Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Eliot's typewriter

Once upon a time, I'm told, publishers hired something known as "press clipping services," folks who'd read all the relevant venues & look out for reviews of newly released books. Well, that was once upon a time. I found out that The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (now shipping!) had been reviewed in the TLS from a friend in Cork, not from my publisher. (When I asked my editor if she'd seen the review a couple of weeks later, she said, "Oh yes, we saw that – very positive, no?" Thanks for letting me know...)

Anyway, in the interests of prolonging the euphoria of publication as long as possible, I'd love to hear from any of my seven readers out there if they happen upon any reviews of the book – in print, on the blogosphere, on the walls of the loo – in the next few weeks or months. And if you happen to be one of the four people who've pre-ordered from amazon or the evil B&N, I'd love to hear from you when the book arrives, & get your feedback on't. Feel free to email at mw - dot - scroggins - at - gmail - dot - com. I'll try to avoid turning Culture Industry into a full-time book promotional outlet – but allow me to indulge myself for a while: after all, this has been a very long haul, & there are college funds involved.
***
Back in the old days – "good" or otherwise – there was a standard procedure for academically tackling Pound's Cantos: one procured a copy of one of the "guides" to the poem (Peter Makin's Pound's Cantos is still my favorite) to explain the overall architecture, & one of the volumes of annotations – Carroll F. Terrell's 2-volume Companion was industry standard, but William Cookson's Guide would do at a pinch – to elucidate foreign phrases & recondite allusions. I worked my way thru the Cantos (not the first time around, however) this way, & I suspect generations of undergrads & grad students have done so as well – & scores of books on Pound bear the marks of a Terrell-supported trawl thru the text.

All that changed for me in 1992, when I picked up (at the much-missed Blue Fox, one of the loveliest of Ithaca's many used bookstores) a copy of Lawrence Rainey's 1st book, Ezra Pound and the Monument of Culture: Text, History, and the Malatesta Cantos (Yale UP, 1991). That book was my first exposure to the "new modernist studies," now I guess almost 2 decades old. In re-reading the Malatesta Cantos, Rainey destroyed the notion that EP was drawing upon some homogeneous archive of "history" in writing about Sigismundo Malatesta – an impression the student reader easily arrives at relying on Terrell's or Cookson's laconic annotation. Instead, LR showed that Pound's Malatesta was a profoundly romanticized figure, drawn as much from 19th-c. potboiler novels as from the historical record – & moreover, that EP's quotations from archival sources – as we already knew, but sometimes were apt to forget – were highly selective & sometimes considerably retouched, yielding a Malatesta that met the ideological needs of the poet in his own historical moment, but by no means an "objective" portrait of the 15th-c. figure.

The "new modernist studies" to which Rainey's book introduced me have revitalized modernism as an academic field. (Indeed, Rainey has been so prominent in that revitalization that he has become the target of younger scholar's potshots, as I learned at a modernism conference at Cornell a few years ago.) More & more attention has been paid to the ways in which modernist texts were produced, disseminated, & received, & to their social and political contexts. Far more attention has been given to the works of women, gay & lesbian writers, & writers of color. Modernism, from being a heroic revolution of a handful of white men – "the men of 1914," in (I think) Wyndham Lewis's phrase – has become a whole international congeries of overlapping "movements" & individual initiatives, firmly embedded in a very particular set of social, political, & economic circumstances.

But even as salutary attention has turned to the works of HD, Langston Hughes, Mina Loy, & the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, scholars have continued to read & re-read the "men of 1914" – Joyce, Pound, Eliot, & (too rarely) Lewis. Rainey's most recent book, Revisiting the Waste Land (Yale UP, 2005), which I picked up at The Strand this past weekend, looks at the single most canonically secure work of "high" modernism (besides of course Ulysses), the poem WC Williams complained had dropped an "atom bomb" amid a burgeoning nativist American modernism.*

Rainey's book is made up of 3 chapters & about 50 pages of "synoptic bibliographical" description of Eliot's letters & manuscripts (the sort of thing that I, anal animal that I am, dote upon). The chapters essentially follow the Jerome McGann-sanctioned triad of examining a text according to the stages of its production, publication (dissemination), & reception. I was a trifle disappointed to find that the middle chapter was "The Price of Modernism: Publishing The Waste Land," a ground-breaking & eye-opening essay that's old enough to be a "classic" (Rainey has already published it in at least three venues), but the logic of including it is pretty much inescapable.

