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Paper Evidence and the Interpretation of the Creative Process in Modern Literary Manuscripts' Claire Bustarret HANDWRITTEN OR TYPED DRAFTS by modern and contemporary writers are composed of various kinds of paper, ranging from large double sheets of watermarked laid paper to small fragments out of pocket notepads, standard wove "EXTRA STRONG" A4 sheets of typewriter paper, low quality cross-ruled school notebooks, and so on. Since genetic criticism developed in France as an approach to the study of handwritten drafts in order to explore the writers' process of composition, literary scholars have turned to the material analysis of modern manuscripts with renewed interest.2 Among other tools enabling us to grasp the complex interaction between the various phases of writing and editing, paper analysis has in fact played a significant role, but one often performed backstage. It is carried out in a codicological perspective,3 which means that information obtained from the paper cannot be interpreted separately from other aspects such as the handwriting, the visual layout or a linguistic analysis of the manuscript. As literacy and education improved in the mid-nineteenth century, parallel to the market of printing and newspapers, stationers invented all kinds of specific types of "writing paper" answering the needs of schools and administrations , as well as private demand.4 Yet our knowledge of handmade paper from earlier centuries is far wider than that of the recent industrial production: is paper too familiar an object in our daily practice of writing to deserve systematic examination? In view of the variety of material available to a modern writer, and the complexity of the working process that takes shape on the surface of paper and leaves material traces in the mass of several hundreds of leaves, what does "looking at paper" mean? One may even wonder whether the information provided by the analysis of paper is still useful in dealing with the problems raised by the reconstruction of the writing process in modern literary works, as it has proven to be for the study of historic drawings, engravings, musical drafts and books. Providing a technical context for the literary artifact As an object made of paper used for writing, a manuscript bears witness to a hidden part of the genetic accomplishment: it shows the hard work 16 Summer 2001 Bustarret required, in its material heaviness. When they decide to keep their drafts, writers are aware of the latter's ambiguous testimonial value. Some of them even make a point of enhancing their active and intimate involvement with the material aspect of creativity, especially as concerns paper.5 André Gide writes in his diary on 4 June 1949: "There are days when it seems that if I only had a good pen, good ink and good paper, I could easily write a masterpiece."6 Stendhal simply notes down as a landmark in a margin of f° 272 in the Vie de Henry Brulard: "March 6, 1836. New paper, bought in Civita Vecchia," while Hugo turns a similar note into a monument: "April 29, 1865,1 write the last page of this book on the last leaf of the 'Charles 1846' paper. This paper will have started and ended with this book."7 Marcel Proust, somewhat provocatively, claimed to be a "manual worker," and the amazing appearance of his notebooks, where most pages grow out into as many as four additional scrolls folded on the sides, gives us an idea of what he meant. Another advocate of the pleasure to be found in the craftsmanship of writing, Roland Barthes, also frequently indulged in collage, as have many writers since the eighteenth century, long before the notion of "cut and paste" was promoted by electronic text processing. In order to describe such drastic material transformations, it is necessary to look at the object without any preconceived idea concerning the process of textual elaboration. Thus, some unexpected characteristics of a specific process may come to light, as one takes into account the technical context (including writing material and tools) where gestures of singular significance effected by the writer have occurred. Different kinds of paper may be used at various periods or for specific purposes by a writer, as the manuscripts of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 16-28
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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