Discover more from The Drugs Don't Work Anymore
just some thoughts
I’m sure in some language, there must be a word for the things we think pleasantly about in the moments before we fall asleep. For example, I like to think about the Titanic — about how it’s out there in the total-silence beneath the Atlantic Ocean. I like to think about the Grand Staircase, two-and-a-half miles under-the-sea and still darkly elegant.1
I also like to think about lost works, which I suppose are similar to the underwater ruins of the Titanic. They are all lost, right? In possession of a beauty or rarity that exists (or once existed) in this world but is no longer accessible.
What I’m saying is that lost works are nice to turn over in your head as you’re falling asleep. They’re a pleasant alternative to the headlines of the New York Times’ push notifications. I like to think about Hemingway’s suitcase. You know the story, Hadley was on a train to Paris. She got up to buy a bottle of water and when she returned to her seat, the suitcase full of unpublished Hemingway was gone. Just about everything Hemingway wrote when he was a novice — gone. And almost certainly, gone forever.
But of course maybe, just maybe. In some French attic somewhere is a suitcase full of unseen Hemingway stories. Now, isn’t that pleasant to think about? Isn’t it a pleasant place to go?
The Drugs Don't Work Anymore is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
There are dozens of places I like to go — dozens of lost works I like to imagine. They don’t exist in the world anymore and that means we get to make them up. A fanatical priest convinced Gogol to burn the second part of Dead Souls, which he had modeled on the Divine Comedy. Dead Souls ends in the middle of a speech — what happens to Chichikov? Something happened — it must have, Gogol wrote it. But the book is lost except to our imagination. I like to lay in bed and make up endings for Chichikov.
Gogol said the devil made him burn the book but the devil certainly gets around — the flames are a common ending among the lost works. Philip Larkin’s diaries are burnt up and gone. James Joyce burned a play. Malcolm Lowry spent almost a decade on a novel and lost it in a fire. All that writing by our great writers is gone, what did we lose?
There’s the driving question behind this interest — what did we lose? We don’t know and we won’t ever know. The same way we won’t ever know what happened to DB Cooper or Amelia Earhart. And the world is a more interesting place because we don’t know these things.
Lost works, of course, go beyond books. I like to lay in bed late at night and think about The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the soul-stirring Rembrandt that was stolen in 1990 — recent enough that, yes, this painting is probably out there in the world somewhere. In the same world where we go to sleep every night.
Shakespeare read Don Quixote and wrote a play based on a side character in the book, Cardenio. That play is gone. So why not make it up? Shakespeare, who never wrote a play without a brilliant side character to move the action from the edge — imagine what he would have done with Don Quixote.
And, sometimes, my mind moves beyond writing and shipwrecks; on to other lost things. What about the giant Colossus of Rhodes which stood for almost a thousand years at the mouth of the Greek harbor? It was the size of the Statue of Liberty and built three-hundred-years before Jesus Christ. And yet we barely know what the Colossus looked like, we have no contemporaneous drawings. We only know it was colossal. But imagine being a sailor in the ancient world and seeing that. Imagine what it would have done to you.2
And then think of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I went to a lecture once at the Franklin Institute where an archeologist who worked on them said that only a fraction of the scrolls are available to the public. Many of them ended up in private collections. The Vatican may or may not have stopped by and taken a lot of them for the archives. But they’re out there. And the Dead Sea Scrolls (which is another small obsession of mine) are all over the place, there are some spells in there, some early copies of the Bible and some wacky Apocalyptic-cult type of stuff (because early Christianity was basically an Apocalyptic cult). But there’s also some cool sci-fi-esque stuff in there like The Book of Giants, which expands on the Genesis narrative and has a race of giants fighting against God.
Anyway, that’s the idea, that all these things exist(ed) in the world. That they were once out there in the same spinning world with you, me and everybody else. Turn them over in your head for long enough and you’ll begin to discard your instinctual interpretation of time as linear. And maybe I phoned it in on this one but I’m on vacation at the moment, writing this on a beach somewhere hot and there’s a nice breeze coming along. There’s a bar nearby and I can hear them shaking margaritas and the teal-colored ocean is right here too. And so I figured I’d write something pleasant. And lost things, to me, are pleasant.