September 30, 2011


I don’t remember which painter was guilty.  I think it was Toulouse Lautrec who used to visit the Louvre with his box of paints to dab at his canvas’ imperfections. It happened so often, the museum had to instruct their guards to escort him off the premises whenever he appeared. George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame suffers from the same need for excellence. He continues to re-edit his classic with every new DVD edition, despite the complaints of his fans.


I understand this impulse for flawlessness. I am capable of rewriting the life out of a manuscript. As one ages one’s perception of “the good” can change. George Lakoff reminds us in “The Political Mind” that consciousness occupies only 2% of our brains. The rest is subliminal and so it shouldn’t be surprising that new thoughts float to the surface as we gain experience.

Unlike a painter or a film editor, however, once a book is committed to print, there’s no opportunity for change without a new edition. In this regard a book is closer to life for it, too, cannot be edited. We may apologize for the wrongs we have done; we may shed tears for our mistakes but time moves in a single direction and that is forward. Those snarly words bringing so much pleasure in the heat of argument will burn in our memories as long as memory endures. The wise are those who live with an eye to tomorrow. Omar Khayyam saw the connection between the pen and life a thousand years ago:

          “The moving finger writes; and, having writ,

           Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit,

           Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

          Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” 

(“The Rubaiyat”)