Sally Bushell's TEXT AS PROCESS
(University of Virginia Press, 2009) xi + 302
19 illus. $55.00
Sally Bushell's first book was a re-reading of Wordsworth's The Excursion. Her new book, Text as Process, is much more ambitious. The "first study of this kind," she says, Text as Process "presents a methodology for the study of draft materials. In terms of future use it aims to provide a way of responding to textual process that can be widely used, disputed, and enlarged, forming the basis of a new subdiscipline" (2). Deeply attentive to German and French "advances" in textual theory, she "attempts to articulate a distinctive Anglo-American model" (6). She makes three claims for uniqueness. First (6), she will "provide a universal methodology with larger application than for the three poets used as case studies here" and will "provide a firm basis for an Anglo-American 'genetic' criticism underpinned by a philosophical account of the nature of process." Second (7), her book "compares European and Anglo-American editorial principles and draws on French genetic criticism as an underpinning for Anglo-American studies in a way that has not previously been undertaken." Third (7), a "claim for the book's originality lies in its self-conscious hermeneutical practice when analyzing draft materials."
Bushell ends "A Very Brief Conclusion: The Hermeneutic Circle" (237-238) with a tribute to Hans-Georg Gadamer and a quotation from Martin Heidegger: "In this chapter, as throughout the entire book, I have attempted to defend compositional process and to justify it as an area of study capable of sustaining and rewarding full literary interpretation. There is much more work to be done here, particularly in the light of Hans-Georg Gadamer's work on phenomenological hermeneutics. What is needed is a full development of a 'compositional hermeneutics' that might explore further the extent to which a specialist hermeneutic is needed for text as process, the extent to which this can or should be reconstructive rather than deconstructive, and the question of how far interpretative activity should seek to separate process from the final work of art. In this work, my primary aim has been to 'come into [the circle] in the right way,' but the ceaseless, turning act of understanding still goes on."
Bushell sees her book as addressing "multiple audiences" (8): "It will be working within familiar territory for textual scholars and theorists, who should be its most immediately receptive audience. It is also to be hoped, however, that the book will reach out to a larger readership by means of the individual authors used as case studies here and engage those working in the field of nineteenth-century literature who see before them a rich domain of surviving manuscript drafts but are not always sure how to journey through it." The "individual authors" she refers to are Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Dickinson, to whom she devotes substantial chapters.
Indeed, textual scholars and theorists will make up an attentive audience for much of Text as Process. In addition, the descriptions of the manuscripts of Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Dickinson will surely draw in some part of the "larger readership" Bushell hopes for. I suspect, however, that few enthusiasts for one of these writers will make it into other parts of the book. As my quotations make plain, this book will be tough going even for the textual specialist and quite intimidating to the general reader. Bushell writes in a style that will almost surely put off much of the audience she hopes to gain. No one will call Text as Process user-friendly.
I've had to struggle with the prose, even though I have strong incentive to comprehend the book because Bushell names Jack Stillinger and me as "the two Anglo-American scholars whose work seems most to anticipate this study." Here she is referring to two books by Stillinger, Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (1991) and Coleridge and Textual Instability (1994), and to my Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (1984). Her citing my book gives me license to "dispute" and "enlarge" as I discuss how we differ.
Stillinger in 1991 separated himself from me by declaring that I was the "most extreme theorist of textual primitivism to date"--so extreme that I sounded "very much like the Wordsworthian primitivists." (See 77-79 for Bushell's take on the Cornell Wordsworth and for her alliance with Stillinger.) In my textual isolation (blackballed during the formation of the Center for Scholarly Editions by Fredson Bowers for having asked the Center for Editions of American Authors to rescind the seal it had granted the Virginia Maggie) I had fought my way to thoughts more savage even than Jonathan Wordsworth's. Stillinger had the evidence: "In revising or allowing someone else to revise a literary work, especially after it has been thought of as complete, authors very often lose authority, with the result that familiar literary texts at some points have no meaning, only partially authorial meaning, or quite adventitious meaning unintended by the author or anyone else." This was heresy, and so was a formulation that had struck me as inoffensive past the point of banality: "Parker's basic premise, that 'genuine art is coherent' (23), seems extremely dubious."
