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A Report on a One-Day Colloquium, “Ulysses: 25 Years Critical and Synoptic Edition,” London, England, 6 November 2009

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 46, Number 3-4, Spring-Summer 2009
pp. 427-429 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0058

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"Ulysses: 25 Years Critical and Synoptic Edition" was hosted by the Institute of English Studies at the University of London, a still-expanding center of textual scholarship. The celebration of the ground-breaking edition of Ulysses inaugurated a new series of events, including a seminar on textual studies. Wim Van Mierlo opened the Colloquium by focusing on the significance of the Critical and Synoptic Edition (CSE) for editorial theory and practice as such, the field of which Hans Walter Gabler's edition of Ulysses made us acutely aware. The participants, therefore, were asked to emphasize the editorial process (the left-hand pages of the CSE), rather than the result (their right-hand correspondents), and to speak of "correcting, not corrections; editing, not editions; Joyce's texts and how they can be represented, not what literary criticism misguidedly refers to as the text."

Jim Mays looked at the radical and the traditional in Gabler's procedures, which combine the Anglo-American editorial copytext practice (based on a single, authorized, final version of the text in question) with the German method of inclusive editing (accounting for all its extant variants). The problem with such merging, in Mays's view, is that the end-product is a constructed "fabrication," something Joyce never actually wrote. To complicate the issue, Gabler concentrates on the evolution of the text at the expense of its communicative purpose and, hence, strengthens the sense of meaning deferred already strongly present in Joyce.

Luca Crispi then effectively answered this charge by reminding us that, with Ulysses, there is no complete, original text. The conception of the final whole kept changing in the process of authorial revisions, and Joyce never brought the editorial proofs of its fragments into a single, materially complete, final version. The material textual bodies we have, Joyce's manuscripts, show the author modifying fragments in relation to each other, with each fragment yet to be inscribed into a whole. One revision, in turn, calls for another, and drafts of different stages of composition weave into each other, while the whole is only thought of as a final destination never reached. It is this process of Joyce's constantly altering conception that is the original, Crispi said; and Gabler's edition of Ulysses is the best, because it accounts for both the processual nature of the evolution and its intention to reach a final text. Manuscripts found in the National Library of Ireland containing "Proteus" and "Ithaca" fragments only add to the already abundant evidence supporting Crispi's conclusion about the processual, rather than textual, identity of Ulysses.

After lunch, the discussion turned to a less theoretical register. Alistair McCleery highlighted the pecuniary aspects in the life of a book, which are often the real incentives for editorial activity as such. Mark Twain and Sir Walter Scott were his pre-modernist examples: both writers introduced authorized, definitive editions of their works so as to secure the copyright and income. With D. H. Lawrence, we enter the modernist era of multiple versions of the same work and the age of critical definitive editions. The market value of a "critical definitive edition" is that it has an inexhaustible target audience: university students. The initial excitement about the CSE arose precisely because it promised a copyrightable text in constant demand. But this inexhaustible demand also means that publishers want to produce new editions to extend copyrights further; neither the critical value of the edition in question nor consumer interests, alas, play a decisive role in this process. An example here is the Wordsworth Classics edition of Ulysses which is based on its 1932 text—instead of, say, the later, much-improved version of 1939—just because the publisher was granted permission for the earlier text and wanted to use the first-ever opportunity to publish the novel. Meanwhile, the prospects of reissuing the three-volume Gabler edition, out of print for quite some time now, are bleak.

John Lavagnino then explained his experiments with digitalizing the CSE: in trying to present a page of the Synoptic edition in an XML format, his students marked out different levels of drafting typographically and in colors, managing to incorporate up to four layers of...

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