Editing and Reading Blake
"Editing Blake" surveys how editors have represented William Blake's diverse range of media productions over the last century and a half. The essay examines how evolving editorial theories and new means of editorial representation have radically transformed perceptions of Blake's work. In addition to considering the accomplishments and limitations of the three great codex editions by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, David V. Erdman, and G. E. Bentley Jr., the essay also explores the relationship of print facsimiles to descriptive bibliographies, assesses the development and evolution of the William Blake Archive in light of the multitude of possibilities available to the electronic edition, and investigates the under theorized role of the reader friendly editions offered by W. H. Stevenson, Alicia Ostriker, John Grant and Mary Lynn Johnson, and David Fuller.
The essay discusses the various difficulties of all methods of presenting Blake's text. It argues that different forms of facsimile have characteristic imperfections. Similarly, letterpress, including the textual purist editions of Erdman and Bentley, has characteristic failures: particularly it cannot reproduce Blake's multiple idiosyncratic forms of 'punctuation,' and these are seriously misrepresented when reduced to standard forms. Moreover, despite his emphasis on the expressive value of minute particulars, Blake was himself not careful about punctuation, punctuating the 'same' text in various ways (when repeating it, when re-writing it in other contexts, when inking or coloring the engraved plate differently). Arguing that with Blake all editorial methods involve forms of misrepresentation, I propose the positive values of modernizing punctuation. Helping the reader to understand Blake's syntax releases attention to other expressive aspects of poetic form. I discuss, with examples, understanding Blake's rhythms (by marking more clearly his distinction between pronounced and unpronounced 'ed' and by a more clearly syllabic spelling), and understanding his rhetoric—the quasi-musical structures of the verse that become more evident when its syntax is more clearly signalled.
This essay concentrates on the poetry of William Blake, which was the theme of a conference at York in 2007, where the paper was given. It does not deal at large with the task of establishing a text, or of the dating of individual works, since these have been extensively and thoroughly covered by others; but outside influences on the editor, such as the principles laid down by a General Editor of a series, are touched upon. The paper looks more fully at the problems arising from Blake's habit of continuous emendation, as well as the minutiae of his orthography, capitalisation and pronunciation, and the effect of these on an understanding of the work. Finally, since the core of the editor's work is not in critical appraisal but in rendering the work understandable and in providing valuable, but not excessive annotation, the paper considers the ways in which this task may be most effectively tackled.
In updating the heavily illustrated Blake's Poetry and Designs (1979; 2008) for first-time readers of Blake in the twenty-first century, Johnson and her co-editor John E. Grant fully realized that words extracted from Blake's unique handmade, home-printed illuminated books must be heavily processed if they are to appear—in any form—between the covers of an ordinary mass-produced (and salable) book or on a computer screen. The transfer of Blake's etched text (or textual etching) into conventional typography affects every aspect of the appearance of the published page, from layout to font to lineation to hyphenation. The 2008 Norton Blake was further shaped by subsurface trade-offs occasioned by collisions between editorial aspirations and the brute facts of page allowances, physical dimensions, paper stock, rights and permissions budgets, house style, publishers' policies, design and series constraints, technological limits, and subcontractors' specifications and schedules. Because trade-offs in response to the fortuities and mundanities of book production came to dominate the end-stages of the preparation of the Norton Blake of 2008 in unforeseen ways that strongly affected its final content, up to and including the endpapers, this anecdotal case history focuses on the influence of contingencies and exigencies upon editorial praxis.
Our essay discusses the preparation of an electronic edition of Blake's An Island in the Moon, the first manuscript to be published by the William Blake Archive. Working within the context of collaborative and experimental editing, we have published this unique manuscript with several new features, including a new XML tag set for manuscripts, text note images to clarify knotty authorial changes, and a color coded transcription display. These new developments are the result of provisional and speculative editing process open to innovation, discovery, and failure—what Morris Eaves calls "x-editing." Editors of Blake have long faced the problem of multimedia works that straddle the text/image divide. The Blake Archive has sought to repair this divide between text and image in Blake's work, yet electronic scholarly editing continues to grapple with the challenges of searching images, representing partial text, and encoding complex revisions—as the Island manuscript amply demonstrates. Our hope is that the fluid evolution of the Blake Archiveâ€™s critical apparatus in works like Island meets the user's needs in an increasingly interactive digital environment while maintaining the intellectual rigor of more traditional scholarly editing.
This article discusses how the editors of William Blake's VALA/Four Zoas manuscript have adopted particular methodologies, based upon personal biases and unique contexts, in creating their editions. In turn, these editions have shaped the reception and understanding of Blake's original work, which makes it crucial for users of the editions to engage with them in a fully informed, critical, and self-aware manner. Because of the complex nature of the manuscript, editorial representations of it inevitably alter the original, so it is important to find ways to make editorial impositions more visible and provide readers a way for more accurate and informed uses of the manuscript. I argue that electronic editing gives us methods for achieving both of these goals, with its processes of marking up original works and its tools for critical usage of the editions. As an example of this, I discuss the electronic edition of Blakeâ€™s manuscript that I am currently preparing in collaboration with The William Blake Archive, which will be the first complete electronic edition when published.
Ripley explores the problems of editing Blake's illustrations to other authors using the same standards and procedures that have governed editions of the illuminated books. Ripley suggests that Blake's illustrations are an ideal set of text for social text editing put forward by D. F. McKenzie and Jerome McGann since the interdependent relationship between the illustrations and their source texts as necessary co-texts to one another. The co-textual relationship between the illustration and the source text embodies the necessity of wider discursive relationships in the editorial body that can be theorized using Blake's idea of the outline. Delineation editing stresses the lack of aesthetic and semantic autonomy in Blake's works, aspects of Blake recently highlighted by the recent work of Joseph Viscomi on Blake's virtual designs and Saree Makdisi on Blake's graphemes. By calling attention to their lack of autonomy, Blake's illustrations can provide a model of how to edit Blake's other works within their discursive networks.