Incompleteness has been written about extensively in fields such as mathematics and philosophy. Sadly, it isn’t at all frequently discussed when it comes to volumes of complete works. A collection of complete works is supposed to be a group or set of literary, musical, artistic, or academic works created by a single author. Yet, one could say that every collection of complete works is necessarily and inherently incomplete.
Who is to say how many works become lost to time, discarded out of hand, or even those which remained simply as sparks in the creator’s mind? Those things left unsaid and unwritten are as much works as those that were published or collected in some tangible form. In fact, many times those things that are lost to time have now invisible effects on what would come afterward.
It should be considered the solemn duty of a writer to write all that can be written in a lifetime which could be relevant and useful to future generations. You may believe that writers of the past were much better at writing more eloquently about nothing at all than we are today. But, strangely enough, with today’s obsession with digitally recording every little highlight of every day lives, we may live in a time more likely to produce more complete collections of works than ever before.
Even then, there will never be a complete collection of the works of anyone, written, painted, drawn, or otherwise recorded because what is often considered a “complete works” collection is only composed of what’s been officially published, with the rare occasion of letters, notes, and rough drafts collected for completeness sake. In any case, even a collection of “complete” works still requires some sort of edit, some sort of organization that necessitates cutting out the clutter. Then again, who is to say what is clutter, as any editor, even one’s own self, is biased in one way or another.
Sadly, there is no way to overcome the inevitable incompleteness of any collection of works. It’s especially frustrating for those who are obsessed with the preservation of anything they can get their hands on. This includes librarians, historians, researchers, and many types of obsessive collectors. Fortunately, we can still combat this problem; there are still ways to make collections more complete, even if a one hundred percent completion rate is entirely impossible. Like with any pursuit of knowledge, such a quest begins with careful thinking and an open mind.
First, as one should do in any sort of essay attempting to refine any idea into a concept, we should first define what we mean by a complete collection of anything. The word collection is defined as a number or amount collected together, and the word complete is defined as having all the parts needed to make it what it should be. This means that a collection of creative works must be forever incomplete because no creative work retains every part needed to make it what it should be in tangible form.
We must then consider that we can further break down collections into both external and internal elements. Especially in the realm of creativity, there are many ideas and concepts which exist only in one’s mind or were previously noted but then discarded. What we typically think of as a complete works is actually an external collection, which collects different things outside oneself, such as in books or other media. Meanwhile, an internal collection is the very essence of the countless different thoughts within oneself.
Both external and internal collections are incomplete in that they don’t have everything they need in order to be complete; this is because while the external collection can’t exist without many parts of the internal, they also cannot exist in tandem in perpetuity. The external collection is the only thing that retains any sort of permanence, even in the thoughts and memories of others. This is why libraries, research papers, and “complete” works are so important for our culture and the overall good of human knowledge.
If there’s something you’re passionate about, don’t be afraid to start your own collections of works. You never know if some day someone will be indebted to your work collecting other works, especially those you created yourself. After all, along with unconditional love and understanding, knowledge is the best thing you can share with another human being.