[The] poet Mark Strand…told me excitedly one day that he had invented a new kind of gravestone that….would include…a slot where a coin could be inserted, that would activate a tape machine built into it, and play the deceased’s favorite songs, jokes…whatever else they find worthy of preserving for posterity. Visitors to the cemetery would insert as many coins as required to play the recording…and the accumulated earnings would be divided equally between the keepers of the cemetery and the family of the deceased.
[T]is invention… would transform these notoriously gloomy and desolate places by attracting big crowds…complete strangers seeking entertainment and the pearls of wisdom and musical selections of hundreds and hundreds of unknown men and women.
While this invention may strike one as frivolous and irreverent…it deals with a serious problem. What happens to everything we kept in our heads and hoped others would find amusing after we pass away? No trace of them will be left, unless…we write them down. Even that is not a guarantee. Libraries…are full of books no one reads any more. Anyone who frequents town dumps has seen yellowed manuscripts and letters thrown out with the trash—papers that sadly, but unmistakably, not even the family of their author wants. Just imagine…your dead grandmother is a big hit in some large urban cemetery, passing on her soup and pie recipes to an admiring crowd of young housewives; while your grandpa is telling dirty jokes to boys playing hooky from school….you, too, are regarded with interest by your friends and neighbors, who can’t help but wonder how your everlasting selection is coming along and what inspiring words and vile blasphemies they’ll be hearing from your gravestone.
Simic takes this idea and runs with it but he doesn’t go far enough. Surely the entertainment need not be restricted by the physical location of the grave. The eminently sensible extension of this plan would be for the deceased to be set up with their own website–complete with Facebook and Twitter feeds–so that the content to be served up from the gravestone would be efficiently and widely made available in as many forms of media as possible. Video, audio and text could all be provided and a variety of payment options–Paypal, conventional shopping carts–would facilitate the easy receipt of cash. Some minor curation of these pages would be required; this task could be performed by paid staff.
I imagine the most popular content to be served up from my webpage would be, in no particular order: audio recordings of my sonorous readings, in chronological order, of every single post on this blog; classroom videos of my coruscating lectures on all matters philosophical with particular attention and focus on my brilliant responses to student questions; smartphone videos of my joke-telling performances–shot late at night, late in a dinner party’s devolution. I would live on as internet celebrity, thus perhaps ensuring, after death, the fame that was rightfully mine in this life.
And even it didn’t happen, I would care less than I do now.