Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Literary Immortality

Bill Vallicella has a tough piece on Hitchens and his hope to live on in his works.

For what he takes to be the illusion of immortality, Hitch substitutes literary immortality.  "As an adult whose hopes lay assuredly in the intellect, not in the hereafter, he concluded, 'Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and — since there is no other metaphor — also the soul.'" (Here) But to the clearheaded, literary immortality is little more than a joke, and itself an illusion.  Only a few read Hitch now, and soon enough he will be unread, his books remaindered, put into storage, forgotten.  This is a fate that awaits all scribblers but a tiny few.  And even they will drink the dust of oblivion in the fullness of time.
To live on in one's books is a paltry substitute for immortality, especially when one recalls Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's aphorism: Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt. "A book is a mirror:  if an ape peers in, no apostle will look out."  Most readers are more apish than apostolic.
To live on in one's books is only marginally better than to live on in the flickering and mainly indifferent memories of a few friends and relatives. And how can reduction to the status of a merely intentional object count as living on?

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