- Purchase/rental options available:
Susan Howe’s poetry sequence Melville’s Marginalia materializes the print cultural networks of authors Herman Melville and James Clarence Mangan by unveiling the passage and material trace of their works through the hands of editors, publishers, libraries, and readers. The form of these networks is duplicated in the method of Howe’s poetic practice, which is often Bartleby-esque, interchanging Howe’s words with those lifted from previous published and unpublished texts (often without attribution), and then alternatively editing, cutting, pasting, and re-writing them. Howe’s work suggests a model of authorship that questions the dichotomies of handwriting (or marginalia) and printing, authors and editors, and ultimately, autonomy and the network. This essay argues that Howe’s observation and proliferation of these print cultural networks is both an attempt to make visible and material the multiplicity of print network’s nodes, while also critiquing the concepts of authorship, authenticity, and ownership that undergird it. By reading Howe’s work along with the affordances of networks and against the history of U.S. copyright law, this essay asks how we might reconceptualize the authorship of texts in the twenty-first century.