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How Does The NME Respond To The New Conditions Of Cultural Production?

AHRC Network: The New Modernist Editing

Meeting 3: How does the NME respond to the new conditions of cultural production?

Melville Room, University of Glasgow

21stApril 2017, 9.30am-4.30pm

Bryony Randall opened the session by outlining the purpose of the network’s third and final meeting: to query how the New Modernist Editing responds to the new conditions of cultural production.

Session 1: Orientating Conversation

Andrew Prescott outlined his involvement in several projects, including the Beowulf project at the British Library in the 1990s which, in the production of an online edition of Beowulf, used fibre optic light and digital cameras to uncover segments of the manuscript that had been burned, badly conserved, or concealed by later conservation techniques. The digital edition of Beowulf thus becomes an archive of information about the transmission of the text. AP further discussed his involvement at King’s with the Online Chopin Variorium Edition (OCVE), explaining that Chopin improvised and altered as he played, leaving an unstable text. OCVE highlights these instabilities and invites similar improvisations in further performances of Chopin’s works.

AP acknowledged the issues with securing funding for digitisation, but he suggested that as we increasingly deal with born digital material, more imaginative ways of playing with digital data could materialise. He questioned to what extent these could become the new conditions of cultural production.

AP moved to a second example of digital material, asking what might be done to preserve the digital material of authors and their correspondence, for example, with fans and followings. He showed a map of Irvine Welsh’s twitter connections segmented into those who follow Welsh and he follows back, those who follow Welsh who he does not follow back, those who do not follow Welsh who he follows etc. AP argued that this is an interesting example of literary production in and of itself.

AP closed stating that as corpuses have become available, similar discussions are happening across the humanities. for example, Stanford literary lab have mapped the emotional geography of London in pamphlets by Moretti. He concluded by stating that thinking more about these sorts of representations will shape our thinking on editorial work and will shift the instruments of cultural production.


Mark Hussey shared an example of Virginia Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out to outline Ted Bishop’s comparison of different types of transcription: clean, edited and annotated, and facsimile editions (as Bishop’s own). MH asked the room to consider the significance of what is not there on the page, noting that Bishop argues that we lose ‘the choreography of the page’ when we add the details of textual scholarship.  This compares to the spatial limbo of annotation which privileges a purely linguistic view of the text as well as the counterargument that people want a readable text. Bishop has now published a facsimile of the holograph of some of Woolf’s works, however this format becomes less economically viable with longer works (and also causes copyright issues). Moreover, Bishop’s efforts to retain the ‘shape of the page’ resulted in him reproducing the marks of Virginia Woolf on/in the transcription with a fountain pen. MH asks whether digital media, which is unconstrained by the economics of print, might alter, inform, and encourage these approaches. For example, he agreed that from the To The Lighthouse digital project (woolfonline) someone could make an edition, but argued that this project is not an edition in itself. MH thus flagged the importance of taking advantage of both print and the digital.

MH showed a page from one of Virginia Woolf’s notebooks. He suggested it is possible to retain the gestures using this, but demonstrated that if you can’t read her handwriting the cursor shows the transcription in hover text. He showed another page with a slider so you can see the transcription ghosting over the text and observed that this takes care of Bishop’s concerns. MH observed that Woolf often produced a fairly clean page, but explained that the original text/transcription demonstrates how much she herself cut as well as how much subsequent editors have cut. MH suggested that this satisfies what Ted Bishop calls ‘text in motion’. However, he noted that digital has yet to offer the reader the experience of the printed page.

MH acknowledged that his own work editing Woolf often meant asserting an authority over the text. For example, Woolf died before Between the Acts was published and she didn’t want it published, so MH therefore treated the text as a text in limbo. In every edition ever published, the pageant section of Between the Actshas been shown in italics, however there is no authority for this other than Leonard Woolf’s editorial note. MH acknowledged that this has an effect on how we read and referred to Jane Goldman’s concerns at the last AHRC New Modernist Editing Network meeting about assigned voices/levels of narrative. In MH’s subversive edition of the text, the experience of the page is therefore made more closely available to a reader.

In the discussion that followed, AP and MH raise further questions:

-Is the digital just as limiting as the analogue?

-What is a conductive link? It requires hardware behind it but is becoming less intrusive.

-How does storytelling fit in with big data and the quantitative techniques involved with digital editions?

-Do many editions, including digital and print, stabilise or destabilise a text?

-Is a digital edition really a curated exhibition or archive?

