In a tutorial just before the end of term I talked about wanting to return to my “What To Do” talk to perfect it now, even though it was written and performed between May and July this year. We discussed what it would mean to go back to the work several months later and make adjustments on the basis of my current judgements, and whether it would mean I’m perfecting the original work or changing it into a new one – and whether the distinction matters. Presumably if returning to an old work means changing it into a new one, then we might ultimately think of keeping hold of one single work and continuing to ‘perfect’ it over a lifetime. (Like the joke about a broom lasting centuries as long as its components are frequently replaced.)

My tutor said she thinks an individual only ever makes one work, and keeps making and remaking it throughout their life. I’m quite convinced by this but it doesn’t preclude the possibility of sometimes making the work badly (nearly missing the work?) and sometimes making it well (coming close to the work?); nor of the work – or one’s position in relation to it – changing over time. 

There’d be nothing gained by trying to remain faithful to the original ideas that made up the work, because those ideas would now only be available to me second-hand, as a reader or audience member returning to the work from outside. And worse, the ideas would be even more cloudy to me than they might have been to a member of the audience, because I’d still have a grip on the remnants of my past intentions and I’d be mixing them up with slightly incongruent present intentions – they wouldn’t coincide if I superimposed them, I’d just end up with a mess.

So if I want to return to “What To Do” then it must be in the spirit of the translator’s mantra  “better a live sparrow than a stuffed eagle”. It’s hopeless trying to artificially resurrect the living thoughts that went into the work in the summer. Either I make the work anew or I leave it alone.

I thought one way of making the work anew might be to keep clear of the talk itself and start from the notes I wrote while I was planning the talk. I printed out an edited version of the notes and bound them into a little booklet, but then it occured to me that I’d just end up making the same mistake again by trying to resurrect my past intentions. (Here I’m just going to pause and worry down the murky hole I’ve just opened up between ‘myself now’ and ‘myself in the past’, at the bottom of which is a whole other kettle of fish, and now I’m going to close the parentheses and hole and keep going, and have to come back and sort this out later on.)

Even keeping all my eagles dead (sorry about these mixed animal metaphors) I’m still interested in working with the text that came before the talk, and specifically how it relates to the talk itself. Given all the birds and fish and kettles and brooms that are getting in the way it might be best to just to see the talk and text as test-cases for the way preparation and finished work might relate.

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