Stillinger cited only one reviewer of my book, Gary Davenport in Sewanee Review. Of course, Davenport said, "the idea of the [perfect] text is an absolute necessity" if the study of literature is to make sense. If I had been right, the moment Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons was published all "the higher values of literary culture that have survived, somehow, from the beginnings of literacy to our Age of Information" would have shattered. That's what a savage I was, not just mistaken but "dangerously mistaken," a threat to Western Civilization if I had been right and to Gary Davenport just for saying what I did. Whew! Good thing I was wrong in arguing that some texts were not verbal icons! Plainly, I needed to be tamed.
There's nothing to tame you like grappling with a complicated book on great poets and textual theory where the author cites you as an anticipator, but I emerge with two big rough-and-ready objections. First, Bushell herself does not wrestle long enough or strenuously enough with arguments from any Anglo-American theorist who disagrees with her--that is, anyone who argues against James Thorpe, Jerome McGann, and Jack Stillinger. Anyone on the scene in the 1970s and 1980s knows that Thorpe's influence on McGann and Stillinger is pervasive. Bushell should have cited Thorpe and then between Thorpe and McGann she should perhaps have cited Donald Pizer, since Stillinger draws support from a series of Pizer's Thorpe-influenced reviews. All these pretty much agree that, as Thorpe says in Principles of Textual Criticism, literary integrity is conferred on a work by publication (38) and that a work of art is "always tending toward a collaborative status" (48).
Bushell's citing my book (now a quarter century old) would have dumbfounded me three or four years ago. Blackballed already from the CSE, my once-vast exposure to new textual problems cut short, I was drummed out of textual theory in the mid-1980s by the reviewers of Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons. Everyone wanted to batter some vital part, it seemed, but I could not but by annihilating die. That blow was provided by G. Thomas Tanselle in Studies in Bibliography (1986): "McGann's book, despite its incoherence, calls attention to a fundamental theoretical issue, whereas Parker's book, though far better written and organized, is primarily of interest for its detailed case histories, not because its basic thesis is of theoretical significance." Where could I hide? I became a biographer. Surely the New Criticism was dead and reviewers would be grateful for new documentation about unknown episodes in Melville's life.
Then in 2007 I edged between a bed and my host David Greetham's bookshelves and found that Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons was not forgotten, and that it had been determined to be, after all, of some theoretical significance. I soon discovered what happened when you type a title into Google Books or Amazon Books. Amazing! Every year for a decade and more, Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons is quoted by an astonishing range of scholars who find that it applies to problems in their fields. One teacher mines it for "a stunning set of examples of editorial and compositorial histories" for use in "The Bible in Western Civilization." It is repeatedly cited by Biblical scholars (even the editors of Exodus), classicists, medievalists, and Shakespeareans, as well as what you would expect, specialists in many modern British and American writers. It is cited by students of ethnopoetics, by musicologists, by students of "conservation," and, wonder of wonders, by many textual theorists. Dozens of scholars now excitedly apply Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons to textual situations they have recognized in their own fields. What a Quarterly Report, after such an early trashing! Unlike these dozens of writers, Bushell never once tests my book by applying some part of it to a problem she is facing. She cites me as predecessor but does not deal with my ideas.
What Bushell says about Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons exposes a persistent evasiveness that weakens the book. Quite early (17) she says that she has already "discussed in the introduction" my method for responding to New Criticism. No. Back in the introduction she had in fact asserted that I treated the author "in a remarkably judgmental way" then (rather than developing a discussion) a dozen lines later she circled around to declare that I could "be extremely judgmental of both authors and critics" (4). This sentence is her evidence of my being judgmental: "If writers fail to achieve their full intentions during composition, they are even more likely to damage parts of what they had achieved when they belatedly alter a text." Bushell does not discuss my position, and discussion is needed.
