Reflective Essay on "Chill II" Poems

"Chill II" by Amy Isler

(View "Chill II")

The editor's task is to balance the demands of the textual record with the needs of its readers. In the case of Baroness Elsa on Freytag-Loringhoven, establishing this balance is a daunting task. The questions of intention complicate the standard formatting questions one may ask; the addition of hypertext introduces still more possibilities. These questions of intention stem from Walter Ong's comment in Orality and Literacy: "writing destroys memory."1 Although he is discussing Plato's Socrates, Ong brings up a fearsome aspect of editing that Fredson Bowers, in his quest for intentionality, fails to consider. Not only is writing a destruction of memory, it creates, through the words chosen, a selective memory, which implies a selective forgetting. This remembering and forgetting binary establishes new sets of questions for the editor regarding the author's intent simply to publish or not publish: the personal nature of correspondence, as well as the tendency of poetry to embody formulaic figurative language, which may mask personal content, beg this question of the editor. As far as the text is concerned, the intentions of the author become magnified in the face of this notion: what the editor chooses to remove from the page, beyond what has been deemed worthy for deletion by Freytag-Loringhoven, becomes a selective forgetting and is lost (at least in theory) forever after. Perhaps this view is melodramatic, but the Bower's style of intentional editing may be construed as the creation of a systematic forgetting, one that enables the reader an easier access to the text by forgetting the excess or confusion a manuscript may contain.

The nature of revision evident in the manuscript exposes a quick mind, moving rapidly from the word's appearance in the mind to its recording on the page; the handwriting appears frantic rather than reflective.

The state of Freytag-Loringhoven's papers brings the question of remembering and forgetting to the fore. On some of the poems in the collection, the author notes that she would like to pursue publishing. These are often clean copies, signed with the distinctive "E.v.F.L." As far as intentionality is concerned, the situation could not be clearer: explicitly stated intentions occur on the manuscript in the author's handwriting. This is not the case with "Chill." Though manuscript 1 is titled and is the cleanest copy, it is also the least representative of the other manuscript pages: it is streamlined, and contains the last couplet, "THE BRASSY SUN BECAME SOPHISTICATED / AND LOST HIS ARDOR," which occurs no where else in the text. Manuscript 3 contains three different versions of what I would call a refrain, simply because the stanza appears in all five manuscripts. This might lead the editor to assume some kind of hierarchical value for manuscript 3, but manuscripts 2, 4, and 5 contain far more than just that refrain and more than manuscript 1 has to offer, simply by merit of length.

What this comparative detail complicates is the simple fact that Freytag-Loringhoven does not indicate that she would like to publish this poem; hence the question, what gives an editor the right to publish, or merely edit an edition of, this poem? Was there a differentiation in the mind of the author between those poems she planned to publish and those deemed personal or unpublishable? Perhaps the author could not get her head around "Chill" and abandoned it among her papers to turn to another, more marketable poem. The manuscript certainly supports that.

In "Chill II," Freytag-Loringhoven left a structurally interesting example of the poet's art. Each of the five pages varies dramatically, including variations so disparate, that an intentional edition is illogical. The nature of revision evident in the manuscript exposes a quick mind, moving rapidly from the word's appearance in the mind to its recording on the page; the handwriting appears frantic rather than reflective. This speed is evident in the state of the written words on the page: lines crash and cross over one another, words are stacked to treacherous heights, and in other places they are squeezed between strikethroughs. A neater page would reveal more time spent in reflective composition and choice of each individual word. The textual record demands attention to the spirit, the motion, and the creativity of the poet's art.

As evidenced by the transcription below, this textual record is far from reader-friendly. The confused lines, myriad strikethroughs, and mighty scrawl are magical as spectacle, but impossible as text. To answer the need of the reader, without compromising the textual record, these poems must be regularized in a way that allows for accessibility and artistic impression.

