Considerations cont.

Following from yesterday’s note on editing …

George Bornstein, one of Yeats’s editors and a pioneer in bringing textual theory to the center of literary scholarship, articulates three key considerations for an editor to work through in preparing a collected edition: contents, text, and arrangement. The issues might seem straightforward to anyone who has not grappled with a particular case, so Bornstein always offers judicious examples. In “What Does a Collected Edition Collect? Mapping Modernist Poetry” (Paideuma 35.1-2), the examples are Yeats, Pound, and Moore.  The NPF was fortunate to publish this essay, originally a plenary talk before the Society for Textual Scholarship, as it is, perhaps, the most succinct presentation of Bornstein’s principals. Here is an abridged version of the essay’s opening paragraph:

Collected Editions permeate our culture to an extent that makes them seem somehow natural. Go down to any book superstore and you will find shelves containing such gatherings of our major and even no so major writers. Shakespeare, Keats, Dickinson, Browning, Eliot, H. D., or Stevens jostle with contemporary poets like James Merrill or Nikki Giovanni and with past ones who hover on the edge of the canon, like those late Victorians Rudyard Kipling or Edward Lear. In English, the idea of such editions goes back to Chaucer, at least, and becomes more prominent in the Early Modern period (formerly the Renaissance), with the opposing editions of Ben Jonson and of Shakespeare. Jonson assembled his Works himself, in a frank attempt to set his canon. … In contrast, Shakespeare’s First Folio was assembled by others posthumously, again with a view towards canon-setting. … That second kind of edition is what I focus on here. I seek to de-familiarize them to explore not only their nature but also their limits, and hence the textual and other ideologies that they encode and transmit.

And here are Bornstein’s three key considerations — you will have to find a copy of the issue for the examples, which are, of course, the essay’s heart and soul:

The first step in demystifying collected editions of Modernist poets is to point out that they are usually selected editions. …

Further, modern collected editions usually collect (or rather, select) linguistic forms of the text only, excluding material features of the text even when those features directly affect meaning. Aside from a few largely ornamental facsimile plates, such enterprises define the poems solely in terms of their language, with little attention to such bibliographic codes as cover design,page layout, illustrations, and the like. …

Besides being selective in procedure and purely linguistic in orientation, modern collected editions usually print only one version of a text, even when the differences become so major we might call the results separate poems. …

Whatever a collected edition collects, it must place those objects in some order. But that order results from choice by the editor among competing models. Should it be the order of composition, of first publication,of an individual volume, of a collected whole set by the poet in a testamentary act,orone of the editor’s own devising? each choice itself raises myriad issues and affects interpretation of author and works.

What Bornstein calls for, finally, is “an edition that exists in tension with its own principals,” editing work that indicates alternatives, making a reader “aware of other justifiable presentations … while laying bare the principles of the editors’ own.”

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