Dumpster Diving For Posterity

by Dish Staff

On his peculiar blog, The Other John Updike Archive, Paul Moran documents correspondence and personal artifacts lifted from the author’s trash. In a profile of Moran, Adrienne LaFrance considers how the project “raises fundamental questions about celebrity, privacy, and who ultimately determines the value and scope of an artist’s legacy”:

Moran has kept thousands of pieces of Updike’s garbage—a trove that he says includes photographs, discarded drafts of stories, canceled checks, White House dish_updikestrashylegacy invitations, Christmas cards, love letters, floppy disks, a Mickey Mouse flip book, and a pair of brown tasseled loafers. … James Plath, who is president of The John Updike Society, says Updike would have been “appalled” and “horrified” by Moran sifting through his trash. But Plath commends Moran for what he did. “If I was in the area, I would have done the same thing maybe. I think he did the world’s best dumpster diving.” Others, like the Updike estate’s literary agent Andrew Wylie, see it differently. “Anything he has is stolen,” Wylie said of Moran. “He was a dumpster digger. And he would steal the Updike’s trashbags every Wednesday … The family takes the situation very seriously. They have certainly tried to get him to stop but he’s not stopped.” …

“It was disgusting, the actual pursuit of it,” Moran told me. “The immediacy made it seem so wrong, but longterm, if you flash back on virtually any major author or historical artist, you would think, ‘I wish I had Mark Twain’s stuff or Andy Warhol’s stuff.’ The only morality, as somebody said to me, is if you could focus more on the culture than the vulture aspect … I just hope that it enhances his legacy.”

(Image of findings from Updike’s trash via Paul Moran)