And its familiarity is more than made up for by the chapters which bookend it. The last, "IMMENSE. MAGNIFICENT. TERRIBLE.: Reading The Waste Land," does a fine job of dispelling some of the myths surrounding the immediate reception of the poem. It shows that the tension between reading TWL as expression of the Zeitgeist & reading it as TSE's "personal grouse" was there from the very beginning, & how TSE's subsequent writings & career worked to enforce a kind of coherence & "classicism" on the poem which was by no means evident to its first readers.

But it's the 1st, mammoth chapter – "With Automatic Hand: Writing The Waste Land" – that's the real wonder here. Ever since Valerie Eliot published the draft materials for TWL back in 1971, scholars such as Hugh Kenner, Lyndall Gordon, Grover Smith, & others have advanced often conflicting theories about precisely how the poem was composed, in what order the various bits were written & woven together. Rainey unravels the entire mystery, to my eyes quite convincingly, using the most basic bibliographic methods: He compares typewriter scripts – LR shows when TSE stopped using one typewriter & began using another – and he looks at the watermarks on the various papers used. Since TSE apparently bought paper only in small batches, & used the same paper for drafting & typing poems & writing letters, it becomes a fairly straightforward (if highly technical & tediously painstaking) matter to date each fragment of the poem – to a particular place, sometimes to within a matter of days.

Rainey ends the chapter with a meditation, fittingly enough, on the typist in "The Fire Sermon," a forlorn figure who exemplifies both the social pressures of the early 1920s & the process of composing the poem in which she appears. Revisiting the Waste Land is a solid & illuminating piece of scholarship (Rainey strives hard, sometimes with limited success, to make the more technical aspects of his research accessible & exciting): like all too few books of literary criticism I read, it makes me a little proud to be in this business.

*The good doctor, in retrospect, protested too much: after all, at least 3 of the greatest works in American modernist poetry – Spring and All, The Bridge, & "Poem beginning 'The'" – were written in explicit or implicit reaction to The Waste Land.

8 comments:

Peter said...

Hey Mark/

Whenever I've taught "The Waste Land" in the past few years - which has been at least once a year - I've made heavy use of Rainey's volume. The detective work of the typewriter comparisons is really lucid stuff; likewise, the "Immense. Magnificent. Terrible." chapter - I like to read John Peale Bishop's letter to Bunny Wilson quoted at the beginning of that chapter as a way to model their own reactions / responses to the poem.

Have you seen Rainey's The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose? It's a companion volume to Revisiting The Waste Land. There's a lot of repetition in the introduction, but some of the prose is very helpful as well. There's a problem, however, with the text he uses for the poem itself. It's one of the "adjusted" versions of the text, that includes a few typos as well as inaccurate orthography (none of the "verse paragraph" indentations). Of the many in-print editions of the poem, only the Modern Library edition, the one with the horrible Mary Karr introduction, preserves the proper orthography. (Maybe I'm wrong about this?) I remember reading about this problem in a review a few years ago - maybe of the Rainey books themselves. Anyways, seems odd that such a textual stickler would reproduce an adjusted text in his book.

Also - can you explain why Barnes & Noble is evil? Politically speaking, you may be aware that B&N is the only major bookseller in the U.S. that donates exclusively to Democratic political causes. Not true of Amazon. Not true of Borders. Not true of Microsoft. Not true of Apple. But maybe Democrats are evil? (I worry about this with Hillary Clinton leading the pack...)

Cheers!
Peter

Mark Scroggins said...

