'It was as if I had planned and built ruins.' —Eric von Vessen in Stefan Kiesbye's "Hitlertown"
You ever get the feeling that your work doesn't have the longevity to last a year, a decade, or even a century? You ever get the feeling that you've "planned and build ruins"? That is something I've worried about over the years. I've worried about the longevity, the ability for my work to stand the test of time, and it has kept me up most nights, during out little quarantine.
In Stefan Kiesbye's "Hitlertown," the main character, Eric von Vessen, is an architect, who designed, planned, and built malls, among other things, which he sees crumbling within his lifetime. What does that do to someone, especially when you've spent your life striving to hone your craft, and when you strove to present your very best to the world for consumption? How does one go about dealing with the ruins they've built?
The science fiction grand master, William Gibson, has also pointed out some rather interesting developments with his aged writings, particularly Neuromancer, the beginning of the Sprawl Trilogy and an illustrious career as a cyberpunk anti-prophet. Gibson has shown, in recent Tweets, that he was no prophet, and that many of his visions of the future were wrong. In particular, he joked about becoming anachronistic with Apple phasing out the headphone jacks in their phones. He also admits in a recent New Yorker piece that he'd become too detached from the happenings-on in the present, something he hoped to tackle in newer novels within the Blue Ant Trilogy and his newer series with Peripheral and Agency. Is this an attempt by a sci-fi giant to remain relevant, in a world where relevance is vastly eroding with each day? Or, is it simple a re-branding of an old sci-fi legend? I'd say it is both. However, it seems to lean more toward longevity and staying relevant with modern audiences, cementing a legacy not as a prophet but as a flawed camera, catching only a small portion of the data available to it.
If we follow this thin thread forward, we find that longevity appears to be on a lot of writers' minds. In fact, literary fiction focuses on longevity. The ephemerality of modern culture cannot be ignored. It is built on a foundation of quicksand, unstable and likely to collapse into oblivion at any moment. How do we preserve what was here? How do we ensure that future generations have something to study other than the Pattersons and Kings of the literary world? That is a good deal more complicated, and something that has consumed many of my thoughts concerning my own work.
How does one ensure they've not "planned and built ruins"? It is hard to say what will have the longevity going into the future, but it would be futile to say that planning and building for longevity would a mistake. Literature, culture, and all of those important words we know but rarely understand require forethought, something few cultural products today seem to be worried about. Moreover, it requires pushing past the "publish or perish" mantra that dominates the publishing industry. It means spending years, rather than months, writing the foundations of your work. It means revision and editing. It also means knowing when to trash something, especially when it no longer feels like a viable project. Viable here meaning something that has potential for longevity, etc.
I know I have planned and build ruins, but I hope that doesn't dominate my career as a writer. Instead, I hope it only marks a portion of my career, something to note but that is all.