Putting Your Papers in Order by Richard Burt

In ethics, literature, philology, philosophy, theory, writers on August 8, 2013 at 05:34

From: Putting Your Papers in Order: The Matter of Kierkegaard’s Writing Desk, Goethe’s Files, and Derrida’s Paper Machine, Or, the Philology and Philosophy of Publishing After Death by Richard Burt, Rhizomes,

When we write “by hand” we are not in the time before technology; there is already instrumentality, regular reproduction, mechanical iterability. So it is not legitimate to contrast writing by hand and “mechanical” writing . . . . I began by writing with a pen. . . . For the texts that mattered to me, the ones I had the slightly religious feeling of “writing,” I even banished the ordinary pen. I dipped into the ink a long pen holder whose point was gently curved with a special drawing quill, producing endless drafts and preliminary versions before putting a stop to them on my first little Olivetti, with its international keyboard, that I’d bought abroad. . . . But I never concealed from myself the fact that, as in any ceremonial, there had to repetition going on, and already a sort of mechanization. . . . Then, to go on with the story, I wrote more and more “straight onto” the machine: first the mechanical typewriter; then the electric typewriter in 1979; then finally the computer, around 1986 or 1987. I can’t do without it any more now, this little Mac. . .
—Jacques Derrida, “The Word Processor,” in Paper Machine (2005e), 20.

Some questions about posthumous publication are ethical: What happens if the author insistently tried to keep the works from publication? Are an author’s efforts presumed to be an expression of what he wanted, or does publication necessarily mean positing what the author would have wanted? What constitutes evidence of a dead author’s intention? A last will and testament? Paratextual evidence left in footnotes? Are some papers so private they should remain unpublished? Or are the papers of a dead man or woman public by definition? Still other questions concern the reception of posthumous publications: do readers connect the meaning of a posthumous text to the intention of the editor? In some cases, it would appear that the story of the editor cannot be divorced from the story of the posthumous publication. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson Sean Hemingway edited a “restored” edition of the posthumously published A Moveable Feast (2009), with a foreword Sean wrote. The New York Times excerpt from this version was published with a headnote explaining why this restored version was (supposedly) better than the “unrestored” edition (Rich 2009). Again, only decades after his father Vladimir Nabokov died did his son Dmitri see fit to publish his father’s novel, written on index cards, The Original of Laura (2009), against his father’s wishes. A journalist reports that “Vladimir Nabokov wrote the work on 138 index cards, which have been stored for the past 30 years in a bank vault in Switzerland, where Nabokov died in 1977” (Bloom 1999). The Original of Laura includes Dmitri’s introduction and a full-scale facsimile of each note card (which may be punched out of the book by the reader, if he or she so desires) and its transcription in black type below it on each page, followed by the reproduction of the reverse of each note card on the following page; facsimiles of two open pages of the book may be accessed in pdf files on the webpage for the book (see Figure 1). In both of these cases of posthumous publication, the editor’s personal motives to publish or restore a text are uncritically accorded more weight than is the usual paratextual foreword or introduction to shape the reader’s reading of the published work.

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Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes


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