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What are the NME’s Current and Potential Audiences?

New Modernist Editing Research Network

Meeting 2: What are the NME’s current and potential audiences?

Lindisfarne Conference Centre, St Aidan’s College, University of Durham

10th February, 9.30 am-4.30 pm

Bryony Randall provided a warm welcome for those attending the second meeting of the network. BR introduced the objectives of the meeting, namely address issues of audience: What are the current audiences for new editions of modernist texts? What are their needs? What are the relationships between authors, editors, and audiences?

Session 1: Orientating Conversation

Hans Walter Gabler and John Nash opened Session 1 with an orientating conversation. JN explained his previous work on the reception of Joyce and other modernist authors, describing what he called the ‘dialogic of reception’: that a text is continually in dialogue with its readers during the course of its production. How does a text map its own reception theory in the production of its own editions?

This previous work is why JN is here, because this is all germane to editing. There is a continual negotiation between those who produce and those who read.

Hans Walter Gabler concurred that the notion of dialogue permeates every stage. What should the audience be made aware of? HWG also wanted to make clear that audiences are not passive; they work with and use texts. A text isn’t merely ‘presented’ to an audience, because the audience was involved to some capacity in the production and the writing of a text, purely in terms of language being dialogic. JN and HWG discuss the term ‘audience’—is it too passive and nebulous? Is the term ‘user’ more accurate in terms of the process?

JN asks ‘Why is considering an audience important in editing?’ Because an edition addresses different kinds of readers and reading experiences. For many editors, the anticipated reader is important from the beginning. The premise of a new edition is because there is noted a gap in what can be provided to a projected reader, on the basis that existing editions are not sufficient for all reader demographics and experiences.

HWG agrees that ‘We need a new edition’ is always the starting point for editing. Textual editing is built on the conception of error – correcting things in the transmission of a text. Earlier textual criticism (largely in medievalist circles) often couldn’t focus on the author because authors were mostly unknown. We had to work with what was materially there, and clean it up. Later, authorial intention came in view, where scholars felt they had to observe the author’s intention and fulfill or honor it; it is here that textual criticism and consequent editing veers away from the materiality of texts in papers of composition and transmission, and to the immaterialities of ‘author’ and ‘intention’. We also have an increasing amount of proof materials and drafts with more modern authors. Instead of speculatively referring to and inferring ‘author’ and ‘intention’, we can from material traces follow the genetic progression of texts, which are simultaneously also traces of the author-at-work. The impulses to dialogue that an author receives from the writing traces on the production side are complementary to the impulses to dialogue a reader experiences from reading. HWG asserts that we cannot have editions or editors telling readers what they should know, how they should think, but they need to be a mediating force in order to facilitate an understanding. There should be a return to the discussion of ‘text’ for an edition, and editions should not establish a single unified text as an authoritative version. Rather, editions should render transparent the multiple versions which materially testify to a work.

JN and HWG raise further questions:

  • What’s the relationship between modernism and editorial practice and theory?
  • Do some modernist texts project an ideal future reader, that somewhere, one day, there will be a reader who will have a perfect understanding of the text?
  • If Modernism suggests a model of an audience, does that then suggest a model of the ideal editorial practice?

Martin Stannard brings up a further issue in response to the last question: it is not just audiences, authors, and editors in dialogue but also editors in dialogue with other editors. Editorial circles are notoriously combative about the correct way to edit a text.

Jane Goldman, Scott McCracken, and Wim Van Mierlo discuss inherent links between the modernist style and editorial practice: modernism is not homogenous, and we don’t want to surround modernism with ‘exceptionalist’ discourse, but some of the hallmarks of modernism were a high level of consciousness of the writing, editorial, and publication process, as well as the attempt to reach and address new audiences.

The room then debated the role that technology played not only in the development of modernism, but also in editing. JN asked: How does technology enable or constrain decisions made by authors and editors? HWG answered that its abilities and constraints are limited, since technology can’t make critical decisions. That is always with the editor.

JN agrees that the promise of a technological edition, which can display all the variation and multivalency of modernism, is the result of a lot of editorial decisions, many of which are value-laden. How do we decide how to lay things out? What do we select? The display of the variations is in itself a decision about what to display and how to display it.

