Editing Modernism in Canada


June 21, 2010

nuancing editions

The past week has been a great chance to settle back into life in Halifax (I trust many of you have received emails from EMiC HQ with updates on travel subventions and all that fun stuff) but it has also been a great chance to spend some time digesting and reflecting upon everything I learned and experienced at DHSI.  I had a great meeting with Dean and got him caught up on the week’s activities and he mentioned how connected he felt to all of us because of this blog.  With that in mind, I want to follow in Melissa and Meg’s footsteps and ensure that we continue to connect through the blog.  As we talked about at our Friday wrap-up meeting, we also want to put into place a more standardized system of posting, so that each partner institution has a “turn” taking responsibility to post each week in order to keep this space vital, relevant, and interactive.  We are going to draw up a schedule on this end of things but in the meantime if anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear them!  As a final “teaser,” we have designated one hour per week as time for our undergraduate and graduate interns here at Dal to use this “blog” to report on the work they’ve been doing this year– so stay tuned!

One of the things that Dean mentioned he’d love to see more of is people blogging about their specific projects.  What projects did we go into DHSI with?  Were there specific issues that you went into the course with?  What issues came up during your class that may have changed the way you foresee conducting your research?

Here is my “for example.”  As I’ve mentioned a few times, I went into the TEI fundamentals course with very little knowledge of anything remotely HTML or XML related, so I brought in simply curiosity as to how learning such languages may affect the way I operated as an editor.  As I’ve been working with Elizabeth Smart’s novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, most of my editorial decisions have been based in the editorial theory I learned in Dean’s classes over the years on editions, small presses, and the history of editing practices in Canada.  One thing I did not foresee before DHSI was how so many of the self-same editorial theory applies over to coding.  The issue of “intentionalist editing,” as just one example, is just as pertinent to those working on digital editions as it is to those working on print editions.  I started to become quite fascinated by the changing power-dynamics between the author, editor, and reader in any digital edition and questions of how playful or malleable our new tools make the text are simultaneously exciting and troubling.

The following is an example of an editorial issue that had been sitting on the sidelines of my brain until the TEI course brought it into clear focus:

One of the challenges and joys of working with an author like Elizabeth Smart is the allusive (and thereby elusive) her text is.  Metaphors and allegories develop, weave, disappear, morph, and reappear at every turn of phrase or page.  One of the extended tropes in By Grand Central Station is that of sacrifice, a trope expressed at times with references to Jesus and at others to the “wandering five million”–the displaced Jewish peoples of war-torn Europe.  How does an editor footnote or tag these references?  Does one write a detailed critical introduction outlining these issues and then noting whenever they show up?  Does one build a narrative through end-notes that accumulates as the reader goes through?  When does an editor draw a line between noting a reference?  How does one deal with moments in the text which may be interpreted as fitting within a particular reading of the text?  These are all issues I have been wrestling with over the years and I found that self-same issue at play in my TEI project.

On the first page of Smart’s novel we find the following paragraph (image is a scanned first-edition of the text):

The section I have issue with is “her madonna eyes, for as the newly-born, trusting as the untempted.”  How does one footnote or tag a phrase such as this?  First of all “madonna” is not capitalized and therefore I argue that it takes away from the authority of a reference to the Biblical reference.  These eyes are “soft as the newly-born,” and such a reference to birth directly after “madonna” suggests to me the first of many references to Jesus in the text.  To make it even more complex is the secondary reference to “the untempted.”  Smart describes the eyes that belong to the wife of the man the narrator is planning to have an affair with as “trusting” as one who has never been tempted, but how does one read that in reference to Jesus, a figure who was repeatedly tempted?  There are a number of interpretations for a section of prose such as this, but where does the onus lie for the editor to make note of such interpretive possibilities?  Particularly in a scholarly edition? For the TEI mark-up I chose to tag the text as such:

With the following notes appearing in the “back matter”:

I’m not entirely happy with the results.  The challenge that I ended up leaving DHSI considering is how we can possibly build a framework to accommodate for nuance in our texts.  I would love to discuss how such nuance challenges us not only as scholars but as editors.  How can our new editorial tools help us address such nuance?  Could these tools possibly allow for an editorial apparatus that skillfully allows us to navigate or negotiate these nuances?  In what ways could they allow for multiple co-existing interpretations?  How does a more participatory relationship between reader and text by virtue of such tools allow for a co-existentially nuanced editorial practice?

One Response to “nuancing editions”

  1. langa says:

    Hi Vanessa

    I find this a really interesting issue, and one which hadn’t really come to the fore with much force (yet) in my own edition, as I’ve been focussed on quite tangible references (people, places, publishers, books) within a set of letters rather than being on the more slippery terrain of literary allusions.

    I don’t really have an answer to the specific coding questions you’re asking, but what did occur to me as I read your post is that it’s not all about the responsibility of the coder. There are ways to query corpora that can bring out references, say, to Biblical allusions. If you happened to catch the paper at DHSI on topic modelling Martha Ballard’s diary then that’s the kind of thing I’m thinking of – it’s possible that at some point in the future there might be a sophisticated enough topic modeller that would pick up these references, even when couched in metaphorical language as the examples you’ve chosen are. Even a regular old lexical analysis might bring out an interesting discourse prosody around words connected to sacrifice which the reader could then pursue further.

    (Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem of how far to go as an editor in marking up the text in a nuanced way … just throws in another thing to consider in relation to the ‘participatory relationship between reader and text’!)


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.