Hi Peter! It's an index of how out of it -- how biographically mired -- I've been that I've only gotten around to reading Rainey, innit? I haven't seen the Annotated WL volume, tho I too recall reading reviews criticizing it on (for me crucial) textual grounds. I've butterflied around with editions, considering the B&N volume (whose notes seem actually pretty good), once using the Kermode Penguin, but pretty much settling on the Michael North Norton, whose contemporary responses & critical essays are very well selected.

B&N as "evil." Hmmm. That's probably a personal overreaction to their presence at Our Fair University, where they've had the contract for the campus bookstore forever & have consistently pursued wrong-headed & just plain incompetent policies. Ie, in maybe 7 years of using them, they never once got a semester's book orders right; they return texts to the publisher about 3 weeks into the semester; and lately they've taken to stacking Cliff's Notes beside assigned literary texts on the course shelves. Not politically evil -- but at least in our swampy neck of the woods, bent on pursuing such dumbass and pedagogically obstructive practices as to qualify as mildly evil. That is, they make life a hell of a lot harder for people teaching here, & for students trying to get an education.

Don Share said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Share said...

My friend, Jim McCue, tells me that there were at least two typewriters in the Eliot home, one with a black ribbon, one purple, so this would complicate things considerably for Rainey. Jim reviewed Rainey pretty devastatingly in his essay, "Editing Eliot," which can be found in Essays in Criticism - Volume 56, Number 1, January 2006, pp. 1-27.

The plot, as always, thickens!!

Mark Scroggins said...

You're right, Don, that's a pretty damning review, & goes along with much of what I've heard about Rainey's Waste Land edition. As to the black/purple ribbon business -- Rainey's supposedly exhaustive table of letters & mss in *Revisiting* doesn't show a single document typed in purple except for the last 2 movements of TWL, which he (& everyone else) assumes were typed on EP's machine in Paris. I wonder, if TSE had such a typewriter, why there are no traces of it in his correspondence? Was it Vivenne's?

I guess I question Rainey's exhaustiveness on questions like this -- has he examined Vivienne's contemporaneous correspondence on the off chance there were two typewriters in the household? (Tho TSE's own statements, at the time he switched typewriters from the one he'd had since Harvard, would seem to argue against that...) Did he compare the typescript of the purple passages with the ts of Pound's contemporaneous letters? (I've always found the easy identification of that bit of the typescript with EP's machine a bit *too* easy, relying as it usually does on a throwaway line like "Pound often used violet ribbons...")

On balance, I'm still convinced by Rainey's dating argument in *Revisiting* -- but you can bet I won't be using his *edition* of the poem anytime soon!

Guy Davenport once told me that Pound went thru -- literally wore out -- a typewriter every six months.

Michael Peverett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Peverett said...

The Poem of a Life is on its way to Somerset, a mere tenner. (They are offering excellent discount on amazon.co.uk). I will be an example of that - I suspect - rather common variety of lit-biographical reader, the one whose entire knowledge of the subject in hand, including the subject's writings, comes from the biog itself. So I hope you've done some generous quoting! (Shameful, I know, and not absolutely true in this case - but total ignorance is nevertheless my preferred starting-point for sitting down to a biography).

I thought this article on a current flood of biographies in German threw up some interesting discussion-points:
http://www.signandsight.com/features/1569.html

Frank Sauce said...

Got your book on Monday in the mail at work. I cried. My co-workers thought I was crazy (yes, why would
a corporate-lackey-marketing-dog cry upon receiving a thick book with an odd man on the cover?).

Need to finish currently-being read book so that I can relish your thick LZ biography next to a fire on rainy, dark Oregon evenings, after work and with bourbon and a cat in my lap.

Before I read this post, I had lunch with a poet-friend today and had the chance to pontificate on the idea/theory of mine: all current art is a reaction to Modernism (art from artists who came-of-age from Fin de Siecle upto WWII).

It may be a bs theory, but it's stood up to the test of time in the last few years.