10 Sep 2010

Research example: Making Public - Manuscripts and Reproduction

By Mariya Ustymenko, University of Essex

I would like to thank Carrie Smith for starting this wonderful discussion on manuscript editing and add a few observations on the subject hoping to make use of this great opportunity to share thoughts in an informal environment.

“Spelling and Strikethrough” made me think of parts of the authors´ artistic production “unintended for viewing”. How much legal weight do these parts hold against the later ‘better´ versions? Is it the author or the reader who has the right nowadays in the decision making?

The origin of manuscripts is private and for this reason alone the moral issues raised by the blog essay are both numerous and complicated. We live in a reading culture that considers great authors´ and artists´ letters to be integral part of their body of work and seldom questions their publishing. Letters and diaries are valued because they display the artist´s thinking process, document their aesthetic, social and political attitudes, and provide readers with additional access to his/her mind. But should these papers be published? From a researcher´s point of view the answer “no” would sound suicidal but publication raises a number of practical and moral questions. How does an editor decide which papers should be made available to the general public and which ones are best ‘kept´ in the author´s archive? What kind of omission would later be viewed as an editorial “crime”? Should a letter addressed to a fellow ‘great mind´ be considered of higher importance and interest than a scribble addressed to the neighbour about an annoying cat? What is an important mark and what is a doodle?

How many of our yesterday´s emails would we have saved ourselves for posterity and if they have all gone public what picture of us would they present?

Emily Dickinson seems to be a perfect example of an ‘unpublished´ writer sending her “letters to the world” that for a long time had been unaware of their existence. But the distinction between ‘letter´ and ‘poem´ is often difficult to establish when we are faced with the author´s manuscripts. What knowledge do we lose while taking the role of the reader unintended?

One of the major questions posed by Dickinson scholarship has to do with the fact that the poet remained nearly completely ‘unpublished´ in her times. Sharon Cameron, the author of the critically acclaimed Choosing Not Choosing, published in 1993, has persuasively argued that “the problems of reading and the problems of choice are in this [Dickinson´s] poetry inseparable” (247) as “it is not that Dickinson couldn´t publish, or that she chose not to”, “it is rather that she couldn´t choose how to do so” (241). Another distinguished Dickinson scholar, Martha Nell Smith, has provided extensive support towards the argument that it was in reality printing that Dickinson chose not to choose, while the poet retained complete control over her work through the distribution of her artistic production among her many correspondents.

Lately, in Dickinson scholarship there seems to be a visible shift in the direction of research focusing on Dickinson´s manuscripts as its core primary materials. In 1998 Suzanne Juhasz stated that: “In the 1990s we have been struck by certain material facts about Dickinson as writer: that her writing exists almost entirely in manuscript; that she regularly suggested alternative words or phrases to her poems and produced alternative versions of her poems; that she wrote letters with poems attached to them, embedded in them; that her writing forms possess such fluidity that we cannot precisely say what is prose and what is poetry. As a consequence, the way she wrote, the materiality of her writing, has everything to do with what and how we read when we are “reading Dickinson.”” (427)

Since this article´s publication, things have changed slightly: scholarly works aimed at analysing what can be treated as prose and what constitutes a poem in Dickinson´s body of work have been substituted by explorations of issues that encompass not only text-related features of manuscripts but also include materials which are not usually associated with literary analysis. This kind of research is represented by scholarly publications that deal with the gaps between the words and pages of the fascicles, the positioning of handwritten lines, paper embossments and their relation to the written texts.

Although there would be many scholars voicing their doubts towards what may be called the ‘fetishism of the document’, the strong trend for making the manuscripts primary sources of investigation seems to attract more and more supporters each year leading to a higher demand for wider scholarly access to the manuscripts. This seems to raise the standard for editing even higher as the editors of today have to not only avoid the violation of the author’s text but forefend the silencing of the text’s material environment leading us back to the big question – what is less ‘relevant’ and who decides?

Cameron, Sharon, “Amplified Contexts: Emily Dickinson and the Fascicles”, Emily Dickinson: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458, 1996). Pp. 240-247.

Juhasz, Suzanne, “Materiality and the Poet”, The Emily Dickinson Handbook (University of Massachusetts Press, 1998). Pp. 247-440.

Smith, Martha Nell, Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson (University of Texas Press, 1992).