Session 2

Dan Gunn noted that there are two key notions associated with practices of translation that are useful to bear in mind when considering editing processes:

  1. traduttore /traditore: Helping people to reconcile with their sense of betrayal or fidelity in translation. Editing causes primal responses within people, such as a sense of mourning that can run alongside the editing process. DG proposed to explore this further.
  2. Foreignizing v. domesticating translations: DG asked, ‘which editions are we trying to create?’, and then discussed six considerations when editing.

DG referred to conversations he had had with inheritors and friends of Samuel Beckett: whether or not it is right to share bequeathed material, whether or not it is right to sell it, and whether or not it is right to give it to an archive. In each scenario one type of betrayal is always involved.

DG raised the issues of transcription and translation, of what to do with words that we can’t figure out and what to do when your author is polyglot: as an editor, if you find yourself in the wrong language, you can come unstuck.

DG asked, when editing who are we writing for? This sums up an ongoing transatlantic debate, stating that his project started in a pre-Google age when one could not assume the type of access that students would have. He outlined his recent experiences internationally, during which colleagues in Japan wanted the text to include a full explanation, but colleagues in the USA only wanted the minimum explanation for undergraduates.


Phillip Horne outlined principles of annotation for scholarly editions (‘editions that don’t require any scholarly excursions beyond the book’, versus more sparsely annotated scholarly editions). PH’s focus in this talk would be on print editions and discussed the relationship between a print edition, online editions and the internet, given we can now easily search for unknown words and phrases. Notes should help and satisfy a range of readers: should give enough detail and colour to add to the knowledge of the already knowledgeable, at the same time as explaining to an ever-growing community of James scholars and serious readers from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities what may be unfamiliar customs, institutions, ideas etc.

PH explained these principles further. PH warned against ‘bare notes’ that simply reiterate facts; they need to be illuminating of the text at hand and or the author’s wider work. Fuller ‘inflected notes’, PH explained, are ‘notes inflected to the context that make connections the reader might not be aware of’. The editor needs to be aware that they have a mixed audience, but certain things have to be known for the text to be understood

Further questions raised:

-What is the role of an editor of letters as a biographer?

-The purchase price of an edition should affect the quality of that edition, but what does ‘quality’ mean for potentially mixed-use audiences?

-Are endnotes a less ‘offensive’ interruption to the reader, or at least a self-inflicted interruption?

Session 3

Bryony Randall introduced the New Modernist Editing network’s work-in-progress collaborative project: a digital edition of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville’. This project includes recording gaps, typos and other elements present in the manuscript in digital form. The intention of this project is to reach a wide audience and to put the choice in the hands of the user. The scope of such choices are obviously determined by what software you use in construction the edition, and what it allows or doesn’t allow you to do with the text, notes, etc.

Brian Aitken showed that the digital edition is accessible on tablet and mobile regardless of the dimensions of the screen, and that it is touchscreen friendly. The edition includes the facsimile and digital edition, and it is six pages long with a wide left hand margin. BA demonstrated that you can zoom in and out of the facsimile to decipher the handwriting, you can pop it out into a new window, view both manuscript and transcription in twin view, see annotations (shown by dotted underline), and download the xml too to see the TEI transcription. The edition settings allow you to turn on and off certain features depending on what you’re interested in doing (for example, you can turn everything off except for explanatory notes). The text is TEI XML created using oxYgen XML editor. There’s a diplomatic transcription available, which tries to be as true as possible to the facsimile by keeping a record of everything relating to the text (large gaps, line breaks [depending on whether you want to read it as a poem or not], highlighted parts of the texts that the editors are unsure about, deletions). There will also be the option to see both versions, the original and edited, side by side.

The hope is that edition will be hosted at the website of The Keep (the public-facing archive where the Monks House Papers, including the typescript from which this digital edition has been prepared are kept), meaning that it has a wider public audience. The whole site is one xml file, with some JavaScript. It is based on an old English digital edition interface, the digital Vercelli book. However, it needed extra features, for example the edition settings. The main processing has been done by JavaScript, with jQuery user interface elements for the pop ups. The entire code for the site is about 400 lines of JavaScript. BA said that with a digital edition they didn’t see the server side approach, so they went for JavaScript. Xml is very similar, so they tried jQuery and it worked. It works in all browsers, and hopefully it is a structure that can be used in future digital editions.