I based what I said on my examination of how famous writers of American fiction behaved. My evidence showed that writers would agree to almost anything as long as they did not have to try to involve themselves deeply in a book they thought they had finished. The question attributed to Theodore Dreiser says it all: "What's 50,000 words between friends?" So much for the writer's agonizing over the aesthetic and rhetorical incoherencies resulting from hundreds of excisions. Sister Carrie as printed in 1900 was much shorter than the typescript, for helping editorial hands chopped out hundreds of passages, including some sixty passages about Carrie's motivations and some seventy passages analyzing Hurstwood. In the 1900 text dozens of passages are left with broken syntax dangling, referents lost, topics skewed. Chop out a hunk of prose, toss it aside, and slap the raw edges of the last words before the cut up against the first words after the cut and trust that they will heal up. No tying veins and arteries, just slapping together--that was the process by which the Sister Carrie typescript version was massacred as it was prepared for print. This is treating prose like Spam or processed cheese food. We think of Dreiser as a notoriously cloddish writer, but many snags in syntax, gaps in continuity, and worse faults were imposed upon his text in the "socializing" process. Sister Carrie as Dreiser wrote it is much longer but perhaps can be read faster because the reader is not even subliminally distracted by editorially imposed clumsinesses.
Even writers more attuned than Dreiser to aesthetic consequences of deleting and inserting and moving hunks of prose around will, under pressure, agree to do things or decide themselves to do things which result in impossible, unintended meanings. Almost never will a writer read all through a reordered book, for instance, to see the effects of changes, whyever they were made. Unintended meanings, you would gather from Bushell's book, are phantom things, not real live demonstrable things. In her elaborate comments there is nothing more specific about "unintended meaning" than the assertion that it "occurs within, and as a by-product of, the intentional complex. It exists in the form of embodied acts on the page but contains meaning not necessarily attributable to the writer's intentional acts" (66). She circles back later (her circling seems characteristic) to declare that "the unintentional is brought into being as a kind of 'by-product' of intention." Such "unintended meaning," she says, "is strongly temporal and temporary within the creative process" (67). No. If you want to see real unintended meanings go to texts where hunks have been deleted in the socializing process and the unintended meanings have misled readers for decades or centuries. Look there for discontinuities such as lost or distorted referents such as the late Henry Binder and I called attention in the 1895 The Red Badge of Courage. Real unintended meanings are permanently embodied in many a published (socialized) text. Writers do the best they can to protect their texts, but their power is limited.
Real living writers understand what I was saying in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons. Here is a note I received in 2006 from James Hime, a mystery writer, an Edgar finalist, author most recently of Where Armadillos Go to Die: "Your book is more frightening to a writer than anything written by Stephen King or Thomas Harris. Anyone who has struggled with the urge to do what is required to get published, or to satisfy an agent's or editor's power lust, knows how easy it is to succumb to a 'you-must-destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it' proposition from the devil. When haunted by the thought that the manuscript that lies moldering under the bed may never see the light of day, any outrage or betrayal seems possible, indeed, justifiable. After reading Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons I looked in the mirror and said, on behalf of all writers, 'Guilty as charged.'" Yes, I was judgmental (and funny about it, downright sympathetic, I had thought), but I was absolutely right. Bushell cited me but did not engage the issues.
Bushell does not acknowledge that a book called Text as Process ought to deal seriously with the author's intention during the creative process, the phase when a writer is actively working on something and trying to complete it. Michael Hancher's "Three Kinds of Intention" achieved an undeserved fame when G. Thomas Tanselle sanctioned its categories in Studies in Bibliography. On 248 Bushell quotes my arguments against Hancher (although removing the emphasis from "during" which I here restore): "Hershel Parker also engages with Hancher but criticizes him for not allowing for a fully active intention within composition: 'Hancher can accommodate the period before the composition, the moment of completion, and the indefinite period afterwards; but DURING [in this blog I substitute caps for italics]--the ongoing creative process itself--has no place in his theory.'" (My next sentence reads: "For all practical purposes he does not seem to believe there is any such thing as the creative process.") What does Bushell's "but" mean? I engage Hancher "but criticize him." "But" makes it clear that Bushell has shut the valves of her attention just when she most needs to be alert to the possible value of my point. No more than Hancher does she want to focus on what the writer does during the creative process. Perhaps her removal of my italics is subliminal, but (or "and") significant.
