Art and immortality go hand in hand. Artists aspire to escape their own inevitable end by creating something that will live on. As William Faulkner put it:
Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal… This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.
The problem with immortality is that it has been reserved for the few, and even then it is uncertain. We know the epic poetry of Homer and the confessions of Saint Augustine because of the care and trouble expended on making copies by hand. In fact, Homer quite probably extends back to an oral tradition, so we owe a debt to the people who retold and memorized the verse. Paintings and, better still, sculptures may last, but only if properly taken care of. The Greeks would like the return of the Parthenon marbles and feel they would take better care of them than the Brits how sawed them off. However, Lord Elgin might never have had the chance to remove them if the Parthenon had not already been ruined and looted when, in 1687, the Venetians blew up the gunpowder stored there by the Ottomans. Even in the modern day, great works can be lost. Many historic treasures were stolen in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. In Feburary, a CÃ©zanne, a Degas, a van Gogh and a Monet with an estimated collective worth of US$163 million were stolen from Zurich Museum. It is easiest to preserve film and audio recordings, because they are the easiest artworks to copy. But as recently as the 1970’s the BBC would wipe and reuse their tapes to keep costs down. Famous television shows like Not Only… But Also, starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, were lost. The lack of foresight in that case is even more astounding when you discover that Peter Cook had offered to pay for the tapes out of his own wallet. Perhaps there is nothing truly immortal in art, and that might encourage us to take the same attitude as Woody Allen:
I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.
The good news is that technology not only opens up art to an ever increasing number of people, it also gives us a long tail where a creative work will remain available and accessible to all of us, even if only a very few us want it. By virtue of the internet, the greatest distribution mechanism ever devised, work can live on indefinitely. In fact, the only threat to the lifespan of art is that it will be owned and wasted by modern-day corporations that are as blinkered by the bottom-line as the BBC was when wiping their own recordings. An unhealthy obsession with property rights might lead some works to become extinct that would otherwise have been cared for and curated by somebody in the public. Nevertheless, art inspires, and there will be people inspired to reserve a little corner of the internet for their own favourite works. We can assume that a lot of modern work is immediately adapted for, promoted by, and sold over the internet. However, it is heartening to see that people are making efforts to preserve anything and everything they value. I recently found an odd little webpage devoted to a minor character of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. See here for a page inspired by Rob McKenna, trucker and god of rain. This prompted me to look for other extreme URL oddities that could only exist with the intention to preserve obscure instances of creativity. I decided to search by using a kind of free association – typing whatever references came to mind directly into my browser and adding the obligatory .com to the end. It did not take long to get lucky. Most of these sites still have some work to do, but hats off to the creators for establishing footholds and foothills amongst the internet’s mountainous collective archive. This is what I found…
Bananasplits.com announces that the Banana Splits are coming soon, and nothing else. Given the Banana Splits with a kids television show shown in the late 60’s, one wonders if this webpage fell through a timewarp.
Butch Patrick, who played little Eddie Munster in The Munsters probably wishes he did fall through a timewarp. There is a page dedicated to him at eddiemunster.com. Given that is appears to have been scraped from another site, I guess Butch can afford the domain name but not much else…
Lawrence of Arabia was a splendid movie directed by David Lean and starring Peter O’Toole (who arguably should have got the Academy Award for his performance). At the moment they have a photo from the film, and the site exhorts you to contact them, but says nothing else. One can only guess what the response would be like if you did send them an email.
666.com turns out to be far less sinister than would think given the URL. The rather creepy unsmiling photo on the home page might also make you wonder. But it turns out it is just the repository for paintings and writings by hopeful artist Benjamin P. Wing. Good for him for believing in himself, and having some creative hobbies to go alongside his doctoral studies in computational linguistics. He should probably swap to a less macabre domain name, though.
Shinymetalass.com has a URL that is the catchphrase of Bender Bending RodrÃguez from animated series Futurama, recently revived by its creator, Matt Groening of Simpsons fame. However, the URL maps to the same page as AKFlyfishing.com, and consists of quotes from artists. So far I have seen a quote from Swiss writer Henri-FrÃ©dÃ©ric Amiel and one from American artist Russell Chatham about fishing. You tell me if this will end up being about the cartoon series, quotes, art, angling, or a mixture of them all.
My favourite find was jrhartley.com. The page consists solely of the name J.R. Hartley imposed in large letters over a background of what looks like tall grasses. Heck knows what you would make of it, or why you would look for it, unless you remember the legendary British advert for Yellow Pages where an old man searches for a book called Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley. At least, I assume that was the inspiration for this webpage. To remind or acquaint yourself with this classic ad, click below.
Looking at these sites, there is obviously a lot more work to do, but it is a start. If the internet provides an everlasting home for Rob McKenna, Eddie Munster, Lawrence of Arabia and J.R. Hartley, that is a good thing. Perhaps we can all live there forever…