A few weeks ago, I read about the ongoing controversy surrounding Dmitri Nabokov's obligation to destroy his father's unpublished manuscript "The Original of Laura." I don't know about any recent developments in the story, but at the time the crux of it was that Vladimir had clearly wanted the manuscript destroyed, and Dmitri felt some obligation to finally do so (he's getting on in years, and he's either going to publish it or burn it, rather than leave the decision to someone else). Again, I don't know what he chose, but there was lots of hand-wringing about it--even though the manuscript amounted to only about thirty pages, scholars shuddered at the thought of losing it simply because of some decades-old dying wishes.
I understand why scholars, and really anyone who likes to read Nabokov, would be upset by the issue. Many people have invoked the famous instructions of Kafka to Max Brod which, had they been followed, would have denied us The Trial. Virgil did the same thing, telling people on his deathbed to burn the Aeneid, and obviously we're all glad that didn't happen. Yet as a writer, the idea that someone might rummage through my unfinished works and share them with other people after I'm dead absolutely horrifies me. Whenever I'm on an airplane, and the thought of fiery death naturally comes upon me, I mostly worry about people reading through all the crappy drafts I have saved on my computer. This is, of course, pretty grandiose thinking--when most writers die, there isn't a public clamoring to see what they left behind. Yet the theoretical possibility of it exists, and it's terrible enough to worry all of us.
I wonder if there's a way to make it legal, a sort of living will for writers--we sign a document that unreservedly asserts that whatever drafts are lingering on the life support system of our Microsoft Word files must be mercifully put to rest in the event of our deaths. I think most writers, myself included, would find it extremely vain to imagine such a thing is necessary, and would argue that we should be grateful for whatever attention we get, alive or dead. Yet I also think most writers would sign such a document. Look at what happened when they pried True At First Light from Hemingway's cold, dead fingers. And while none of us are Hemingway, I still think it would be a comfort to face death knowing most of our literary failures would die with us . There's a lot of awfulness behind the curtain, and I don't want anyone to get a peek.