Editing Modernism in Canada


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November 13, 2014

“everythings too fuckd up today” & the revolution cannot wait: a brief reflection on the political at Avant-Canada

by Eric Schmaltz

Not all delegates of the Avant-Canada conference would necessarily locate themselves under the umbrella term avant-garde since it is, as many critics have pointed out, a contentious, perhaps even outmoded, label with controversial militaristic connotations. However, I find the term useful in articulating a position that is not compliant with the status quo. More pointedly, the term, for me, identifies a radical mode of praxis that seeks fundamental social or political change. Avant-Canada was a meeting place for many of these types of poets, artists, and thinkers.

Continental theorists of the avant-garde such as Renato Poggioli and Matei Calinescu have addressed (with varying degrees of complexity and success) what are generally considered to be the two vectors of the historical avant-garde: 1) the radical political avant-garde, art in the service of social and political ideology; and 2) the aesthetic avant-garde, the belief that liberating artistic and literary form possesses the power to change society. This binary is over-simplified and specious, but it was while I was en-route to Avant-Canada that I wondered which face of the literary and artistic avant-garde I would enjoy over the course of the three-day gathering. Of course, it would be egregious to suggest that the conference reflected any one variant––numerous perspectives on the role of politics in art were situated, from the politically charged lyrics of the dub poets Lillian Allen, d.bi young, and Chet Singh to the more insidious formal experiments of conceptual writers like derek beaulieu and Christian Bök. From my perspective, however, the conference was characterized by a concern for topics of a more radical political interest over aesthetics.

The discussion I was privy to oscillated around topics of injustice, misogyny, and exploitation, among other issues. I am thinking of the timely “killjoy” panel “The Female Future-Garde in Canada” during which the panelists addressed issues of feminism, academia, and community by sharing not only their critical assessments, but their deeply personal narratives of experienced sexism, misogyny, and assault. The discussion was triggering and effectively confrontational––these panelists (whom I deeply admire) recognize, as Lee Maracle does in her essay “Ramparts Hanging in the Air,” that, “Silence is no longer a weapon of resistance.” Instead they vocalize a rightful opposition to the egregious offenses they face as they work to re-shape discourse, develop tactics of resistance, and strategize for the future. The roundtable left me exhausted and, as Julia Polyck-O’Neil has also indicated in her post, feeling “heavy,” but that heaviness, that weight, is something I want to carry with me as I continue to research, write, and organize to remind myself of the ways in which I can and should contribute. And I am also thinking of the dub poets, the cacophony of Jordan Abel’s plundering of Western novels in his performance of Un/Inhabited, the lucid anger of Lee Maracle’s keynote on colonialism and memory as a site of activism, Michael Nardone’s analysis of the sonic/spatial disruptions of the Idle No More Round Dance, and Skawennati’s futurist mini-series TimeTraveller™. Amongst these proceedings was my own presentation – ‘the killing of speech:’ The Sonic-Politics of The Four Horsemen” – which sought to develop a theoretical context that recovers the material and political possibilities of the sound poetry event that some sound poet practitioners have long abandoned.

The political spirit of these happenings is timely amid Canada’s ongoing climate of socio-political tumult, and indicative of a restlessness, discontent, and desire for change. It was a moment of not only broadening political and aesthetic consciousness, but the formation of a network committed to change. While bill bissett, in an apparent moment of disillusionment in 1978, once wrote “th revolushun will have to start tomorrow / everythings too fuckd up today,” Avant-Canada was a crucial interstice that saw the productive collusion of artists,  activists, writers, and thinkers unwilling to wait.

September 11, 2014

CFP: Codex-tensions: Canadian Writing Beyond the Book-Machine

CFP: Codex-tensions: Canadian Writing Beyond the Book-Machine

Member-Organized Session for ACCUTE 2015 (30 May – 2 June 2015) in Ottawa

Panel organized by Christopher Doody (Carleton U) & Eric Schmaltz (York U) CFP, Codex, FINAL