As the intentional edition became the obvious choice, I began to examine my ambivalence toward such a scheme. Bowers would have editors behave as god-like gardeners: from the natural landscape of the manuscript, Bowers would have us prune confidently, reordering a field of wildflowers into a French provincial garden, complete with topiary. The aesthetic of dada is one of the found object: though Freytag-Loringhoven may delight in their presence, I fear there is no room for garden gnomes in Bowers conception of the edited text. Hence the directive for the editor is to find a balance between the needs of the reader, who likes box hedges, and the aesthetic of the textual record, which tends toward old toilets as planters.

The development of hypertext seemingly fights that forgetting. It allows the editor the ability to reasonably include a range of information formerly segregated at the back of a book. Links can allow the reader instant access to notes or views of the manuscript. Although hypertext may not have the aesthetic of the book, it does give both the scholar and the casual reader seemingly extended access when compared to the format of a book.

Once the ideological format has been settled upon, the question of the physical format must be addressed; hence the editor turns to the question of hypertext versus text. Jerome McGann's Rossetti Hypermedia Archive offers one impressive example of what hypertext makes available to the editor. The guided tour revealed the extent of research and scholarship one can put into the production of an edition that is both accessible and versioned. The inclusion of introduction, textual transmission, history, reception, and bibliography in addition to transcription, edition, and photocopy of original manuscript is at once refreshing and a bit overwhelming. Having the opportunity to view Rossetti's hand at only a mouse-click's distance from the edition takes some of the unaffected edge from the typed word. This is certainly refreshing because it allows the viewer/reader to make her own observations of the text.

McGann's attention to detail makes the Rossetti Archive an impressive work of scholarship, but it is impractical for this edition for two reasons. Because I agree with McGann that "the physical presentation of texts [i]s a fundamental feature of their expressiveness," I cannot follow the model he has designed for Rossetti.2 Although many of Rossetti's poems include revisions, these corrections seem marginal when compared to the scale of revision evident in Freytag-Loringhoven's manuscript; Rossetti's manuscripts are just too clean. The appearance of Freytag-Loringhoven's manuscript does not have the same visual impact on the reader: with Rossetti, the manuscript supports the transcription; Freytag-Loringhoven's page would be visually interesting, but ultimately detrimental to the reader's understanding of the text. Another problem, which may seem obvious, is simply the scope of this project. Were the responsibility for all Freytag-Loringhoven's papers to fall to one person, a hypertext might prove a good fit for a project of this magnitude. However, for one poem the scope of scholarship required for such an undertaking would be excessive.

The Versioning Machine (VM), offered on the Internet as a free download, includes directions explaining in detail the method used to encrypt each version of the text, rendering differences with a series of keystrokes and complicated codes. MITH touts the product as an "environment designed specifically for displaying and comparing deeply-encoded, multiple versions of texts"; it can also display "manuscript images of each version in an applet which provides for several image enhancement features."3 The VM examples produced thus far are primarily from multiple published versions or clean versions of manuscript, such as those of Emily Dickinson. Rather than answering all the editor's questions (or doing the work for the editor), the VM forces the editor to make all the decisions she would have to otherwise – and even more so, as she must make them for multiple versions of a text. Though the hours I spent with the VM were very interesting and exciting, I ultimately decided that "Chill" would be better served outside the digital realm. Again, the VM calls for a level of commitment – to both the process of entering data and of editing itself – that the use of such a device requires.

In abandoning hypertext and moving back to text, a surprising difference became plain: text is easier to deal with on many levels. As stated above, hypertext seems to give the reader extended access to a text; however, the hypertext format is still limited by the human mind of the editor and it is only as extended as the editor's scholarship. Hypertext is also limited by the resources available to the editor: ancillary coding and data entry, on top of the required scholarship, requires time and graduate assistants that few editors can afford.

Notes

  1. Jerome McGann. Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. p. 77.
  2. http://www.mith.umd.edu/research/products.html
  3. Walter Ong. "Orality and Literacy: Writing restructures consciousness." David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, eds. The Book History Reader. London: Routledge, 2002. p. 106.

Go Back to Analysis