The theme of the 15th annual conference of the European Society for Textual Studies, held in November in Prague, was “Editor as Author; Author as Editor”. Since my research focuses on the work of literary editors, the conference featured high on my wish list for 2018 – and with the help of an ECR Bursary from the IAAS, I was fortunate enough to get there.
The main purpose of my visit was to talk about (or, as I like to say in funding applications, “disseminate”) my research. My book The Art of Editing: Raymond Carver and David Foster Wallace (forthcoming from Bloomsbury! available to preorder now!) examines two case studies of notable editorial interventions, and my presentation focused on the first of these. In Gordon Lish’s infamously severe revisions of Carver’s stories, the editor’s unusually heavy hand makes him, in the opinion of some critics, a “co-author” of sorts. I presented some examples of these edits, ultimately arguing that Lish’s role remains an editorial one; the phrase “co-author”, I believe, suggests a kind of collaborative dynamic and vaguely distributed agency that doesn’t accurately reflect the conflict visible in the manuscripts.
The conference offered a wonderful opportunity to speak with scholars with a similar interest in editorial theory and practice. My co-panellists were Elisa Veit, who discussed the blurring of authorial and editorial lines in editions of work by the Finnish/Swedish novelist Henry Parland, and Hans Walter Gabler (a pretty noted editor himself, most famously of the 1984 edition of Ulysses), who spoke about the theoretical problems involved in fulfilling an author’s intention in the Anglo-American tradition of “eclectic editing.” I saw a range of presentations that probed the border of author- and editorship. These included: Wim van Mierlo, who spoke about the limits of authorship, considering how collaborations like those of Eliot and Pound challenge assumptions of solitary creation; Susan Greenberg, whose new book A Poetics of Editing brings a much-needed overview of the practice of editing across multiple domains and calls for the establishment of “Editing Studies” as a distinct field; and Dariusz Pachocki, who spoke about censorship in Polish magazines of the post-war era such as Kultura and detailed how their editors wielded a degree of gatekeeping influence comparable to that of US editors.
One of the attractions of the conference, in fact, had been the range of papers focusing on American writers and editors. Bruce I. Weiner, for example, discussed Edgar Allan Poe’s editorial role at Graham’s magazine and Poe’s conceptualisation of editorial work in his “Chapter on Autography.” Gabler’s presentation explored the decisions made in editions of Stephen Crane’s novels; elsewhere, Jude Davies analysed editorial decisions made in editions of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, examining the development of the editorial dynamic in the era of the “social text.” American literary history is full of examples of contested texts, editorial skirmishes, and posthumous editions, and I was able to learn about several case studies that I had been only dimly aware of. Overall, the visit was an enjoyable and generative one, enabling the kind of interdisciplinary thought and conversation only possible in a conference setting.
Finally, it seems appropriate to add a word on the nature of (and necessity for) this award. The IAAS’s Early Career Bursary is a recent creation, devised to address the grim realities of contemporary post-PhD employment. Conditions for early career researchers are, to borrow a phrase favoured by the 45th US president, “not good”. Today’s early career researcher (or, if you like, “precarious researcher”; I’ve seen the former phrase criticised for its ageist connotations and the way it risks avoiding/normalising the enormous problem of casualisation in universities) is required to absorb many of the institutional hassles facing all 21st-century academics – the bureaucracy, the out-of-hours unpaid administrative work, the astonishingly intricate funding applications – often while maintaining the teeth-grinding financial anxiety of a PhD student and enjoying an even lower level of job security than a current White House staff member.
These days the institutional structures providing a pathway from PhD to full employment seem creaky to say to the least, and actively hostile to anyone without a good helping of luck and privilege. Until these structures are reformed, bursaries such as this one will be not only helpful but very necessary in supporting research by academics without permanent employment. I thank the IAAS Prizes Subcommittee for their generosity.
Tim is currently a Lecturer/Assistant Professor in American Literature at the School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin, Ireland. His new book, The Art of Editing, is available to preorder from Bloomsbury now.