New Modernist Editing

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New Modernist Editing Postgraduate Training Workshop

19th – 20th April, 2017

4 University Gardens, University of Glasgow

Last week, twelve postgraduates from across the UK gathered at Glasgow University to learn more about the work of the AHRC-funded New Modernist Editing Network and to be introduced to the processes involved and issues arising when producing new editions of a modernist text.

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Day one began with a warm welcome from both Bryony Randall, Lecturer in English Literature at Glasgow and the NME Network’s PI, and Wim Van Mierlo, Network member and Lecturer in English and Publishing at Loughborough University. As we then introduced ourselves via our interest in modernism and modernist editing, many shared interests emerged: What is the role of new modernist editing in restoring the work of previously marginal or neglected authors? How do we go about editing and annotating modernist, and even postmodernist, works that are characteristically fragmented and, as such, often resistant to totalising re-presentations? What is the relation, if any, between a scholarly edition and a popular one? How can digital media assist in the production and preservation of new modernist editions? With interests in authors and artists as varied as Hart Crane, Ford Maddox Ford,  H.D., Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, John Fowles, James Joyce, Mina Loy, Dorothy Richardson, Kurt Schwitters, and Dylan Thomas, some of us came to the workshop with extensive editing experience and the intent to edit particular manuscripts; others, like me, arrived with little experience in the field but a keen interest in exploring what has become a swell of recent work in modernist editing.

In the opening session, BR began by explaining how the idea for the NME Network developed in response to the sheer volume of contemporary work being done in editing editions of modernist writers, an outgrowth of the fact that copyrights for many of modernist authors have now expired. Following the Network’s first two meetings held in Manchester and Durham, she outlined some of the critical guiding questions that have emerged. To what extent should the processes by which modernists edit their own work be reflected in scholarly editions of their work? More broadly, how is an awareness of modernist aesthetics handled in terms of editing? Where do we draw the line between editing, annotating, and interpreting a text? How can digital media enable the production of genetic editions wherein textual simultaneity (a comprehensive picture of a literary work’s drafts, notes, and emendations) can be achieved? Who is the current audience for the new modernist editions? Who are the potential audiences for it? And, how can NME respond to the new conditions of cultural production while at the same time sustaining the materiality of the cultural productions of the text as it was produced? From here, BR invited PGRs to engage in preliminary discussions of the kinds of issues and potential challenges we foresaw in NME. Here discussions ranged from practical questions regarding how to fund new projects, decide on an audience, and collate variants or textual ‘witnesses’ to more theoretical questions as to what to annotate and what kind of notes to use and to what extent and whether your methodological approach should extend to your editorial method.

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In the next session, WVM invited us to engage further in some of the theoretical and procedural issues editing raises in his outline of the history and theory of scholarly editing. Beginning with a provocation, WVM asked us which text we would imagine to be harder to edit, Joyce’s Dubliners or Finnegan’s Wake. Playing Alan Davies to WVM’s Stephen Fry, many of us chose the latter given its length and allusiveness. In fact, WVM explained Dubliners would present the editor with far greater challenges because its publishing history is less clear, and there are fewer textual variants, factors that make Dubliners a far more difficult text to edit. Drawing on both a wealth of editing experience and theoretical work in editing methodologies, WVM importantly mapped the history of scholarly editing, debates within and amongst its various schools, and used practical examples to illustrate dilemmas that editors invariably face, depending on what school they follow and whether their aim is to create an ‘ideal’ text, a ‘version’, or a ‘social’ text. Ultimately, what WVM emphasised is the act of scholarly editing as a process of selection that, while inherently value-laden, must be as transparent and reflexive as possible in order to produce an edition of a text that is good for a generation…before it will need to be edited again for the next generation of researchers and in accordance with further developments in editing.

After lunch, BR led the session on The Cambridge UP Woolf Edition and Feminist Editing. Beginning with an overview of the edition, BR passed round recent volumes so that we could examine its particulars: the appearance of text on the page; the placement, length, and content of notes; the textual apparatus; and the General Editors’ Introduction. From here a fascinating discussion of this Introduction ensued as the relation between editing and politics was explored by workshop leaders and participants. Specifically, we discussed the way in which Jane Goldman and Susan Sellers frame theirs as a feminist edition by placing it in dialogue with Woolf’s own understanding of the text as co-constructed by its readers. We also observed the political effect of framing the CUP edition as an outgrowth of Woolf’s own authority, specifically how by placing the CUP edition in dialogue with Woolf’s own practice and theory of writing the editors highlight the authority of three female voices within the text – Woolf’s and their own – without deferring to Woolf’s chronological priority as the edition’s unconscious authority. At the same time, we also noted how Goldman and Sellers take care to place Woolf’s work in its material context, a gesture that in turn calls for readers of Woolf to consider not only the text as situated but also themselves as situated readers. As with the morning sessions, emphasis was placed on the idea of editing as a process of selection, wherein even seemingly ‘neutral’ decisions betray the editor’s preferences and readings of the material. In the case of the ‘feminist’ edition, this process is made quite transparent, but we were reminded of the need to engage in a reflexive editorial practice regardless of the intended politics (or lack thereof) of the edition we set out to create.