The edition is going to be launched at the ‘Remaking the New: Modernism and Textual Scholarship’ conference at Queen Mary University of London (13-14 July 2017).


Session 4

A publisher’s roundtable was given by Jackie Jones, Jaqueline Norton, and Linda Bree. Jackie Jones opened the session by noting the intimate involvement of academic publishers with the production of culture for research and teaching, both in universities and schools. JJ noted the ways in which publishers intervene in continually shifting processes of the reshaping and redefining of texts. Modernist texts are no exception to this process, and publishing involved identifying and selecting cultural artefacts and, at times, reproducing cultural norms and values. Publishers and editors can, sometimes, challenge and modify these norms through the cycle of production and consumption of texts. The university press (under the scrutiny of its press committee) is and has always been subject to the institutional forces of the parent university that both governs and enables it.

JJ went on to discuss the process of digitizing back-listed content to sell to academic libraries, outlining the possible viable forms for digital texts: print based with digital formats and XML tagged texts that can provide digital functionality and online databases. JJ noted that corresponding websites and podcasts are considered “value added” but not income generating. JJ then gave a publisher’s perspective on the critical edition, and outlined market pressures. JJ highlighted that these editions are long term commitments with long time scales for completion; that the critical edition becomes a cultural artefact; that there is likely social and political impetus behind commissioning such editions anew. On markets, JJ noted that, of course, the critical edition needs consumers, and the primary customer base of these types of publications are the companies that, with standing orders for specific series, will supply academic libraries worldwide (Gardners, Blackwell’s, Amazon etc.).

JJ moved on to discuss the specialist online digital platforms that can be used for scholarly editions. Currently, libraries can purchase specialist content as e-books or PDFs. There are four factors, JJ stated, that affect the cultural production of digital critical editions:

  1. The electronic distribution of scholarly content.
  2. The response of the library community to pricing structures.
  3. Pressures within the library supply chain.
  4. Open access digital editions.

There is, JJ noted, no single provider of digital content. Rather, libraries will use a number of third party licenses, and are likely to pay for the same content several times over via ProQuest or JStor, etc.

The pricing structure for critical editions has largely been accepted by academic libraries in reflection of the work involved in their production, and are priced between £75- £150.00 per volume. A critical edition usually provides the following:

  1. A general introduction
  2. An essay on the text
  3. The rationale behind the copy text
  4. Textual variants
  5. Historical Notes
  6. Explanatory Notes
  7. Annotations

Library supply chains have come under pressure, JJ explained, with institutions asking for increasing discounts. A dependency on suppliers for back office processes, such as title selections, has also developed. Further, there is no open access model in support of the free dissemination of critical editions.

Finally, JJ asked ‘In what ways can new forms of cultural production assist in substantiating what is particular about modernist texts?’ A digital platform could comprise facsimile and proofs and offer the full juxtaposition of textual versions. By providing stages of the modernist texts– which we might view as statuses–the reader is offered her own chance to access the processes of textual accretion and cultural production across time. As cultural producers, academic publishers serve their commercial and educational remits, providing and regulating books for consumption. For modernist texts, JJ concluded, we might be more adventurous, searching for ways to present editions that map on to the modernist interests in transmission and archiving.


Jacqueline Norton gave a brief overview of the production of critical editions at OUP Academic, and the issues of production negotiated by publishers. Readership and the presentation of texts to a different audience are big questions for this network and for publishers, JN noted. Regarding digitization overheads, Norton described how digital editions have been created using scholarly editions from the early 1900s — focus has been on functionalising the print legacy. Publishers, such as OUP, have been considering how to capture front list editions digitally (i.e. new editions) through Oxford Editions Online. One particularity of modernist editions, as JN sees it, is copyright.

JN ended her talk with a number of questions about the production of modernist scholarly editions. The first scholarly edition on an author presents a number of significant decisions. Who is it being prepared for? If you want that author to increase in circulation, will this affect your editing decisions? There is a lot of material to assemble for modernist authors and, so the question becomes what exactly is included? What parallel and supplementary material should go in?