JN states, however, that it is the medium of a text which suggests how it is edited. A text might be produced in different media, and relayed in different ways because of that. A poem published on its own is very different than one produced in an anthology. It may be produced in a way that suggests the best medium. Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are on the cusp of the digital age, and actually may be more suitable for digital editions than in their original form, even though the authors and editors at the time could not have known that this even was an option.

Jane Goldman expands on this issue: Where do you draw the line in terms of technology and what is an actual work? Is a film of Orlando essentially a new edition of the text, purely because Woolf didn’t have the technology to make a film at the time?

Mark Hussey asks how we differentiate modernism from early C20th writing in general. Does it have to do with the self-consciousness about print? Is that awareness of print specifically modernist? Is there a link to the utilisation of the technologies of the time? Is it New Modernist Editing or the New Print Culture Editing?

Jackie Jones urged members to remember that editing and publishing are also commercial enterprises. That is another consideration, on top of audience and authorial intention, etc.

Session 2:

After the break, Tara Thomson gave a short presentation on her experience editing Broadview collections of Dorothy Richardson, which she worked on during her PhD. All editions of Pilgrimage were out of print, so in order to teach the text she had been forced to use a print-out version full of typos and poor formatting.

TT’s editing decisions were formed by very practical concerns: her supervisor was approached by Broadview to edit Richardson, not the other way around; she could only edit certain volumes of Pilgrimage for reasons of length; there was a need for a new edition that was easily readable for students; standard Broadview publication processes always include reviews and criticism contemporary with the text.

The major audience, TT explained, was people who were not familiar with the text. The main issue and reason for creating this edition was that it was extremely difficult for anyone to get a version of the text, so Richardson was being neglected in both academic and popular circles.

As John Nash said of editing in Session 1, TT’s edition gave necessary direction to those who were unfamiliar with Richardson’s work and its context. Since her edition was only published in the US, part of her editorial duties including annotating British locations and expressions for a likely unfamiliar audience. Apart from these practical concerns, TT tried to intervene in the reading experience as little as possible.

TT described one of the paradoxes of publishing new editions: the very texts which need new editions the most (i.e., those with very few previous editions and those whose authors are generally more unknown) are the least likely to get new editions. You have to prove to a publisher that there is a high demand for a new version of the text, or that other editions have come out before yours, in order for it to be a financially and academically viable project. Scott McCracken observed that as soon as one publisher agrees to do an edition (such as OUP doing Richardson), it confers a great deal of legitimacy on a text. Getting that first edition is a huge hurdle to overcome for authors who have fallen out of print.


Liz Stanley gave a short presentation titled: ‘Not quite modernist, not quite an editor, not quite texts’.

LS’s main questions were:

  • What is the relationship between modernism and the notion of editing?
  • What is a text versus a ‘writing’? What’s the difference between the two?

LS discussed her involvement in the Olive Schreiner Letters online and the Whites Writing Whiteness project. The goals of these online ‘editions’ is to encourage people to use the texts, which they’ve been successful in achieving.

The Olive Schreiner Letters project published transcriptions of about 5,000 letters from the 1870s-1920s. Many of these letters deal with daily life. Olive Schreiner edited as she went. She was engaged with the process of writing, but didn’t consider an external reader until later. She therefore didn’t have a separate editorial process. The electronic edition does not provide readers with an authoritative reading, because it’s not cleaned up.

The Whites Writing Whiteness project includes not only letters but also telegrams, empty envelopes, wills, lists, copies of letters, poems, and other general ‘scribbles and scrawls’. This is not an ‘edition’, but a miscellany; it is assembled not by an editor, but by a researcher; it is not a text, but a collection of scraps from everyday life.

One of the most important points, LS brought up, was that when it comes to digital editions, editors are dependent upon other experts in various technologies (be they digital and computer technologies, or printing and book binding technologies) in order to create the desired edition.

A practical benefit of digital editions is that they can fit in more material. A print edition can only have so many pages. Many publishers want the ‘important’ letters, not the ‘detritus of everyday life’. Digital editions can include this simply because there is space.


John Lavagnino gave a talk entitled ‘Who are they, what do they want?’, in reference to audiences. One of his main concerns when it comes to editing is that many readers avoid ‘textual garbage’—you can present as much textual commentary as you want, but you have to motivate people to want to read it and absorb it.