Research example: The plasticity of the manuscript; the flattened text

By Wim Van Mierlo, University of London

This is a rejoinder (or conjoinder, rather) to Carrie Smith’s fine post on the about Spelling and strikethrough, typing manuscripts and silent editing. The kind of “silent editing” that she describes in Christopher Reid’s edition of The Letters of Ted Hughes is all too a common a practice. To smooth over minor slips of the pen seems for most a sensible thing to do; a minor intervention to help readability can only be a minor offence. Yet it begs the question, as Smith rightly asks, how much of the editor is there in the text. What annoys me most about it, I guess, is that it is always done in the name of the reader: it is the reader (editors or publishers claim) that do not want such troubling detail. These are usually also the kind of editors that find footnotes or annotations disturbing.

I don’t find slips of the pen disturbing. The Oxford Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats (under the general editorship of John Kelly) is in a fine example of an edition that retains detail of the hand that wrote the letters and thus gives a sense of the man behind the letters.

There are other features, too, that don’t find their way into printed editions. Among Ted Hughes’s letters to Leonard Baskin in the British Library (some of which Reid included in his volume) are written on “aerogram” paper, a type of blue, lightweight, gummed paper that could be folded to form an envelope which was used for airmail. Inevitably the “letter” sometimes overran the space on the paper, and Hughes would squeeze in a few extra lines, an ending, a greeting or a PS, to the sides of the page. None of this is ever found in a print edition of letters. Nor are any of the other features that one customarily finds in autograph letters—the space left between date, header, address; the inward-tapering left margin, and so on.

So there is a larger issue—an issue that has to do with the differences between manuscript and print. Print flattens text. A manuscript has three dimensions; the printed page has only two. The manuscript page, like the printed page, has width and length; the text moves—generally—from the top left corner to the bottom right. Generally, I say, because the writing on the manuscript can move in any direction in a way that print (barring some exceptional cases) does not. Print is limited by the sequentiality of the text; words appear in a strictly linear order. The text on the manuscript, by contrast, can move in any direction; the process of writing creates an order that is relational. Furthermore, as the text in the manuscript is not subjected to a strictly linear form, the temporal element of the manuscript is highlighted: the time of inscription becomes more apparent through the apparent simultaneity of textual elements—through co-existence of different moments of inscription—within one space.

The printed page of course has its own spatial possibilities; from the use of marginal glosses and footnotes in learned books to the dancing words of Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, examples of the versatility of mise-en-page abound. But it is simply that the manuscript naturally lends itself to an exploitation of all the dimensions of the page. Every manuscript is, in a sense, a palimpsest, even when the words are not actually written on top of one another. This is the plasticity of the manuscript.

The printed page, moreover, is not well suited to capture the elasticity of hand-writing: words written hastily, words written with great care; words crammed in a corner; words written on top of other words; words that are malformed. Print cannot quite adequately handle these. And yet they are what makes a manuscript a manuscript. They tell you something about the moment of inscription, the psychology of the writer, the circumstances in which the words were written.

An example of this can be found in an annotated copy of W.B. Yeats Poems (1901), now at Senate House Library, which contains some very sloppy pencil marginalia in an almost childish hand among otherwise reasonably clear and legible notes. The conclusion that the annotator, the poet and artist T. Sturge Moore, had taken his book with him and was writing on an unstable surface immediately presented itself. Or perhaps the surface was stable, but the writing hand was being rocked about by motion? It seems likely that Sturge Moore was reading his book on the train.

Besides handwriting, print can still at best only approximate the idiosyncratic features of a manuscript. With proper page-making skills, and a powerful DTP software package, one can go a long way towards capturing the irregular elements of a manuscript. It wouldn’t be totally impossible, for example, to produce a diplomatic transcription of one of Swinburne’s drafts, with his beautiful drooping, ever-expanding, never-ending lines. But the more detail is added, the less clear the printed text actually becomes. With a manuscript like this, the fact that one has practically no leading—the spacing between the lines—on sections of verse that curve downwards one above the other, could make the printed text actually less legible than the manuscript.

So print is less flexible. But approaching the point differently, one can accept that this is precisely the function of print. The printing press may have been invented to increase the rate at which texts can be duplicated and disseminated, but one of its effects was that it has standardized text. A book produced in the sixteenth century does not look essentially different from a book published in the twenty-first century. The coming and going of blackletter printing in Germany is certainly the best indication of how this standardization works. Even the world wide web still in many respects emulates the printed page, despite claims about a digital revolution. Print flattens text—indeed. But it is supposed to do so. And this has important implications for the way we perceive manuscripts.