When she quotes me Bushell repeatedly deflects attention from what I say or else she gets what I say askew: "Parker almost always focuses on the text immediately before publication or in its development around the act of publication, with authorial intentionality 'built into the words of a literary work during the process of composition'" (3). I don't recognize this "Parker." I am rarely concerned with the text immediately before publication; rather, I am concerned with the text during the process of composition and with the text as the writer completes it. The wording "its development around the act of publication" is alien to my way of thinking. Is this James Thorpe talk, or his follower Jerome McGann talk, or Jack Stillinger talk? I do not think much "development" occurs "around" the act of publication, whatever "around the act of publication" can mean. It sounds as if Bushell has so internalized (by way of McGann and Stillinger) the Thorpe notion of the socialized text (the text as the result of whatever anyone did to it after it left the author's hands) that she cannot focus long on what I really say. Her own fixation is on publication and mine is on composition. Bushell seems very uncomfortable dealing with the idea of anything going on during a "creative process" and drops it like, well, a savage thought.
A similar shiftiness, almost a sleight-of-hand, comes out in Bushell's comments on the Cornell Wordsworth where, I think, she misuses the word "draft" (78). Cornell is publishing "draft material," or in Laurent Jenny's term Cornell is publishing "pre-texts." This reminds me of Fredson Bowers's declaring that the Pragmatism manuscripts were "something close to drafts," in so "rough" a state of inscription that they could not "be thought of as normal authorial printer's copy." But in fact the Houghton "manuscripts" were the "authorial printer's copy" from which the real living compositors set very nicely (see their stint marks!), although they misread the manuscript at a few points where what William James wrote is clear even to my eyes. Not even bothering to collate the manuscript, much less choosing to print from it, Bowers perpetuated these compositorial errors in the Harvard University Press Pragmatism. In a similar spirit, although not in such bullheaded, wrongheaded folly, Bushell argues that for Wordsworth "there is no such thing as absolute completion" (79). "Draft" as she uses it means the result of the creative process, what the author had achieved when he was done with the thing.
You can see clearly how little Bushell and I have in common by the way we talk about the end of the creative process. Bushell finds it impossible to talk seriously about an end ever coming to the creative process. The title of her section "Dickinson's Anti-Telos" is susceptible of different readings, but she is saying that Dickinson is "'anti-teleological'"--opposed to endings or completion (179). (This, most folks will agree, is not a friendly way to talk about Dickinson, the poet who plundered Shakespeare for gorgeous words.) Bushell holds (181) that "the act of completion, and the production of a single 'fixed' version of a work, may not be as absolute for a writer as it might seem to be to the reader of that work." When she considers the poems where the manuscripts show multiple "candidates" (Dickinson's term) for placement in the final poem, the perfect word not yet arrived "unsummoned," she seems to forget that Dickinson did after all leave such poems. Completion for Bushell, pretty much as for Thorpe, McGann, and Stillinger, is accomplished by publication, for she continues: "Nonetheless, if an act of completion results in an act of publication, then a work is released into the public arena at a certain point of time." Her unwillingness to imagine the writer engaged in completing a literary work comes out in her word choices (181): "Closely related to the writer's ability, or willingness, to bring a work to a single fixed state must be the question of creative judgment." She is talking about the writer's creative judgment as if it were wholly rational, and she talks as if for every writer there is "a judgment of completion and a judgment of readiness for public reception."
My second main objection is that while Bushell works through French and German textual theory and at least cites Anglo-American textualists, she does not work with evidence from other fields at all. She ought to have looked at what scientists have discovered about cognitive psychology and about memory, for example, and especially about the creative process. We need all the help we can get from people who study the way the human mind works in the act of creating literature.