JL discusses various types of editing, discussing instances one where editors feel free to insert their own explanatory notes in the middle of a text (for example, inserting a name in the text of a letter), and also addressed the question of standardisation. The latter is common practice for editing plays, where spelling is modernised and the numbers of acts and scenes, as well as the stage directions, are normalised.

However, some theatre companies immediately cross out all of the stage directions, regardless if they came directly from the author or the editor. Theatre companies often don’t want digital, scholarly editions; they’d rather have a Word file so they can not only read the play, but also cut it down and edit it for their own uses.

This raises the question: if actors don’t want the stage directions or other scholarly insertions, then who are they for? Why add them in?

In response the point was raised that students are often a crucial audience component for any new edition. New access not only to the text, but to the context, will produce a different kind of student than was capable of being produced before, purely because different materials are now available. And students require a lot of contextual information to be able to make sense of all the editions and variants.


Session 3:

After the lunch break, Dirk van Hulle gave a short talk on ‘Editing Beckett’ and discussed endogenesis (the drafts) and exogenesis (references to outside sources).

DVH talked about his work on the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project and the Beckett Digital Library. He uses the first edition as an anchor text and numbers the sentences, so users can compare all versions of that sentence in all editions. It collates them automatically and allows users to see them up close.

An interesting feature of studying Beckett was that he directed many of his own plays and translated many of his own texts. A translation, even by the author, creates tensions in a text: the connotations of some of the words change some of the themes and tropes important in the original. In order to keep these tropes, further changes have to be made. When it comes to editing translation, is it more important to keep the words as close as possible, or the themes as close as possible?

DVH wants to work toward a critical bilingual edition of Beckett’s works.


Ronan Crowley gave a short talk about when users become editors and his collaborative work-in-progress on a digital critical and synoptic edition of Ulysses, building on a conversion of the digital archive of the critical and synoptic book edition (1984; 1986). Through a text encoding initiative, he has created a digital, critical, and synoptic online edition of Ulysses in which users can become editors through XML enrichment.

The text of this online edition notes all text changes over the pre-publication development of Ulysses from fair copy to first edition. The user can turn on the synoptic presentation and dynamise it with the aid of a ‘Diachronic Slider’. This fans out the genetic progression as individual, successively visualised elements of text at the ‘micro-genetic’ level. The complementary ‘jellyfish’ tool displays the web of interconnected documents from fair copy through typescripts, proofs, drafts, etc. as a graph in order to visualise the writing progress at a ‘macro-genetic’ level.

One of the major features of this online edition is that users can perform sophisticated genetic analyses of Ulysses. For example, the technology allows users to be able to pinpoint when a minor character blossoms into a more significant role over the course of the many drafts and editions of the text.

Users want to use the actual XML for their own scholarship, which RC would provide to them. In terms of editorial decisions, they can pull apart the XML and put in their own values.

The value-laden text sparked a major debate amongst members when RC indicated that the edition can help to illustrate who is speaking in the text. One of the concerns was that putting definite value on ambiguous dialogue may be reductive to the text and may speak over Joyce’s voice and intentions. RC clarified that the XML can register ambiguity and merely assigns probability: it is this percent probably that this dialogue belongs to a certain character. This is merely another tool being provided to an audience to help enhance or inform their reading.

Session 4:

The Network Members split into groups to participate in a workshop exercise for the eventual production of a digital edition of Woolf’s ‘Ode’. Bryony Randall informed members that this is the only manuscript we have, a typescript by Woolf with her own holograph revisions. There are no other drafts. Susan Dick’s version is the only published version.

How should we render this edition? Potentially we may put different versions on different tabs, like in the Cullen Project.

The participants were asked to investigate various issues arising from approaching this text for a new edition, including which parts of the text to emend (with textual apparatus to record these emendments), how to render illegible or unclear insertions, where to provide explanatory notes, and perhaps most strikingly whether to lineate the text as Dick did, as it falls on the typescript, or whether to treat the text as traditional prose.

One of the big issues during this task was trying to read Woolf’s handwriting—how much of our own guesses and inferences can we reasonably put into the edition? Would an online edition enable us to record the various possible readings of unclear insertions/revisions?

BR ended the meeting by thanking all participants, requesting that members pass on details of their own or others’ publications on editing to use as resources for the group, and reminding participants of the call for papers for the proposed special issue of Modernist Cultures.