Day 1 concluded with an exciting sneak-peak at the NME Network’s Digital Edition of Woolf’s ‘Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville’. Beginning with a brief overview of the rationale for and the scope of this project, BR highlighted some of the initial questions the NME has raised in creating this digital edition, particularly how the reader should encounter the reading text in digital form (e.g. as a draft with Woolf’s notes, squiggles, and revisions or as a more finished edited copy). After BR’s talk, we were all left eager to take a more hands-on approach to this text on Day 2.  WVM concluded this session by taking us through a fascinating review of work that has been done since 2008 in digital editing. From Jerome McGann’s relatively early attempt to create an online edition of the complete works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Dirk Van Hulle and Mark Nixon’s Samuel Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, the range of digital editions of texts and the issues associated with curating and editing them became clear. Nevertheless, WVM invited us to think of these editions and ongoing developments in digital editing as part of the development of the discipline and archive of textual editing studies. Importantly, we also saw how the most contemporary work in the field – such as the Woolf and Beckett digital editions – will allow editors to approximate the kind of textual simultaneity and layered editions of modernist texts as they were written and rewritten – that standard book format cannot achieve. Concluding on this fascinating note, the conversation continued over a most enjoyable dinner, hosted at a local pub by participant and Glasgow PGR, Emma Ward.

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Day 2 of the workshop began with a session on Transcription and Annotation. Matthew Creasy, Lecturer in English Literature at Glasgow and member of the NME Steering Committee, provided an overview of transcription and examples of both facsimile and diplomatic translation. After this, MC invited us to roll up our sleeves and produce a transcript of a section of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. In groups, we selected the piece of text to transcribe – many of which were typescripts with notes written by Eliot, his wife Vivienne, and Eliot himself – and then had to decide how to transcribe it. Most of our discussions began by asking three guiding questions, which MC framed in his introductory talk: What will you record? How will you record it? Who will read it (e.g. is it for your own research or for others to read)? As we learned from experience, these discussions, far from being preliminary, are essential to producing transcripts that are of value to our work. While the actual transcripts and modes of transcription varied depending on each group’s answer to these three founding questions, here again we had the opportunity to see just how important it is not only to develop a reflective editing practice but also to be willing to adjust your approach as go. After the transcription part of the session, MC, WVM, and BR discussed annotation, and again emphasised it as a process of selection that can at times risk becoming overly interpretive. At the same time, as all three presenters pointed out with reference to their own work as editors, the territory between annotation and interpretation is often quite vague, and much of what will be annotated will not actually be up to the editor but instead the exigencies of page length and publication costs, in other words concerns about which the publisher has the final say.

Before breaking for lunch, WVM introduced us to what is currently the most universally recognised and used tool for creating digital representations of texts, Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). As WVM explained, TEI uses the computer language of XML to help encode texts so that you can preserve its various features (e.g. author’s marginal notes, revisions, and even doodles!) in digital format. WVM’s overview of TEI and XML helped set the stage for the afternoon’s session, in which we used XML to create our own digital edition of the first section of Woolf’s ‘Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville’.

Led by Mr Brian Aitken, Digital Humanities Research Officer for the School of Critical Studies at Glasgow University, the afternoon’s session of using TEI and XML was both hands-on and invigorating. Building on WVM’s introduction to TEI, BA began by explaining some of TEI’s best features and why it has been become the standard for creating digital texts; he also offered a brief précis of XML and top tips of using it to encode what we wanted to into the manuscript at hand. With that, we were ‘set free’ with the Woolf text as we attempted to both render its features as faithfully as possible in digital form. As with the morning’s transcription work, using XML to create the beginnings of a digital edition proved strangely addictive, raising questions as we went along as to the extent of detail and information that we could encode in within our digital versions of Woolf’s manuscript. Here again, we were encouraged to return to the questions that guided our work on digitising texts: Who will the digital text be read by? What did we want to do with it?

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The day concluded with a brief summation, evaluations, and, of course, an invitation to keep the conversations about new modernist editing going not only with the NME Network but also within our home institutions and research networks. I know I join all PGR participants in offering enthusiastic thanks to Bryony, Wim, Matthew, and Brian for a most enjoyable and enlightening PGR workshop on New Modernist Editing. Many of us will look forward to furthering our understanding of the field by attending the related conference, ‘Remaking the New: Modernism and Textual Scholarship’, at Queen Mary University from 13 to 14 July.

Elizabeth Pritchett

Keele University

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