Just a few months into the writing of his new book, Finnegans Wake, James Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver, on October 1923, sending him some new drafts: “Today I send you the rough sheets with a plan of the verse and a forgotten page of H.C.E. But please don't read them yet—in fact, they are illegible”. He was not exaggerating. Joyce’s much-reworked early drafts, though sometimes written in a large, clear hand, are challenging for anyone to read, because of their inchoate nature and elaborate overlay. Soon after Joyce would send Weaver a fair copy or typescript which would be much easier to read. But illegibility seems to be part and partial of his practice. About a month earlier he had written to her about another piece he had completed: “I had it typed at once in order to read it”. This time for his own benefit. There’s a point, in other words, at which the manuscript reaches saturation. The page, literally, has its limits; as the striations become so intricate that the page is bursting at the seams, the need to have the text flattened arises. The writer, after all, must also be a reader. Writing cannot forever dwell in the realm of the possible; if composition wants to move forward, the text needs to be fixed at some point, even if for a brief moment.

To return to the issue of silent editing—what position, then, should the editor or transcriber take? When editing documents, one should not interfere with the text of the document. That should be the first principle, and so I personally wouldn’t regularize occasional, but obvious errors and slips of the pen. But as an editor one has a duty towards the printed text as well. In their edition of Finnegans Wake (The Houyhnhnm Press, 2010), Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon have rendered the opening line thus: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle & Environs”. In the phrase “to Howth Castle and Environs” from the 1939 text, they emended “and” to “&”. They did so on the grounds that that was what Joyce first wrote in his manuscript (in a draft from 1926), and that (they argue) Joyce preferred the ampersand over the “distancing effect of the word ‘and’ in this context”. Editorially, critically, this is not a wholly straightforward decision, however. The “&” was indeed changed to “and” without Joyce’s express authorization on the galley proofs for the 1939 Faber edition— though remarkably after having been left to stand by several typists and typesetters as the text was transmitted in typescript and page proof through several iterations, including serialization in transition magazine. Now the ampersand is a ordinary feature of a manuscript—a symbol used for brevity, economy—that would in normal cases be normalized in print. The fact that it did not happen for so long has created an editorial problem.

Joyce’s typists and typesetters have, in other words, inadvertently acted as good documentary editors, until someone finally did erase the manuscript feature. This example shows just how plentiful the issues are when confronted by the idiosyncrasies of the minutiae in a manuscript. Editors (including editors like Reid) are not always conscious of these features—and the “manuscript culture” they encounter—in the manuscripts in front of them. Documentary editors, by contrast, are faced with a plethora of issues which they have to solve practically and with consistency. What, for example, if the slip of the pen is not really a slip? What when it poses a problem not unlike the ampersand in Joyce? What, in other words, if the misformed word is neither an abbreviation, nor a slip, but something not fully formed like this:

This detail from a manuscript by Lady Augusta Gregory for The Unicorn from the Stars (1908), a play she wrote in collaboration with W.B. Yeats, has a phrase which reads “that work in the business”. The word “the”, however, does not look like the; it rather looks like “te”. Yet to transcribe it that way would be pedantic, if not nonsensical. “Te” is not a standard abbreviation, the way it was customary up until the eighteenth century to shorten “the” to “ye” or “which” to “wh” or “wch”. The use of these abbreviations had something to do with the physical processes of writing by hand and using a quill and ink. (The disappearance of many of these abbreviations can, I guess, be attributed to the introduction of the steel pen nib.) Similarly, Lady Gregory “te” is a kind of elision effected for ease of writing and for speed, so that the pace of the hand can better keep up with the flow of the brain.

The straight slip of the pen is of course similar. What causes the writer to write one word for another is a momentary cognitive lapse; the intended word takes a different shape as the hand is forced to jump, like a faulty record or CD to keep up, with the flow of inspiration. The difference between the slip of the pen and “te” is that the slip is not a mistake that occurs consistently.

The case might therefore be made in favour for diplomatic transcription of “te”, but then the problem really has no end. What is it that the transcriber actually sees: is it “te”? Or is it “the”, with its letters rung together? Or even “th”? Take this example from the same folio, which reads: “but the weight of the business falls on Henry & myself – I wouldn’t”

The words “falls”, “myself” and “wouldn’t” show the same signs of being swiftly formed as “the”, but they are clearly no abbreviations or contractions, yet one needs some imagination (and a practiced eye) to decipher the individual letters of the double “ll” in “falls” and “my” in “myself”; even the standard contraction in “wouldn’t” is interesting because it has the apostrophe, but no separation of the letters “n” and “t”. Looking again at the first example, one can ponder whether “that” is that or this, two words that in Lady Gregory’s hands are not easy to distinguish. In this case it is “that” for the word fits syntactically with the rest of sentence, but the untrained would first take this word as “this”.