Considering the relationship between production, distribution, and consumption, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue that “there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits.” Without exception, Canadian writing is circumscribed by socio-economic, ideological, and techno-specific parameters when it is created, disseminated, and read. As a result, some authors have been prompted to productively critique these conditions and explore the limits of the publishing system that they necessarily rely upon. As evidenced by bill bissett’s experimental blewointment magazine and press to Anne Carson’s accordion-style Nox to Sachiko Murakami’s online collaboration Project Rebuild and Christian Bok’s The Xenotext––texts that effectively push the boundaries of inscription and the codex––many Canadian authors have challenged the material limits and conventions of literary production, distribution, and consumption. This panel is interested in the ways that Canadian writers and their works have navigated, or are navigating, networks of socio-politics, the marketplace, and the writing machines upon which they rely and/or resist.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Writing with resistance against and/or compliance with analog and digital writing machines
  • The ways in which analog and digital writing machines have transformed Canadian literature in the twentieth and twenty-first century
  • Termination and/or capitulation of small presses and literary magazines
  • The materiality of the text: book design, art-books, anti-books, ephemera, digital-publishing, self-publishing, etc.

Interested parties are invited to send the following: A file containing a 300-500 word proposal, without personal identifying marks; a file containing a 100 word abstract, a 50 word biographical statement, and the 2015 Proposal Submissions Information Sheet. Please see conference details on the ACCUTE website. Send submissions to Eric Schmaltz (schmaltz@yorku.ca) and Christopher Doody (christopherdoody@cmail.carleton.ca).

Deadline: 1 November 2014

August 9, 2011

Day 2, Week 2 of TEMiC: Project Planning and so on…

For day two of Textual Editing Modernism in Canada (TEMiC) our discussions focused on planning both Digital and Print editorial projects. Because we are all at different stages in our projects (or yet to be determined projects) we tried to approach the subject as broadly as possible, sharing and elaborating at points of interests for all. For the sake of simplicity I am going to break the day into three sections (excluding lunch, though our conversations at lunch are often fruitful) and provide a snapshot of what we covered at each point in the day.


We had some exciting news to start off the day. Apparently, Zailig Pollock’s grandchild has been potty trained. All it took were a few M&M’s. Exciting, no?

Part 1: Sage Advice from Zailig Pollock 

First, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Zailig Pollock whose advice has been invaluable to our discussions. His experience has provided me (and others, I am sure) with a unique and informed perspective on textual editing. My thinking has advanced exponentially in the past week and two days.

Our morning focused on the question “How should we approach editing projects?” And so we spent the morning creating a road map to begin to answer this question.

1. Choosing your institution: Its always important to find an institution with scholars who would be interested (or sympathetic) to your work. If you want to work on a digital editing project, you should try to find an institution with a potential supervisor/advisor who is interested in the Digital Humanities (DH). The same rule applies to Non-DH editing projects.

2. Choosing the author or group you would like to focus on: Try  to choose an author or body of work you can justify editing, but also an author/work you are genuinely interested in.

3. Figure out where your material is located: It might be necessary to carry out extensive archival work. Being near (or far) from your material can have a dramatic impact on your work.

4. Permissions: Permissions can be tricky to acquire. Find out who holds the rights to the work, and be sure to consider issues such as privacy and ethics that may crop up.

5. Get to know your body of work: An editing project should be informed by the body of work and the work surrounding the body.

6. Theorizing your project: Decide on the methodolog(ies)y you wish to employ for your project. Deciding this early will help determine the work you do on the text and also shape the output.

After you theorize your project there are many different avenues you can take. The list above is a basic approach and of course there many variations.

Our conversations also stressed the importance of building realistic timelines and carefully considering the amount of work we take on. In addition, we discussed the complicated task of gaining permissions. Potentially stellar projects can be quashed if an editor is denied access or rights to the material. Many factors need to be considered by the editor(s) and those who hold the rights. Factors that can influence these issues include finances, competition, privacy, image control and more.

 Part 2: Guest Speaker, Carole Gerson

In the afternoon we were visited by the esteemed and experienced Dr. Carole Gerson. Gerson’s work focuses primarily on early Canadian literature and Canadian book history. She has edited a number of volumes including Pauline Johnson: Paddling Her Own Canoe: The Times and Texts of E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) (2000) and E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose (2002). Gerson’s talk consisted mainly of anecdotes. She focused not only on her successes as an editor, but also the issues she has faced over her career. These issues ranged from typos, reprints, and problems of design to lack of information access at crucial moments. A discussion of these issues was especially useful because we were able to see what we may be faced with in the future.

