Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fredson Bowers's Power as Textual Bully and the Long Suppression of Evidence about his Deeply Flawed Practices and Deeply Flawed Textual Rationalizations--The Conspiracy of Censorship

Fredson Bowers had been a brilliant man. By the end of the 1960s he was not just incompetent but sloppy in his textual procedures almost beyond imagining. As I looked at his textual lists in the 1970s I kept thinking of mad scientists in 1930s movies, not that I had actually seen many of them except in clips. By the end of the 1960s and through the 1970s it was clear, also, that he was elaborating extremely dubious textual principles to justify lazy textual practices. When I discovered just how bad his work on Stephen Crane had been, he threatened lawsuits to silence me, and his letters to members of the CEAA came to be tagged with threats against anyone who quoted them. He threatened to sue the MLA, even, if the CEAA rescinded the seal it has awarded to the disgracefully edited MAGGIE.

There were very few outlets for serious textual studies in the United States, and one by one they were closed to me in the 1970s and 1980s as editors cowered before Bowers's threats. I had drawn Brian Higgins into helping me with parts of the long essay on MAGGIE, and his career was affected by the failure of the article to appear where we had listed it as "forthcoming." That article went unpublished almost two decades and even then could not be published in the United States. One by one, my textual studies were commissioned and then rejected out of fear of Bowers. Edna Steeves was remarkable for printing one long-suppressed essay in EDITORS' NOTES after knowing that it had been rejected from REVIEW. The editors of A&E printed a letter in which Fredson Bowers flat out lied, making false claims about his treatment of me in the 70s. The same editors lost my mild letter of correction for years until, one January housecleaning, I decided that as a former resident and taxpayer of Illinois I would write the President of a state school there and see about getting the letter published. It was the publication of my letter, so belated, that caught the attention of the brave editor in the Antipodes, after TEXT had passed on it.

It was not just that Bowers's apparatuses were monstrosities--it was that his editorial principles were, finally, self-serving jokes, as when he was too lazy to have anyone collate the manuscript of PRAGMATISM against the first edition, and then falsely described the perfectly clear printer's copy as too rough to use as his own copy-text. No one of any stature challenged him while I was silenced for much of a decade on this absolutely folly, the William James edition.

Do you see how astounding it is to me now to be able to write a commentary on Tanselle's piece in the TLS and have it appear in 12 days, in a paper TLS in my mail?

My motto for this blog is from ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Hundreds of times over the decades when pieces of mine were suppressed I repeated Enobarbus's words to myself. That truth should be silent I had almost forgot. With a blog, now, and with TLS willing to print a true account, truth is not being silent.

Look at the subtext in my TLS letter: lost words that would speak if they could. I know about censorship as very few people alive do, and I rejoice at the freedom of my blog, as long as I have it.

But there were advantages, weirdly. After a while I understood perfectly how young sick Stephen Crane felt with so much of his outbring not brought out. I looked for some brightness whenever I could. But you realize that what was visible of my career was only the part that had been published, and there was this other suppressed side, year after year, even for two decades. That's cruelly punitive, damaging.

1 comment:

  1. People who could understand me--surely anyone involved in a movie that is finished but not released, especially if the movie is not released this year, next year, the year after . . . .

    I tried to describe this in relation to Stephen Crane in "Getting Used to the 'Original Form' of THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE." Of course I was writing about Crane but my understanding of the state came from personal experience with censorship.