Every Collection of Complete Works is Necessarily Incomplete

white notebook and pen

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. This is 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? 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 acquire. This includes librarians, historians, researchers, and many types of obsessive collectors. Fortunately, there are still ways to make collections more complete, even if a one hundred percent completion rate is entirely impossible.

First, as you should in any essay attempting to refine any idea into a concept, we must 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 can further break down collections into both external and internal elements. In the realm of creativity, many ideas and concepts exist only in one’s mind; others may have been previously noted, but then discarded. What we typically think of as “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 necessarily incomplete; this is because while the external collection can’t exist without many parts of the internal, they also cannot exist in tandem in perpetuity. An external collection is the only sort 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 wil\l be indebted to your curation work, especially of your own original works. After all, along with unconditional love and understanding, knowledge is the best thing you can share with another human being.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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