Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

The Rights of the Dead

When Vladimir Nabokov passed away, he was working on the manuscript for a novel, The Original of Laura. His instructions for the incomplete work were that it should be destroyed on his death. It wasn't; some 30+ years later it has been published by his son. (In a rather intriguing fashion, which I won't go into here.)

Much has been made of the ethics of ignoring the wishes of the deceased. The thing that really struck me was that, while I could respect it if his heirs had destroyed the manuscript in accordance with his wishes, I can't imagine that I could have done it myself. If a dying author left me his last writings and said 'destroy these' ... no. I couldn't do it, not unless there were some stipulation like 'these are private and would embarrass me if they were viewed' attached. But apart from that, I don't think I could deliberately destroy someone else's work, even if that was their express wish.

It occurred to me that, in general, I'd have a much harder time respecting the will of the deceased if it involved destroying things. If a rich man wanted his possessions incinerated and his mansion bulldozed upon his death? Urrrgh. Even though I wouldn't dispute his right to dispose of his property as he chose while alive, I can't see myself carrying out that kind of request. It just seems wrong. Like the right of the living to enjoy those possessions supercedes the right of the dead to say "no, you can't". I'm not sure that's actually right. It's just how I feel. What do you think?
Tags: ethics
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