Editing Modernism in Canada


TransCanada Institute, 2011

Editing as Cultural Practice: Institutional Formations, Collaboration, and Literatures in Canada
An Editing Modernism in Canada and TransCanada Institute Workshop
Organized by Dean Irvine, Smaro Kamboureli, and Hannah McGregor
October 20-22, 2011
TransCanada Institute, The University of Guelph

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From the compilation of ancient oral epics like the Homeric poems to the construction of the canonical Bible, from medieval monks’ copying of ancient manuscripts to scholarly editions of literary works, from present-day collaborative projects to digital editions, editing has been integral to the production, organization, and dissemination of knowledge in the arts and humanities. While there is no shortage of training manuals for magazine editing or the kind of editorial work that does not see the editor’s name on the cover of a book, the majority of studies examining editing tend to adopt what Jerome McGann calls “empiricist inclinations” (The Textual Condition [1991], 48). This is usually the case with discussions of editorial work that deal with the editing of an author’s oeuvre (e.g., Shakespeare) or programmatic guidelines about editing scholarly editions. While these studies are certainly important, they display an inclination to approach editing mostly as an instance of textual criticism or as a rhetorical practice. Thus, despite the fact that the presence of editing is visible everywhere in the institutions of literary studies in English, there have been some attempts to theorize scholarly editing—notably, McGann’s A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (1983), The Textual Condition (1991), and Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web (2001); Peter Shillingsburg’s Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age (1986; rev. 1996); Philip G. Cohen’s Devils and Angels: Textual Editing and Literary Theory (1991); George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams’ Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities (1993); Hans Walter Gabler’s Contemporary German Editorial Theory (1995); Christa Janson’s Problems of Editing (1999); Laura J. Murray and Keren Rice’s Talking on the Page: Editing Aboriginal Oral Texts (1999); John L. Bryant’s The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen (2002); and Lou Burnard, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, and John Unsworth’s Electronic Textual Editing (2006)—but no attempt to undertake a systematic analysis of the procedures, methodologies, technologies, and theories that inform editing as a multidisciplinary practice.

Similarly, though the formation of Canadian literature as an institution is, to a large extent, the result of editorial work, there is a dearth of critical work on the theory and practice of editing in Canada. What little exists—Editing Canadian Texts (1975), edited by Francess G. Halpenny and Challenges, Projects, Texts: Canadian Editing (1993), edited by John Lennox and Janet Patterson—is limited to case studies of editing scholarly editions of individual authors. Whether employed by presses or periodicals to make decisions about the acquisition of texts, engaged in the collaborative processes of revising manuscripts, setting criteria for anthology selections, marking up electronic documents, organizing online multimedia repositories, or establishing principles for the presentation of texts in scholarly print and digital editions—Canadian literary and scholarly editors occupy a multiplicity of distinct, yet frequently overlapping, positions. In recognition of the irreducibly varied and complex roles that editors play in the production of literary and scholarly texts in Canada, this workshop will pursue research on the cultural, social, economic, canonical, pedagogical, materialist, and theoretical significance of editing as a creative and scholarly practice in the field of Canadian literary studies.

The Editing as Cultural Practice: Institutional Formations, Collaboration, and Literatures in Canada (ECP) workshop is thus designed to address this gap at the same time that it aspires to contribute to the theoretical discussions about editing that have been taking place outside the realm of Canadian literature. ECP’s purpose is to investigate three principal aspects of editing as scholarship and cultural creation. First, it will address the multilayered character and politics of cultural transmission that are specific to the editing of Canadian literatures; it will accomplish this by bringing together a wide range of participants who have played seminal roles as editors of different kinds of Canadian literature—from that of the nineteenth century to that of avant-garde authors, from canonized texts to anthologies of so-called minority writers and the oral literatures of the First Nations in Canada—and who will thus have the opportunity to address the cultural and publishing politics of editorial practices that seek to question inherited paradigms of literary and scholarly values. Second, it will theorize the editorial process, relying as much on specific cases of Canadian editorial productions as on theoretical considerations of editing in general; it will achieve this goal by interrogating such key issues of the editorial process as authorial intentionality, textual authority or “definitive” texts, the historical contingencies of textual production, circumstances of publication and reception, the pedagogical use of edited anthologies, the overall instrumentality of editorial projects in relation to canon formation and minoritized literatures, and the role of editors as interpreters, enablers, facilitators, and creators. Third, it will situate editing in the context of the growing number of collaborative projects in which Canadian scholars are engaged; this focus will thus bring into relief not only those aspects of editorial work that entail collaborating, as it were, with existing texts and documents but also collaboration as a scholarly practice that perforce involves (co-)editing.

This three-pronged structure of our workshop promises to make a major contribution to the Canadian field of editorial work, and beyond. The first workshop of its kind in Canada, and to our knowledge the first such collaborative endeavor to address the role of editing in the formation of a national literature, it will provide a timely forum for intensive discussions among a wide range of participants.

The ECP workshop is organized by two of the most prominent and internationally recognized collaborative research groups currently working on Canadian literatures: TransCanada Institute (TCI), founded and directed by Smaro Kamboureli through her Canada Research Chair in Critical Studies in Canadian Literature, and the Editing Modernism in Canada project (EMiC), directed by Dean Irvine and funded by a SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster grant. Our plan to include participants who are scholars as well as literary authors responds to the historical and cultural contingences of the formation of Canadian literature as an institution, namely, that the Canadian writer as critic and as editor has been instrumental in the shaping of this national literature. We have been able to assemble a group whose varied experience represents an active contingent of established and emerging editorial practitioners working on Canadian literatures. Participants have been invited based on their expertise (published scholarship, editorial skills, collaborative experience); knowledge of relevant theory (book history, textual studies, canon formation, pedagogy, digital humanities); representation of multiple traditions and emergent practices (small and academic presses, journals, anthologies, book series, scholarly editions, digital media); and recognition of editors and publishers from minority groups. That three of the papers to be presented will be collaborations of editorial teams that have already produced major work in the field will further enhance our intention to investigate editing as collaboration. We have also included two doctoral students who have already developed substantial knowledge of editing and collaboration, and will have graduate students and postdoctoral fellows whose research interests include editing attend as observers. The academic editor of the press that will publish our collection will also be present.

This three-day workshop will represent the culmination of several months of advance communication among its participants. Beyond its research goals, ECP is also designed to offer substantial training, pedagogical, and collaborative opportunities as much to the graduate-student participants as to a small group of graduate students of the host institution and postdoctoral fellows whose research interests engage with editing.