Linda Bree gave a short talk outlining her perspective on publishing modernist editions at CUP. A scholarly edition requires a huge commitment from the publisher. These timescales highlight the benefits of digital formats; texts can be made available even while ongoing. Publishers need to work out what new editions are for – not so much in terms of “level”. The purpose of a scholarly edition from CUP’s point of view is to provide the detailed material needed for scholars working at the cutting edge of research on that author. These editions must provide textual material that one can be confident has been produced to a high standard, along with the supporting material. This information trickles down and helps a broader base of scholars and students. LB noted four considerations from publishers when deciding whether they will take on an edition:

  1. Grants are needed for the work involved. Little of that grant will come from the publisher.
  2. Estates and rights. The author and ancillary people whose work might be needed. Estate stipulations.
  3. What’s on the page — Swift editions are a case in point here. There are complex issues for modernist texts which appear in various forms (e.g. serials forms, volumes, U.K. and U.S. editions), rewriting.
  4. Digital possibilities. There are multifarious complications with digital editions. Fixed pages are needed for citations: how does this work with aflowable digital text? We are still talking about print versus digital rather than something more holistic. We will have to shift from this to meet 21st century expectations. But, we still have this idea of scholarly editions as being primarily print based and proud of it.

This panel raised further questions and issues:

-Are there new formats that the scholarly publishers might take a back seat on?

– Digital continuity is crucial. Are these platforms sustainable, long term solutions? The endurance of print forms is trusted by libraries.

-Libraries increasingly want a returnable electronic format. They can return the license if they don’t get people using it. But is this a very short term view of scholarship on the part of libraries? Does this have implications for long term editions?

-When it comes to scholarly edition proposals, a sample of the editing needs to be included. There needs to be a strong case for why a writer needs a scholarly edition. Is it an author who’s not had one? What’s the research activity behind it? An incredibly well set out plan for how you’ll make it happen and who’ll be involved is necessary. If there are areas you don’t have expertise for, who will you outsource to? Who’s on your advisory board?


Session 5

Nancy Campbell opened the session by defining the artist’s book as a result of the combination of the relationship between the value of the material artefact and the text and visuals within. She exemplified this with William Blake and his radical desire to integrate text and image. Other examples include William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890), the visuals in which reflect a connection with the Icelandic sagas, the publisher Ambroise Vollard (~1900) and his livres d’artiste, which filled a gap in the market opened by the bourgeoisie and which were a combination of original works, illustrations of classics and fine binding. Pierre Bonnard’s Parallèlement(1900) and Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk’s Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehane de France (1913) are examples of books published by Vollard. Marinetti’s Les Mots en Liberté (1919) is a totem of modernism and it is known as the first simultaneous book. Kurt Schwitters’s Merz!is a total work of art which challenges expectations on what a book can be.

NC went on to discuss her own experience, the origin of which she said always reminds her of Thoreau’s ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately’. She started out as a writer but became frustrated by a sense of disengagement from the material form. She went to the woods in British Columbia to do a typesetting apprenticeship, and then to Brooklyn, where she engaged with language and letters on a material level, through her work with types. NC went on to show examples of her work: How to say ‘I love you’ in GreenlandicThe Night HunterThe Polar Tombola. More of her work at: www.nancycampbell.co.uk


Jane Hyslop’s presentation ‘Texts, Images and Narratives – How Artists Use the Book’ explored the notion of readers or artists’ books as viewers. JH discussed the artists’ books as manuscripts and archives: the example she uses is Marcel Duchamp’s La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (Le grand verre) (La boîte verte) (1915-23), which presents Duchamp’s thinking and artistic processes and which offered the viewer ‘voyeuristic satisfaction’. Following from these voyeuristic practices regarding the artists’ processes, she talked about Richard Hamilton’s ‘reconstruction’ of Duchamp’s piece (1965-6) which fuses art, archival research, and detective work.

The second section of JH’s talk dealt with artists as editors and artists’ responses to books and texts. Her first example was Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté (1934), the separate elements of which were brought together by their being printed together. Her second example was Tom Philips’ A Humument (1966-in progress), which exists in several forms, proving that the original book is fertile artistic ground in itself indeed.  Other examples discussed were: Mallarmé’s ‘Le Hasard’ (1914), from which derives Michalis Pichler Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (2008), Lucy Skaer’s series Hogarth Reprinted, Karen Reiner’s Legendary, Lexical, Loquacious Love (1996), Edwin Pickstone’s The Components of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2012).

In the third section of her talk, JH showed us some of her own works inspired by books. Some of these included: La Géometrie Pratique (2015), inspired by a book of the same title by Allain Manesson Mallet, or The Gardens I (a boxed set of illustrations and objects, inspired by The Scot Gardn’er by John Reid), or the series After the Storm (after Cyclone Andrea in 2012). More of her work at: www.janehyslop.com