Thursday, January 15, 2015

on the critical/limited edition

thinking more about Sebastian Carter's Beckett I noted a few days ago, brings to mind a possibility for the fine press book that is perhaps too little expressed, which is a critical edition of a small text - the vast majority of critical editions tend to be of major authors or complete works, go to a few hundred pages & require offset or digital printing - but most poets never get such treatment, they never reach that level of 'importance', & after all, it is a significant undertaking of time & money on the level of the oeuvre - but on the level of the individual poem or, as in Carter's Beckett, a short prose work, a hand-printed critical limited edition might well be able to illuminate both the writer's practice and the passage of a particular work towards some sort of 'completion', even if it turns out that completion, or a definitive version, is not really possible to assert - I wanted, during my time at The Holloway Press at the University of Auckland, to make such editions part of our normal publishing process, and the books that issued from that impulse were three : Robin Hyde's The Victory Hymn, Kendrick Smithyman's Tomarata, & Annie & Harold Beauchamp's A Shipboard Diary, tho I suspect that only The Victory Hymn comes closest to a genuine critical edition - 

one book that influenced me greatly over a long time was Phaidros: A Search for the Typographic Form of Plato's Phaedrus, compiled by Jack W Stauffacher, with an exchange of letters between Stauffacher and book & type designer Charles Bigelow about how that 'typographic form' might be realised - Stauffacher's search involved a series of possible typographic layouts for the dialogic form of Phaedrus, based on variants of the fairly small number of historical precedents, the books that had already been published, from Aldus in 1513 to Penguin in 1975 - the discussion in the letters turned around the question of how the dialogue could be treated as two 'separate' texts while living in a design which was nevertheless a harmonious whole - Stauffacher's final result bore almost no resemblance to his initial experiments, and involved a kind of leap into a typographic scheme that owed nothing to his historical antecedents - one of the options proposed (by Charles Bigelow) tho rejected was that the voices in the dialogue be divided into two colors, black for Socrates and blue for Phaedrus -  here's Bigelow on it : "The second color insures that we always know who is speaking. Unambiguous separation of the voices by chroma (timbre). This solves the signal problem. Calm pervasive differentiations." - and this prospect stayed with me for many years (received Jack's book in 1988 & printed The Victory Hymn in 1995) - 

the design/typographic problem for The Victory Hymn was : how to show eight versions of the poem, each of which had about 80 lines, in which only 14 lines were common to all versions - Robin Hyde's MSS and typescripts showed her trying out a lot of different options, not only in the language of the poem, but also in its punctuation - interestingly, the lines of the poem thruout were very much maintained, and the poet's changes were within the lines rather than lines being dropped or added - the solution I came to was to print the 14 common lines in blue - as a kind of ghostly presence or reminder/remainder in the shifting lines of the rest of the poem - as if the lightness of the blue alongside the assertiveness of the black ink suggested that even these lines might recede, might fade as a trace does, might withdraw from the poem in the very act of its production - a 'calm pervasive differentiation' - of course, the paradox here is that the lines that have received repeated alteration are printed in black, the strongest color, the color that, of all the colors, most resists confusion or instability of image on the page - perhaps the 14 common lines of the poem should have been in black & the other 66 lines in blue - there are arguments for both options - perhaps a 'calm, pervasive, ever-changing differentiation' -