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Understanding the Field of Literary Editing Alicia Fahey

MA Candidate , English Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, ON

Literary editing can be understood as anthropological fieldwork. Due to the fact that texts are fluid, multiple objects, as opposed to static, unchanging entities, the editor is required to undertake an editing project as a process of fieldwork excavation, thereby qualifying the editor as an “editorial anthropologist.” The process of assembling a text requires biological, cultural, archaeological and linguistic research and the end result will be yet another version of a text that contains a narrative imposed by the editorial anthropologist’s particular motivations, interests and worldview. It is imperative that scholars recognize that the field is not objective; they are working within a field that has been cultivated and contrived. An awareness of these parameters of literary editing changes our fundamental understanding of the meaning of texts, both in their current state, and in the emergent state of the digital field.

Keywords Literary editing, text, meaning, narrative, materiality


would like to begin my paper with a quotation from George Bornstein’s text Material Modernism: the Politics of the Page. In the introduction to this text, Bornstein poses the question: “if the Mona Lisa is in Paris, where is King Lear?” (2001:5). This question draws attention to the primary focus of my presentation today: my desire to challenge the conception of a text as a static, unified, object. In contrast, I will argue that texts are, in fact, multiple entities that possess a multitude of possibilities and narratives. To examine this challenge in further detail, I will discuss the role of a literary editor and the influence that he or she imposes on a text. Using the concepts of editor as fieldworker, the archives as field, and the text as the excavated, archaeological material, I will pursue this notion of what I will call, the “editorial anthropologist.” In essence, I am arguing that the multiplicity of texts necessitates a reassessment of our conceptions of the literary field in order to accommodate our manifold understanding of texts and to dispel the myth of a text as a static, unified entity. To return to Bornstein’s quotation, a work of art, in this case, the Mona Lisa, is a tangible, singular object that can be accessed in a single location. Upon viewing the object, one can ascertain specific facts regarding its materiality: its physical dimensions, the medium used to create the object, and particular colours and techniques employed to create the finished product. Furthermore, there is no disagreement regarding the image being represented: the Mona Lisa is easily identifiable as a portrait of a woman. We can also recognize that there is only one Mona Lisa and that although multiple imitations exist, both as literal and satirical representations; we understand that these are artificial simulations and not, in fact, the original object. Similarly, we need not question the creator of the object; it is an accepted fact that Leonardo DaVinci is the author of this work of art. In contrast, when examining the materiality of a text, these definitions and facts become much less clear. One cannot definitively locate the original King Lear. This is because it is not a singular object; it is a collation of manuscripts, prompter’s versions, performance scripts, published scripts, and printer’s versions (Warren 1978:96). One’s understanding of King Lear would also depend on the published version that they were to acquire.

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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 For example, it is common editorial practice to take the Folio and Quarto versions of King Lear and combine them to make one text and one story; this was the practice followed in the Riverside Edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works. But if one were to purchase the Oxford edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, they would be confronted with two versions of King Lear. The reason behind this is that the editors of the Oxford edition believed the variations among the surviving documents were too different to constitute a single play and should therefore be viewed as separate plays (Jowett 2006:11). This raises another point: that it is a necessity and material reality to acknowledge that texts are collaborative objects. Shakespeare alone did not make King Lear a public text; he required the collaboration of editors, publishers, printers, and archivists for the text to come to become public. Unlike a painting, texts are collaborative by nature. They are not static objects that can be easily defined, acquired and accessed, rather, they are multiple entities that exist in various formats and are subject to emendations and transformations under a variety of sources external to the author.