Such detail is intriguing and cumbersome at the same time. Pragmatically one sometimes has to flatten the text and opt for what is intended, not for what one sees, or thinks one sees, on the page. Ultimately, the plasticity of the manuscript is not something that can rendered in a perfect way, but as long the business of editors is to edit, they need to make decisions. However, what has to be kept in mind is that the text that results from the editorial process—whether through silent editing or diplomatic transcription—is a representation, not a reclamation of the manuscript.

6 Sep 2010

Research Example: Looking for audiences in the archive

By Lisa Stead, University of Exeter

A question I'm repeatedly asked when presenting research about the writing of early female cinema fans is how such examples can be verified as authentic. In reference to my own research, this problem is fairly specific. In an effort to gain a sense of what silent cinema audiences actually thought and felt about the cinema they consumed, I have frequently plundered the film ephemera archive for literary examples of audience participation. By "ephemeral archive" I refer to that which houses books, prints, artefacts and ephemera relating to cinema history and prehistory, as opposed to archival film prints. Fan magazines form a key part of Exeter's ephemeral archive--the Bill Douglas Centre. Fan letters located in the letter and poetry pages of fan magazines offer one of the few access points to the opinions and creative writing of an audience now some 100 years in the past.

These examples challenge the researcher to prove that such letters were written by actual audience--and not by magazine editors--and further challenge what we consider to be 'literary' in the archive, and what types of archives can be considered 'literary'. The problem of authenticity, moreover, is a much larger one in relation to all archival study.

Since the title of the conference specifically addresses what we consider the boundaries of the literary archive, I'm curious as to whether the film ephemera archive is able to cross over into the literary--and whether the problems of authenticating the plethora of individual voices contained within discount the ephemera archive from 'serious' literary study, distinct as it is from the more traditional format of author's papers or manuscript collections.

Women’s fan writing about silent cinema as it appears in British fan magazines presents one of the most interesting generative aspects of film culture as female cultural practice. Fan letters are an example of women’s involvement in creating film culture as a topic to be written about. British women found a platform to express their interpretation of their nationally specific cinematic encounters within the fan magazine as a new form of extra-textual print ephemera shadowing the growth of cinema culture.

Women's fan magazine writing allows the researcher to explore female fan culture beyond the confines of the exhibition site, reading silent cinema as a phenomenon that reached, influenced and fundamentally was used by women in multiple representational spheres. Published fan letters testify to the personal resonance that filmic encounters held for working and lower-middle class British women in the immediate post-war era. Further than this, they challenge the superficiality of leisure experiences, emphasizing the way in which ephemeral traces of women’s engagement with leisure forms insist upon themselves as historically significant traces of a period of cultural transformation for British women.

But, as I'm frequently asked when presenting fan letters in this way, how do we know whether these letters were really written by female cinemagoers, and not penned by editors? As many who have worked in publishing have testified at such events, it is common practice for women's magazine editors to pad the letters pages with false questions, queries and comments from imaginary readers. In the 1930s, this practice apparently often occurred in fan magazines. Further, since film magazines had strong ties to the film industry financially, it would seem likely that editors may be inclined to invent letters singing the praises of particular stars, studios or recent releases... Yet the sheer variety of fan debate and opinion on display within the silent era fan magazines would seem to suggest otherwise.

So what tactics might we employ in an effort to affirm, to some degree, the likelihood of these letters being authentic? Details of editorial practices for specific magazines at this time are near impossible to unearth.

My own methodological inclination has been to approach the material quantatively, analyzing the subject matter of fan writing and reading this against the types of female stars in particular that the magazine officially promoted. This reveals, for example, a volume of letter writing about particular stars who appear nowhere in the 'official' content of the magazine. Such quantative data might suggest, therefore, that these letters are authentic, since a precedent does not exists for the championing of these individual performers within the magazine as a whole.

The question remains of how much weighting to give such letters as an example of female audiences and audience writing. Are they less important academically than the writings of, say, Virginia Woolf upon cinema in the same era? Is the ephemera archive of less scholastic value than the authorial archive? Are published fan letters good enough evidence of actual audiences from an era now unreachable for any kind of retrospective oral history research?

My own feeling is that such traces of fan writing insist upon themselves, exceeding their status as ephemeral by-products of commercialised consumer leisure culture. Attention to lowbrow literary forms assists in the writing of different kinds of women “back into film history” (Hastie 2006, 229) in a manner which gives voice to the diversity of female film culture in this period, moving away from the big names of literary modernism, like Woolf...

Hastie, Amelie. 'The Miscellany of Film History.' Film History. Vol 18: no. 2 (2006): 222-230.