The Propagational Library

The Propagational Library is… well, I guess you could call it a Web serial: a set of brief, linked stories. You’ll want to read them in the order listed below.

Table of Contents

[Aside, for sticklers: the first couple of installments (the Intro and Chapter 1) appeared as regular blog posts. Starting with Chapter 2, I’ve done a regular sort of post consisting of just a brief opening excerpt. At the end of that opening is a link to the full installment. The list above directs you to the full installments only, not to any associated blog posts. Note, too, that if you want to see only the blog posts pertaining to The Propagational Library, you can use the post category by that name, in the right sidebar.]

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Background, for Interested Parties

Why write, at all?

That question had been bugging me for, well, years — sometimes consciously but (I assume) nibbling at the back of my mind as well. It doesn’t ask the question in a writers’-workshop, what-do-you-get-from-writing way. (Not that answering that form of the question isn’t important, even required, in order to write in the first place.) No, what it asks goes more like this: In the end, why does any writing at all — from best-sellers to grade-school diaries, prophecies which change the lives of millions to tweets from a Twitter user with no followers — why does it even matter?

All writing presupposes the presence of a reader, of an audience, even if the only reader is (or will ever be) the work’s author. It’s a given, though, that all readers must ultimately pass away. Depending on which “fate of the universe” scenario you believe, even the reading machines which replace us may evaporate or wind down. The molecular and electromagnetic structures which hold the writing in the first place will go with the machines.

Worse: not just the writing will go, but everything which led to the writing in the first place. Not the authors — that’s a given, remember? No: the ideas which the writing carries. All of it, and all of them: Hamlet, Catch-22, the nonfiction of John McPhee, In Cold Blood, Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld novels, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, E.E. Cummings’s “i love you much my most beautiful darling,” the 1956 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, the love letter you wrote but never sent — the kiss-off letter ditto! — the Bhagavad Gita and the I Ching, every single rule or narrative fragment or proverb or metaphor in every book of the Bible (including the apocryphal and spin-off ones), all the Twilight and Lord of the Rings fan fiction and parodies…

All those ideas behind all those gazillions of words in all the world’s languages: gone. Might as well never have existed.

And so: Why write, at all? *

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I began writing The Propagational Library in February, 2012. Across thirteen installments (the last posted on June 9), I posted one piece of it a week (but spending the month of April otherwise occupied, you might say), always on Saturday: the results of that day’s writing session (and hence, more or less in first-draft condition). I could probably add new bits to the tales of the Library indefinitely. But the scaffolding’s in place, at least. For now, I’m moving on (however temporarily) to other things.

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* The question focuses on writing but, of course, goes much more wide and deep than that — extending to music, painting, dance, film, and so on. It’s really: Why create, at all?

 

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Comments

  1. We write to prove that we were actually once here, that we once had ideas, and that if someone had bothered to read us at the time, great suffering for mankind could have been averted.

    • I think that’s right… in the short to medium term. But in the long, long, loooooong term? We write to prove all that to — whom?

      That life (not A life, not human life in general, but ALL life) will eventually become a thing of the past, and the universe itself will eventually follow — does that diminish the incentive? If human art offers something of value to even unknown audiences, even audiences whose form we can’t imagine, but if all audiences in the universe will eventually go away, can there still be a point to creating art?

      In short: suppose we could somehow provide continuity of human art across more than one universe…

  2. I will think about this as I explore the library. Ultimately, though, we are all destined to turn to ashes, as is our earth, our sun, the stars and planets. It’s humbling. Only our dreams can’t be touched by the crumbling. Maybe that is what bounces around the universe forever.

    • Squirrel, I am waaaay overdue in replying to your comments on the “Library” series. (It’s been one of those weeks, has it ever.)

      I like the idea of our dreams “bouncing around the universe forever”! This would’ve been a very different story if I’d thought of that myself — more emotional, I think, whereas this one falls more on the chilly intellectual side of the genre (such as it is).

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