Friday, March 25, 2011

"A Rationale" Posted in January, now Revisited.

A Rationale
This blog is a way of cleaning house, putting out public lectures and fugitive writings, most of them previously unpublished. Early in 2011 my THE POWELL PAPERS is in press.MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE was "finished" when I abandoned it in May 2010, letting it marinate while I worked on the first of three print volumes of THE NEW MELVILLE LOG (with the help of Robert Sandberg in layout and coding). The surviving members of the Northwestern-Newberry THE WRITINGS OF HERMAN MELVILLE team and some newer recruits are at work on the last of the 15 volumes, "BILLY BUDD, SAILOR AND OTHER UNCOMPLETED WRITINGS," on which I am General Editor. After that, I am going to write ORNERY PEOPLE, stories about my American ancestors whom I always thought had left no written record at all. If I didn't have the blog I might be tempted to try to work some of these pieces into books at a time when anyone who has a contract and a solvent press is not just deserving but very lucky.

The previous paragraph is from January 2011. Since then I have posted a short piece on the "Defining Moment of My Academic Career," the time in 1962 when I understood that two representatives of Columbia University and the academic establishment thought it was grotequely comical that I was going to the NYPL and N-YHS all day and reading old manuscript letters and old newspapers when everyone knew that biographical and historical information was irrelevant to literary criticism. I had no idea of the far-reaching power of the New Criticism.

In the 1960s my work on the texts of Melville's books showed me that the dominant rationale of copy-text was flawed--perfect in some very simple cases but inapplicable in cases of revision. In the 1970s my ongoing quest was to understand the creative process in relation to what I was learning from manuscripts and variant printed texts of many American writers, and at last in Albert Rothenberg's 1979 THE EMERGING GODDESS I found a scientific discussion which matched at almost every point what I could show from textual investigations. (I did not know about Rothenberg's book until 1981, and it has almost never been cited by literary critics to this day, important as it is.) In the 1970s, working with detailed knowledge of authors in the act of composing and revising, I was put into opposition to the representatives of the New Bibliography and, just as strongly, the representatives of the New Criticism (who all through the 70s and 80s and 90s and unto this day) control literary criticism).

I will revisit this Rationale from time to time.

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