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One common practice for acknowledging this inherent multiplicity of texts is to produce a text as a critical edition. The purpose of a critical edition is to illuminate the text by annotating textual variants and elucidating obscure language or allusions. A critical edition will also include an introduction and appendices that will situate the text in its social and historical circumstance. Either the introduction or the appendix will likely explain the transmission history and provide various interpretations of the text. In this format, an editor is able to acknowledge the multiplicity of the text in terms of its material, social, historical and cultural circumstances. Thus, the editor as fieldworker is responsible for acquiring this information and making it available to his or her reading public. In order to do this the editorial anthropologist must perform fieldwork. For the literary editor, the field of literary study, especially in the case of texts whereby the author is deceased, is the archive. The archive, however, is not an arbitrary site where random artifacts can

be excavated, discovered and examined. It is a construction that reflects the archivist’s personal decisions about what material is relevant and should be included and what material is superfluous and should be omitted. Recently, there has been an increased awareness among scholars regarding the tenuousness of archival material and the archive itself. Ann Stoler encourages us to read the archive as process as opposed to reading the archive as thing (Stoler 2010:20). In other words, it is imperative that the archive be recognized as a site that has been cultivated and that particular motivations of the archivist(s) will inevitably impose a narrative on the archival material. The archivist is also charged with imposing some semblance of order on the documents. In this way, the archivist operates as a mediator of an archival fonds, by appraising the material contents to determine their function, purpose and relevance. Furthermore, the archivist can only work with the material that has been donated to the archive. Authors who are aware that their documents may end up in an archive are able to censor and remove documents they want to remain private. In some cases, this material may be included but the literary executor may place restrictions on it and require special permission to view these documents. Preservation is also an ongoing concern since the documents can become damaged as a result of time and overuse. What I am trying to explain here, is that even the documents available to the editor are constructed and contrived. The materials available through the fieldwork experience are already limited and contain their own narrative. We are not working in an objective field. The editor must also make selective decisions due to the fact that codex technology has many limitations. A book must be portable, affordable, and functional. Thus, the process of constructing a text requires that the fieldworker be able to excavate material, examine its meaning and functionality, and to then construct a narrative through a critical introduction and textual appendices that will situate this material in its various contexts.

‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009

The study of evolution is also central to editorial anthropology. In literary theory, this is called genetic editing, whereby the editor attempts to demonstrate the evolution of the text and the developments and transformations it underwent both prior to and after publication. The evolutionary process requires a study of manuscripts, published variants and other material such as journals and letters of correspondence that will show the development of the text. These documents can be used to dispel the myth that a text is a single, unified object. In this way, the material artifacts can offer insight to the behaviour, ancestry, evolution, social organization and culture of these objects and the people who produced them. Moreover, the literary field operates within specific parameters of genre, canonical framework, regional discourse and global issues. The idiosyncrasies of a particular author, the content of the work and the temporal period during which it was written, will establish him or her as a certain kind of writer: a poet, theorist, philosopher, novelist or a combination of these types. The value of a work will be based on its relation to other objects of its kind; particularly whether or not it is consecrated within the canonical framework of literature. These bibliographical materialities and the different facets of the field will influence and shape the narrative that the editorial anthropologist will construct.

I would also like to discuss the linguistic element of editorial anthropology. Words themselves possess a linguistic code that is dependent upon the community that understands and uses them. This section of editorial theory branches into many areas of linguistics. There is the study of pragmatics, a branch of semiotics, which examines the way in which context contributes to meaning. This involves analysis of elements such as paragraph structure, punctuation and thematics. It also looks at individual words, phrases, sentences, and larger units of discourse as indicators of meaning. There is also etymology, the study of the history of words and how their form and meaning changes over time. Similar to this is philology, the study of the form and meaning of texts and their history. Most important to this idea of linguistic editorial anthropology is that the editor’s interpretation of a given text will inevitably influence his or her editorial decisions. Whether or not to focus on the historical context, to modernize language, to use the earliest or latest version of a work, to base one’s copy-text on a single version or to collate various versions, will all be dependent on the editor’s interpretation of the text and the meaning he or she wishes to convey through his or her edition. I hope that the various considerations involved in editorial anthropology are becoming more apparent. Biological, cultural, archaeological and linguistic elements of editorial anthropology are inextricably linked and will affect the editor’s understanding of and relationship to the text that he or she must assemble. Furthermore, the limitations of the codex that I described earlier place even more restrictions on the selection process, since all material cannot possibly be included in a single edition. This is why we must reconsider and reassess the existing literary field. Recent studies in literary editing have addressed these concerns by attempting to produce digital hypertext editions of classical texts. One of the benefits of a digital environment would be the spatial considerations; since pages would not be limited in the digital format, all of the existing material could essentially be included in an

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I have thus far been describing the archaeological element of editorial anthropology. The archives provide access to artifacts that allow the fieldworker to assess and draw conclusions about a culture or person based on material culture, that is, the physical documents they are examining. There are, however, several other methods involved in editorial anthropology. One of the most apparent and yet overlooked areas is the bibliographical materiality of the text. This includes elements such as cover page, page layout, font size and style, line spacing, type of paper, and binding (McKenzie 2006:35). These elements can allow the editor to draw conclusions about the cultural and historical contexts of the text being examined.

‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 edition. Furthermore, this material could be viewed simultaneously; the reader would not have to look to the bottom of the page for explanatory footnotes or the back of the book for the appendix; material could be readily available through hyperlinks, parallel text or superimposed text. Although the editor would still play a significant role in the construction and organization of the digital edition, the role of the reader is much more active in the digital environment because he or she can select what material to pursue and what material to ignore. In this way, the relationship between the reader and text is altered; the digital field will change the way that readers engage with texts by allowing them to assert more control over the selection process. This has both positive and negative implications.

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In addition to the changes in material and biological interaction, the digital field also changes the linguistic element of texts. Computer linguistics is an entirely different set of codes and symbols. Academics in the humanities would therefore have to learn these new modes of communication. Another obstacle with a digital edition is its material condition; not everyone has Internet access, the portability of a computer is still not the same as a book, and reading online is still not a universally accepted method of reading. Although the digital environment is still in an emergent phase as the new field of literary editorial practice, the potential benefits of this field make it a relevant and exciting possibility for reworking our conceptions of the material, social, cultural, and historical elements of texts. There is still more work to be done, but the new generation of readers will likely experience a new relationship with texts both in their material and contextual existence. I am not suggesting that we should abandon the codex, but to conceptualize the digital field as an extension of the codex that will allow readers to explore texts in a new light and make the multiplicity of texts a universally acknowledged condition.

References Bornstein, George 2001 Material Modernity: The Politics of the Page. New York: Cambridge University Press. Jowett, John 2006 “Editing Shakespeare’s Plays in the Twentieth Century”. Shakespeare Survey 59: 1-19. McKenzie, D.F. 2006 The Book as an Expressive Form. In Book History Reader. David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, eds. Pp 35-46. New York: Routledge. Stoler, Ann Laura 2010 Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton U P. Warren, Michael 1978 Quarto and Folio in King Lear and the Interpretation of Albany and Edgar. In Shakespeare, Pattern of Excelling Nature. David Bevington and Jay L. Halio, eds. Pp 95-107. Delaware: University of Delaware Press. Works Consulted Bornstein, George 1993 Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press. Greetham, D.C. 1992 Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York: Garland Publishing Inc. Greg, W.W. 1950-1951 The Rationale of Copy-Text. Studies in Bibliography 3:9-36. Halpenny, Frances G., ed. 1975 Editing Canadian Texts. Toronto: A.M. Hakkert. Hill, Speed 1996 Where We are and How We Got There: Editing after Poststructuralism. Shakespeare Studies 24: 38-46.

‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 Irvine, Dean 2006. Editing Archives, Archiving Editions. Journal of Canadian Studies 40(2): 183-211. Kastan, David Scott 1996 The Mechanics of Culture: Editing Shakespeare Today. Shakespeare Studies 24: 3037. McGann, Jerome 1991 The Textual Condition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. McKenzie, D.F. 1999 Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shillingsburg, Peter 1996 Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice, 3rd Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Vickers, Brian 2006 “Are all of them by Shakespeare?”. Times Online, accessed August 9, 2009.

Alicia Fahey is a graduate student in the

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English Literature (Public Texts) M.A. program at Trent University. Her research interests include: Canadian literature and poetry, modernism and post-modernism, post-colonialism, museum and archival theory, literary theory, gender theory, and eco-criticism. For her thesis project, Alicia is preparing a critical edition of Canadian author Sheila Watson’s novel The Double Hook. Alicia is an affiliate of the Editing Modernism in Canada project (EMiC) whose mandate is to produce critically edited texts by modernist Canadian authors.

Understanding the Field of Literary Editing  

Understanding the Field of Literary Editing Alicia Fahey