Let’s go on a journey together, you and I, far, far from our familiar habitat, to the most remote corner of the Earth. Where do you envision it? Deep in the Amazon jungle, perhaps? In the remote wastes of the Siberian tundra? In an oasis by a waterhole in the Australian outback? For the purposes of our illustration we have to imagine that a flower grows there, but it doesn’t really matter whether or not that would really be possible. My most remote place is a valley deep in the forests of Papua New Guinea. Wherever you picture this place, add to your vision of it that no human has ever seen it, that it is the epitome of pristine. And now think of the flower. It should be brightly colored and set in the midst of emerald foliage. If it’s in a jungle, sunlight stabs through the overhanging branches and strikes it in such a way as to bring out its dazzling, luxuriant colors. Around it you can envision what you will: hills, valleys, waterfalls, a gently flowing river. Now this is the important thing: imagine that this flower, this gorgeous flower, this breathtaking flower that rivals any flower that has ever existed in the world for beauty, has never been seen by a human being. It has grown to maturity in this remote place without ever having been accorded appreciation. Still, it is there. It exists.
Is it real? Is it as significant as a possibly less lovely flower growing in Central Park that is seen and appreciated by thousands of passers-by daily? Central Park flowers don’t even have to be breathtaking, come to think. They still impress people with their soot-covered humble beauty because they are the only game in town.
The image of the flamboyant flower in the deep jungle came to me very strongly when I was out on a walk last week. It encouraged me in a strange sort of way. Whether or not anyone sees it, the flower is real, of course. Its incomparable beauty, scent, and texture are real. Despite its unsurpassed elegance, though, it will never be appreciated by humans as the ultimate in floral splendor. Other lesser flowers will receive that honor because they are obvious and visible.
You may have already caught the comparison I am making here. I am thinking of unknown works of art, specifically of works of literature. Self-publishing has enabled people to publish their works, works that would have in the past been shut down by literary gatekeepers such as publishers, editors, and, increasingly, accountants as large companies look more and more to their bottom lines. However, this has caused many works to become buried in the sheer volume of new books being published. So the question is: are these works valid, even if they are hidden amidst the rest? When I write this I am thinking of my own books, of course, and wonder if their publication is justified even if they don’t sell well – or hardly at all. Are they valid as artistic output even if they are like that flower in the jungle’s remote forgotten glade? Do they exist? Do they have value? Are they real?
I have to answer yes to these questions. They are real and they have value. Unlike the flower we envisioned at the beginning of this essay, they will not wilt. They will continue to remain in that remote location, shining brightly whether or not anyone sees them, until one day, someone might chance upon that locale, and become enraptured, and appreciate their worth, and tell others, and beam the light of awareness upon that previously unknown place.
Does the unknown flower have as much value as one set in a city park? You can answer that question any way you like, whatever seems real to you. My answer is yes. Yes, it does.