Textual Editing: Tomorrow’s Problem Today

May 5, 2008

A post earlier today on Language Log led me to this post on paperpools.

I’ve had several conversations with Friend of Hoosierati Nancee Reeves who worked for awhile as a textual editor at The [George] Santayana Edition at IUPUI’s Institute of American Thought. She and I have basically overlapping ideas of the importance of textual criticism, the role of editors etc. But the field is structured in such a way that very minor differences in opinion often prescribe very different policies. Likewise, very broad differences may strangely yield similar policies.

This post is captivating for two reasons. It deals with one of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize in fiction (and deserving of at least three more for works already done). It also makes it very clear that problems of textual purity are not just the concerns of future editors dealing with historical authors’ works but in fact are causing problems (and costing money) in today’s publishing houses.

For that matter, the post is interesting because it deals with the beleaguered semi-colon, a punctuation mark both harder to use and harder to love than the colon, and that’s saying something. Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut, for all his encouragement in the writing arts, hated the lowly semi-colon. If I remember right he said something to the effect that “they are transvestite hermaphrodites, representing nothing more than the fact you went to college.” But I doubt that even he would recommend going back three centuries to eradicate their use in Jonathan Swift’s essays.

Photo by Flickr user Orin Optiglot used under a Creative Commons license.

This entry was posted by: Jim

One comment

  1. I read a review recently of Elaine Showalter’s new book, A Jury of Her Peers, in which Showalter thought the influence of Gertrude Stein had been overrated. In my discussion with my editor, I cited the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and was told: “But that’s a very special book.” Now, I obviously know from firsthand experience that my publishers were trying to erase Stein’s influence on my book. There’s no way of knowing how many other authors were influenced by Stein at the level of punctuation, only to have this eliminated at the copy-editing stage.

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