Blog #8: Rich Morality #1

[This is the first of a four-part posting about Adrienne Rich and morality.]

A Professor Roger Porter emails me from Reed College, Oregon. He writes to tell me that in April, 2011, Cornell University Press will be publishing his book, Bureau of Missing Persons: Writing the Secret Lives of Fathers. It discusses memoirs and autobiographies written by adult children (both daughters and sons) who discover that their fathers have led secret lives. Exhilarating, yet upsetting news. Exhilarating because his book seems to validate my work. Other people are interested in my subject. Other people are exploring parallel paths. Upsetting, though, because of his angle of approach. Professor Porter is concerned with what it means “to expose a family member who was assiduously bent on concealment and privacy.” Ethics and morality have once again raised their perplexing, cloven heads.

The ethics of biography and autobiography continue to preoccupy me. It seems “Cofer crime” only scratched the surface of my concerns. At every turn there are concerns of what to say and how to say it. More topically—in this week of WikiLeaks drama—there is the question of whether or not to say anything at all.

The problem of “to say or not to say” wasn’t one I anticipated when I started preparing this anthology. The pieces I was compiling were, after all, already in the public domain. I thought compiling the anthology was just a matter of selecting pieces, writing introductions, and getting permissions. I never considered what might happen if I failed to get a permission.

On July 24th, 2010, I joined Bill Clinton as one of Adrienne Rich’s rejected suitors. The rejection Clinton received was far more public and more dramatic than mine—Rich caused a national sensation when she refused his offer of a National Medal—yet I can’t help viewing the rejections in similar terms. The following words from Adrienne Rich’s permissions manager at W.W. Norton and Company threw me for a loop: Ms. Rich has reviewed the request and has asked me to advise you that, regretfully, she is declining permission for the proposed use of her material.

I had thought to make Adrienne central to my book. Rejection or refusal was something I had not really considered, even though I realized that my prefatory remarks and my biographical comments were frank and thus could possibly also be hurtful. Indeed, I sent the introductions and the biography to Ms. Rich so that she would be fully aware of what I was doing. It wasn’t my intention to be hurtful, and I thought my comments were more complimentary and flattering than otherwise.

[The next installment of this four-part blog will consist of the introductions to the two Rich pieces and of my biographical sketch of her. In the interests of suspense, I won't reveal my response to Adrienne's rejection until the third or fourth installment of this blog.]

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One Comment

  1. After exploring the blog world over the past eight months, I’ve seen this subject come up numerous times for different reasons.

    My overall understanding, at this point, is that issues are beginning to arise and the general feeling is that bloggers have had a very free hand. Since some have gone “overboard”, consequences are now appearing.

    On CBC the other day, I heard a panel discussing this “freedom” which was likened to the uproar over music being scooped off the internet before Napster stepped up to the plate.

    One of the bloggers who has been writing posts for many years and who helps new bloggers had a post about the comments we accept on our posts.

    Since she is in the United States, I did some homework for Canada. I commented on her post, “I found information, specifically for Canada, that validates my principle to not put anything in writing that I would not be prepared to show anyone. The most important confirmation is that I am responsible for any comment I accept on my blog.”

    Seems some characters cause those with a public personna to simply turn us all away at the gate – no matter our motive.

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