Editing Modernism in Canada


August 1, 2014

Ethical Editing and the Digital Deluge

I’m something of a newcomer to DH, but what I enjoyed most about TEMiC 2014 was the alternation between practical matters and more abstract, wide-ranging theorizing. Workshops on specific sites and tools such as Spoken Web, the Modernist Commons, and Audacity gave way to discussions about the ethics of editing or reissuing a variety of texts. While some initiatives — such as several participants’ work disseminating Canadian poetry readings and other phonotextual materials — seem to be largely unproblematic examples of preserving work that could otherwise be lost or neglected, projects involving Indigenous cultural materials could be substantially more fraught (as Dean Irvine pointed out during his talk on Tuesday).

Such discussions, along with Karis Shearer’s and Jordan Stouck’s comments on the politics and ethics of dealing with correspondence containing contentious subject matter, made me reflect on some potential difficulties in my own work with EMiC. I pitched my project — a digital edition of Laura Goodman Salverson’s fascinating yet fairly melodramatic novel The Dove, in which a village of Icelanders is captured by Muslim corsairs and taken to Algiers — with the intention of disseminating what I thought was a richly bizarre iteration of the internationalist and imperialist concerns central to much modernist and Canadian literature. During TEMiC, I came to be aware of a range of possible objections to such a stance. Would those with a close connection to Salverson’s autobiographical writings or earlier novels consider her foray into historical romance to be in poor taste? If the edition’s target readership consists of a body of scholars with a particular set of interests, could the novel in fact be better off shrouded in some degree of obscurity? More practically, who would benefit from an elaborate genetic edition that incorporates many extra-textual features? Would it be wisest to prepare a very basic yet widely accessible edition? During one discussion I found myself arguing in favour of critical editing that produces sufficient collective enrichment — whether knowledge-based or aesthetic — to make the project more than an arbitrary digitalization of one’s research interests. And while many of the week’s readings and demonstrations of digital tools contributed to an atmosphere of limitless possibility, perhaps it is naïve to think in terms of a vast sea of lost texts that would be best served by preservation as digital editions or databases. Maybe Dean’s ideas about beginning a process of recovery and leaving open the possibility of walking away are relevant not only for projects involving sensitive Indigenous texts; perhaps truly responsible editing practices have to involve a surgical use of well-selected technologies for carefully thought-out purposes rather than be based on enthusiasm for the possibilities opened up by emerging digital technologies. I’m the kind of person who frets about most things, but last week’s discussions have nevertheless encouraged me to think more deeply about how to proceed with my edition.

Thankfully, however, these worries dissolved in waves of screen prints and sushi and seasonal beverages, not to mention the literal waves of Okanagan Lake. Much as my brief swims provided valuable respite from the patrons of the Centre of Gravity music festival (see also: the Bro-nado), I hope my use of digital editing methods results in a useful, if necessarily modest, final product.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.