I'm probably butchering this paraphrase, but Jorge Luis Borges once said no one ever needed to write a biography on him. To know him one would only have to read his complete works and he would live again through those words. It's quite the romantic ideal, that the full spirit of the writer can be brought forth by reading and understanding their work.
Anyway, I'm thinking about this today because it came up yesterday in class through kind of a back door. I don't think I've mentioned it, but I'm taking a class in editing. This particular class focused mostly on fine-tuning and odd eccentricities of the English language, but a small portion dealt with the challenge of editing a person's work while maintaining the unique sense of the author's style. Discussion even covered computers used to examine and imitate an author's style.
The teacher cited a book called Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous by Don Foster, who apparently coined the term literary DNA. His theory is that a sense of our identities is encoded into the way we use language. To a certain point, that's obvious. No one can confuse the writing of William S. Burroughs for the writing of Diana Gabaldon. But Foster not only presses his idea, he proved it to a point by using his methods to identify Joe Klein as the author for Primary Colors and identify Ted Kaczynski as the Unabomber.
It's a beautiful idea when you think about it. Running with the theory, it could mean that every paragraph, every sentence, every word you write contains some sort of inherent code connecting it to not only the work as a whole (be it a short story or novel) but also to the author. Reading writing should, and most often does, impart a sense of the author. Pushing it to this extent gives it a little magical feel. Magical in a postmodern sense, but still magical. I guess it appeals to my vanity a little bit, too, thinking that I may live on in some small way through my writing.
And you never know. Perhaps some future episode of CSI will feature a murder of a publisher by an angry, rejected writer. The only clue left behind: a copy of an unnamed, rejected manuscript.
I can just imagine it.
"How will we find the killer?" Detective Brass asks.
"We have the killer's DNA," says Grissom.
"What do you mean? The killer didn't leave any fingerprints. No hairs. No skin cells."
"Not that kind of DNA," Grissom says holding the manuscript. "This killer left his... literary DNA."
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