Part 3: Image Markup Tool

We spent the remainder of the afternoon looking at the work Zailig Pollock has been doing on The Digital Page with the Image Markup Tool (IMT). For those of you unfamiliar with the markup tool… IMT is a unique and simple tool which allows editors to focus (or tag) interesting points of a document. It is especially useful for annotating, marking up, and noting revisions in materials. One simply scans the image in and then uses IMT to tag the desired space (its a lot like tagging a friend in a photo on facebook). IMT is an extremely valuable and exciting tool because it allows the viewer to get as close to the document as possible without having to go to the archive (a trip we should encourage).

After the IMT tutorial we knocked off for the day. We covered a great deal of ground and I think we all have a better idea of the work we face and the options that are available to us as we proceed.

I’d like to cap this post with a photo of a small token I received from Zailig. The image below presents a worm-cast that he found in Prince Edward Island. What weird and relevant artefact!

“and many and many

come up atom by atom

in the worm-casts of Europe.”

                                                                            – from “I’ve Tasted My Blood” by Milton Acorn

It seems I have concluded this post the way it has been prefaced…

June 18, 2011

Embarking on Love: Producing a Digital Edition of “I want to tell you love”

My recent participation at DHSI and DEMiC was not only preparation for my upcoming MA studies, but an attempt to throw myself into a group of interested scholars, programmers, humanists and other like-minded individuals. I attended the week’s events as part of the EMiC project and I am entirely grateful that the EMiCites have taken me into their fold. Together we shared an extraordinary week of intensive learning and community building.

The focus of my academic work rests on an unpublished manuscript by bill bissett and Milton Acorn entitled I want to tell you love. The aim is to analyze and eventually produce a digital scholarly edition of the text. DHSI was the perfect place for me to begin collecting the tools and skills I need to complete the task. I enrolled in “TEI Fundamentals and their Application” which was taught by Julia Flanders, Doug Knox, and Melanie Chernyk. They were a dream to learn from. Flanders et al. taught clearly and overall the course was fun and informative. The trio made it easy for me to connect to a field with which I had no previous knowledge. Kudos to them! After the first day, my thinking of text and reading had completely changed. Not only am I now thinking about these ideas in a traditional analytical sense, but now I am considering how these ideas can be connected and then translated into a digital environment.

Admittedly, the first couple days of TEI were frustrating. This isn’t because its an incredibly difficult language to learn. It is because in the beginning stages you can’t see what you’re working towards. For a beginner like me, I had no idea what my mark-up might look like by the end. As I’m working I want to be able to ensure that I want to tell you love, as an edition, will be as aesthetically appealing as it is intellectually appealing. In order to see the end product of your encoding the text has to go through several other layers, layers which were not really addressed in our week’s agenda. A brief tutorial in CSS basics alleviated some of this anxiety, but I still possess a knowledge gap. Of course I realize that one week to learn TEI is probably not enough, other courses and more advanced learning is required. This is a responsibility I will own up to. I’m not disappointed to say that I’ll probably have to return to DHSI to build on and complete the skill set I desire.

The benefits of the TEI course do trump the drawbacks. On the other side, TEI is incredibly useful because of its ability to digitally connect interesting points, names, dates, themes, idiosyncrasies and other important pieces of information. This will be especially useful to my own project. For example, I want to tell you love is arguably a witness to the early stages of bissett’s unique orthography (an aspect of bissett’s poetry that has been of particular interest to bissett scholars for decades). One of the arguments I have developed from this point is that the manuscript marks bissett’s transition from Modernist modes of writing to Post-Modernist. His movement from a more conventional orthography to a personal, phonetic orthography is an evidence of this transition. TEI will allow me to track and take note of this transition as it occurs in the manuscript. In addition, TEI is not only a way of rendering data in a new, relevant format, but it frees the data to newer forms of analyses which consequently can open new doors for scholarship. TEI’s potential to develop new scholarship is especially important when addressing someone like Milton Acorn, co-author of I want to tell you love, whose legacy is sadly receiving less and less attention. It was at this moment of realization that EMiC’s mandate became clear. TEI and other digital tools can work to revive interest in Modernists and their writing. That’s incredible, yes?

All in all, DEMiC was a tremendous experience. The tools and skills I gained are invaluable. They will be built upon and put to good use.