Lindsey Kuper (lindseykuper) wrote,
Lindsey Kuper
lindseykuper

Reified objects

I imagine that anyone who has ever tried to publish something significant, for some values of "significant" and "publish" -- a record, a book, a piece of software, whatever -- knows how it must feel to have to decide, "Okay, now it's ready," and package it up and stick a bow on it and present it to the world under shrinkwrap. What makes that particular moment any better than any of the infinite number of other now-it's-ready moments that could have been chosen? My suspicion is that often, the answer is "not much." Maybe the chosen moment is just the most convenient, or the one that some external force, like "legally binding agreement" or "desire to graduate" or "six-month release cycle", mandates.

So there isn't necessarily anything sacred, then, about the version of a creative work that happens to be published. For me, that knowledge is both liberating and sobering. On the one hand, if I want to make something, it's liberating to know that I don't have to achieve perfection on the first or second or seventeenth try -- I can have as many tries as I want. As a songwriter, I've often thought of a song as a living, breathing beast, which means that any particular recording I might try to make of it isn't actually it, any more than a photograph of me is me. I can try for a good, evocative likeness, but that's the best I can do, and today's best might be better or worse than next year's or last year's, and that's okay.

On the other hand, part of me still wants sacred versions, or at least reified versions, of things I create. But what would I do with them if I had them? What would they prove, and to whom? I sit here and look at this seven-month-old snapshot of the as-yet-unpublished second edition of The Reasoned Schemer, which I just finally finished reading a few days ago, and I see that even it, which is probably the least out-of-date thing on my bookshelf, has gone somewhat stale in the last seven months. Well, that's great! It's a sign of progress! But what about all my other books? What stale bread have I been eating without realizing it? Do authors, especially the well-known ones who enjoy wide distribution, ever feel ashamed of the obsolete or just not-quite-perfect versions of their work that are out there on so many shelves? Is it better for an author to just pre-declare everything a work in progress and avoid such embarrassment?

Tags: signal
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