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In his preface to Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloise, Jean-Jacques Rousseau introduces his book by answering, with questions, the anticipated question of prospective readers: "Quoique je ne porte ici que le titre d'éditeur, j'ai travaillé moi-même à ce livre, et je ne m'en cache pas. Ai-je fait le tout, et la correspondance entière est-elle une fiction? Gens du monde, que vous importe?" (3).

"Gens du monde, que vous importe?": in his essay, "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?," Michel Foucault dates Rousseau's question, as he speaks of the introduction of the author as the privileged moment of individualization in modern times. The issue of whether one is an editor or an author of a text, and the decision about who the "I" could be who makes such a claim, marks the definition of the individual who can speak and own his words, and of a text that "belongs." The title of an author or an editor carries therefore more than the function of a name; it carries a claim of property that in itself also indicates how one should read and where one should place a certain text.

"Gens du monde, que vous importe?": Edgar Allan Poe, publishing nearly a hundred years after Rousseau and before Foucault's interest in [End Page 413] the moment of the institution of the author, seems to care about this difference. He is concerned about it when, as a journalist, he has to consider if he should sign his text and quite consciously select it to be part of his oeuvre—an oeuvre that also includes a textbook on conchology that carries his name as its author but was copied from other books. Poe plays with the authorial signature when he issues as a news event a story about a balloon ascent that proved to be a hoax invented at his desk. The question of property is brought up in an obviously "economic" sense when he charges American publishers with the disregard of copyright concerns and the introduction of cheap English texts; with "stealing" those texts from their proper authors and, at the same time, preventing the success of those American writers whose more expensive books have still remained within their authority. In regard to Poe, critics have questioned even this authority quite early on, however, asking how Poe—as a person who was ill, supposedly drank, and used drugs—could ever have been the master of his words.

The question of mastership (of the word, the text, the tale) in its relationship to the process of editing (other or one's own words) is played out, and becomes thematic, in one of Poe's serial publications, the fragmentary Journal of Julius Rodman. The text, published without Poe's authorial signature, poses very clearly the question of whose property it is. In his preface to the Nouvelle Héloise, Rousseau is eager to dismiss any suspicion of hiding from his text, his readers, and the responsibility of authorship. In and for Julius Rodman, the cache that is at stake in his confession indicates less of an action than a protective layer from which the text emerges: it is found in a secret drawer. The text found claims to be autobiographical, a diary that describes the person and adventures of one Julius Rodman. In the published Journal, Poe is treated as one among several other fictitious editors of the text who sign with their own journal's initials "Eds. G. M." (528).1

If the task of the editors of Rodman's journal is the restoration of a text previously lost or hidden, this task presupposes the notion of an "original" text that is able to receive a commentary. Rodman's journal is introduced by the editors' comments, and the editors also admit to commenting within Rodman's text—cutting possibly tedious remarks and references or providing necessary footnotes. The "frames" that are provided by the editors are not only layers from which the diary text emerges. A temporal frame is introduced as well. The editors establish the text as one that was written...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 413-430
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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