journal number two
Here’s an interesting connection: the sixth entry under “editor” in the OED defines it in the context of “computing” and reads: “A program that permits the user to alter programs or to alter or rearrange data or text held in a computer.” Other entries that are not specific to “computing” also denote alteration by using words like “revise” and “cut,” but at the same time use more benign words like “arrange” and “prepare.”
Which set of words accurately describes the actions of an editor? Cloud obviously thinks that the editing tradition alters the text and passes off this alteration, or “Illusion” as he says, “as if it were the Truth” (149). I agree completely when he accuses literary criticism of going irresponsibly beyond “explain[ing] it” to “explain[ing] it away” (131): editors should facilitate interpretation rather than thrusting it. Not “altering” but “arranging” we could say, if we had our pick of the verbs used in the OED, but even in this “arranging,” editors should acknowledge the arrangement. So like Stephen said of textual criticism, the editor does have to make a choice in the end – but that choice is not the final word (else beware the biting criticism of Cloud), and in order for it not to pose as the authority, the choice must be transparent (there’s that word again). But we all agree with that.
Conceptually, the balance of editing, as Stephen’s query phrases it, lies in making the text readable without distorting the intent of the work. But how do we know what is the intent of the work; is that not based on our own interpretation of it? I think another way to understand editing can be read in Cloud’s essay when he says of the shape-poem that “it cannot exist wholly in a single spatiality and temporality” and thus, the reader on the other side of the words similarly “cannot be in all modalities at once” “in our performative processing of this poem-that-is-a-picture” (72). This phrase “performative processing” is what made me think: what if we thought of editing not as a balance between distortion and accessibility, but as a performance of trying to find this balance? And not just a solo performance, but one with many other parts to be played? If we think of that choice that an editor has to make in the context of the fact that there are many other editors who make other choices, think other modalities, then the act of editing becomes a conversation rather than a scramble for authority. This is, I think, the idea behind the social edition: the conversation, performative editing. A choice is made, but it is not the only choice that can be made, and then authority becomes as impossible as it should be; Cloud reminds us that “authority itself is multiple” (149). Though it seems that Cloud disagrees that editing would ever “divulge its own structures, until it is juxtaposed critically to the evidence it claims to report” (150), I have a much more optimistic view of the potential of the digital humanities to transform editing – aren’t all academics motivated solely by their intellectual enthusiasm!?
This is getting long, but two more side notes: First, the “stupid scoundrel”-type editing that Cloud describes as a “transmission of information” (147) reverberates with my own pedagogical concerns. I don’t think his use of the phrase is unintentional since in teacher education programs, “transmission of information” is often contrasted with “student-centered” approaches to learning; when we pose our own interpretations as authoritative without room for discussion, it robs students (or independent readers of the edition) of their own ability to interpret and analyze. Again this points to the importance of digital editions that give access to multiple possibilities of a text. Second, I thought the idea of poems that “react to a printed edition” (72) posed an interesting problem for editors, as Cloud illustrates with Easter Wings. I’m interested in what the editorial “altering” or “arranging” might look like when we consider poetry that is purposely made to evade the editorializing of editors, like bp nichol’s 1967 “book” that was actually a box filled with different mediums for writing, and had writing on the box as well? Editors have tried to make it “fit” in various ways, for example check out this bibliographic entry:
bp. Box includes Journeying & the returns (book), Letters Home (loose visual poems), Borders (record), Wild Thing (flip book), and “Statement” printed on the back of the box. Toronto, ON: Coach House Press, 1967.
You would never find instructions on the MLA website for that! (If you’re interested, http://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Nichol.php has some of the poems included on the record that came in the box).
Like everyone else, my plan for the following week is to practice practice practice the more technical stuff from the textbook. I still feel lost in that area but much more prepared to work with it now that I feel like I have a grasp on some of the theoretical concerns of digital editing.