them too harshly for betraying his wishes. Or perhaps I'm simply reading too much into it.
Nabokov isn't the only author to be published after death, or against his wishes. William S. Burroughs' collaboration with Jack Kerouac (And the hippos were boiled in their tanks) was published in 2008, decades after it was written by the pair in 1945. Telling the story of the death of David Kammerer at the hands of Lucian Carr and Burroughs and Kerouac's involvement in the sad and turbulent affair, the book is something of a mystery story and blends fiction with non-fiction. Kerouac (and others) had desperately wanted the book to be published but Burroughs was against it, deeming it to be well below the standard he wished to link his name to. When Burroughs died his position hadn't changed, but James Grauerholz, his partner and executor of his estate, decided otherwise. As Burroughs' long-time partner had he known something about Burroughs' wishes that he'd never made public? Was Burroughs' just being pedantic over the quality or content or did he truly wish it never to be published?
These are only two of an almost endless list of examples of books, letters, and journals published either against the wishes of the writer or without their knowledge that such an act would ever be considered. Of course there are those that belong on the other side of the coin, books published posthumously by authors who died in the final editing stages (Chris Fuhrman- The dangerous lives of alterboys) but what I'm questioning is the books published either against the author's expressed wishes or in an incomplete format.
What do you think? Should they be published, or should we let sleeping dogs lie?