All through the late 1960s and the 1970s I was on a quest to discover some writer on the creative process whose arguments I could apply to what I was learning about the finality of the creative process from studying manuscripts of American and some English writers. "Sober second thoughts," I had learned early, were apt to be disruptive to any unity that had been achieved the first time round. I was gradually realizing that this meant that W. W. Greg's rationale was inadequate--perfect for incorporating later corrections into the text the writer completed, quite useless for dealing with later revisions. In the 1970s what you found on creativity was usually pathetic ("How to Have a More Creative Child"; "Free Your Creative Powers"), so for a few years I kept citing the best I could find, a challenging short discussion by John Dewey in Art as Experience. Early in 1981 a librarian showed me a review of Albert Rothenberg's The Emerging Goddess: The Creative Process in Art, Science, and Other Fields (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l979). "You are going to like this," she said smugly. Glory be! what a wonderful book! Chapter 13 should be the beginning textual student's Bible. And Rothenberg, I found from a footnote, in 1969 had published a monograph-length article, "The Iceman Changeth: Toward an Empirical Approach to Creativity," in which he had worked through many of the problems I had been wrestling with at the same time. His study in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association had been ignored by the annual American Literary Scholarship (which is supposed to look at everything published) and by all the O'Neill critics I could find. How I would have cherished that article if I had seen it back then! How grateful I was when I got my copy of The Emerging Goddess on 9 March 1981!
In The Emerging Goddess Rothenberg's evidence dwarfed my own attempts to think my way through the creative process based on textual histories of a few dozen American novels, but our conclusions were identical. I could slap down vivid illustrations of almost everything Rothenberg said. The only place we diverged was on the New Criticism, and that was because as a Yale man Rothenberg was a little too deferential to some of the original New Critics whom he knew personally. I felt liberated, and felt oddly loved: at last someone I respected understood what I had been thinking and saying, and was saying it better than I had.
Bushell ought to have tested her description of the author as rational, judicious self-critic against this description in Rothenberg (370): "Beginning with undifferentiated knowledge and experience, the creator proceeds through differentiation and joining, expansion and constriction, stray pathways and returns, diffusions and sharpenings, fantasy and reality, world visions and narrow technical concerns, cultural concerns and individual preoccupations, art styles and personal styles, arousal and ratiocination, abstraction and concretation, breaking and making. Always, as there are factors and processes tending toward diffusion and expansion, there are equally strong factors and processes directed toward differentiation and joining."
While Bushell evades the "during" process, just as Hancher does, Rothenberg describes it, and defines some stages in it: "the creative process involves increasing anxiety as it progresses. The creator engages in a task that makes him increasingly anxious as he pushes forward. And, as we know, he does this again and again, usually taking up another creative task as soon as he has finished the last one." This corresponds with what I had observed in American fiction writers. The creative process, like any other process, ends--assuming always that the writer continued in it until he finished the work. One creative process ends, and the writer begins another. The earlier one is off his mind, often, long before it is off his hands. The creative process ends with absolute finality. The writer is done with the thing, and trying to regain even partial control is almost always repugnant to the writer.
Since she was supposedly using me, Bushell ought to have paid attention to my discovery of allies among cognitive psychologists such as James J. Gibson and Eleanor J. Gibson, particularly his The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (1966). Heartened by Rothenberg, I was consulting a colleague for something useful on memory when he handed me Ulric Neisser's hot-off-the-press Memory Observed (1982)--a wonderful book, you see at once, for any lover of Henry James. I incorporated in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons the best that I could find from workers in these related fields. I have not kept up with advances, but surely there must be new work to draw from for someone like Bushell. I think now that a book called Text as Process which does not draw on wise work in related fields such as aesthetics, creativity, cognition, and memory, and which does not grapple with objections to the Thorpe-McGann-Stillinger line of textual theory, cannot become the sort of model that Bushell wants her book to be. Since I want to see Bushell grappling with textual tangles and communicating vividly about them, I respectfully suggest that as she writes her next book she take to heart Jim's question to Huck about the Frenchman. Why can't a textual theorist talk like a man or a woman?
1981 NOTES POSTED ON 19 AUGUST 2012 AS COMMENT ON MY AMAZON REVIEW OF BUSHELL: