Friday, May 13, 2011

manuscript dating, with special reference to LZ

So I happened on one of those "identify this quotation" sites, where the quotation in question was Albert Einstein's "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." Now of course LZ-heads all across the nation immediately say "A"-12! And yes, the quotation is there on page 143 of every edition:
Everything should be as simple as it can be,
Says Einstein,
But not simpler.
The quotation site had ferreted this out,* indeed it was their primary source for the quotation – in this form (Einstein had said similar things, or things in more or less the same form, but we don't seem to have a record of him saying precisely this).

*Don't go there just yet – you'll spoil the suspense of my own pseudo-scholarly narrative.

Aha, thought I. The quotation can't be found in "Anton Reiser's" Albert Einstein: A Biographical Portrait, the celeb biography LZ translated back in 1930 (work he thought so little of he requested his name be removed from the book as translator). But somehow over the past two decades of doing LZ, I had stumbled upon a contemporaneous formulation (contemporaneous that is to the composition of "A"-12, 1950-51) which LZ almost certainly had read. The composer Roger Sessions, writing in the New York Times (LZ's habitual paper), in a piece entitled "How a 'Difficult' Composer Gets That Way" (January 8, 1950): "I also remember a remark of Albert Einstein, which certainly applies to music. He said, in effect, that everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler!" (Note: Sessions doesn't claim he's quoting AE verbatim, just "in effect." LZ, on the other hand, translates it into a direct quotation.)

I tried to work this little bit of "sourcing" into my LZ publications for years, & never managed to find the right place for it. I figured it would be my little jewel, my one trouvé. But when I saw the author of the Quote Investigator blog on the trail, I emailed him forthwith with my find, and he promptly incorporated it into his piece.

But that's only where the story gets interesting (interesting, that is, if you're a painfully anal-obsessive textual-critic-type). That author, in turn, emailed me back: the quotation also appears – I'd forgotten – in Prepositions, at the end of Part II of "William Carlos Williams" (page 51): a section dated 1948. Lots of thoughts ran thru my head, first of all that perhaps LZ had told the quotation to Sessions, who then used it in his NYT piece. But there's no record of LZ ever meeting Sessions. And I couldn't find the quotation in any of the letters LZ wrote before 1950. So what gives with this "1948"?

Here's what gives: "William Carlos Williams" actually consists of three widely separated essays LZ put together into a single piece for the 1967 publication of Prepositions: Part I, "A Citation," was written for The Nation in 1958; Part III is a 1928 review of WCW Voyage to Pagany, which was published in 1931 in Hound & Horn as a "postscript" to LZ's big Henry Adams essay. And here's the complicated textual history of Part II:

1) It's first published as "Poetry in a Modern Age" in Poetry magazine 76.3 (June 1950), as a review of Vivienne Koch's William Carlos Williams. There are 2 manuscripts and a typescript extant, the middle one dated 19 March 1950.

2) A shorter version is published in Winter 1962 in The Massachusetts Review as "An Old Note on William Carlos Williams," with a date at the end saying "1948." And this version is identical to ––

3) Part II of Prepositions's "William Carlos Williams," which is also dated 1948.

Marcella Booth's scrupulous Catalogue of the LZ Manuscript Collection (1975) lists the manuscript/typescript materials of (1) and (2) as two separate items, dating (1) to 1950 and (2) to 1948, sensibly concluding that LZ incorporated "all the material" in (2) into (1).

Well, it might be sensible to conclude that, but that's not how LZ worked. Time & again, he would reprint a previously printed piece in an abbreviated form: you see it spectacularly in "An Objective," which gives us the high points of all three of the "Objectivist" essays in a single concentrated pill. The magazine publication of his Henry Adams thesis is considerably shorter than the full-length thing at Columbia. So it makes no sense that he would write a short piece on WCW in 1948 – without telling WCW about it – there's no epistolary evidence of his writing it at the time – then pump that up to make a review of Vivienne Koch's book (a book about which he & WCW have significant correspondence).

Here's what happened: LZ wrote a review of Koch in early 1950, making use of the Einstein "quotation" he'd read in the Times, along with a bunch of other things that were obsessing him, & that would similarly appear in "A"-12. A decade later, when a Mass Review editor hit him up for something for a "gathering" for WCW, he sent a new typescript of the piece, cut down by about a third (removing most of the references to Koch's book), and dated the thing – erroneously, it turns out – 1948. And that's the date that stuck when he came to compile Prepositions a few years later.

Don't ask me how much time I spent on this today; it's embarrassing. But I'm heady with the sense of having ironed out a real live error, the sort of thing that gets the textual critic-biographer's pulse racing.


Well, for a while this morning Blogger was talking about how they were in the process of restoring the posts that had been for some reason taken down; but now I'm not finding that particular page, & other folks seem to have lost posts as well, for good, so I guess I'll just have to write off that singularly rambly & inconsequential set of musings on the chronological orders of Ruskin's Library Edition, the pleasures of Vol. XIII, and why I like reading the catalogues of art exhibits. Sigh. Anybody want to hear about the pleasures of textual scholarship & establishing manuscript dates?
Later: Well, look at that. My faith in humanity is restored. But I'm gonna write about establishing manuscript dates anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ruskin: turner

One of the more disconcerting aspects of reading thru the Library Edition of Ruskin – as yes, I am still doing – is the complicated balancing act editors Wedderburn & Cook have done between a chronological & a thematic, or work-based, arrangement. They've tried to arrange his works in roughly chronological order, but have also kept his multi-volume works (Modern Painters, Stones of Venice) together. Since Ruskin took an ungodly long time to finish the five volumes of Modern Painters, writing a bunch of stuff in between, it's been a complicated dance reading thru his works in more or less the order he wrote them.

I began at the beginning – Juvenilia, Volume I – then on to the Poems (Vol. II) and the first 2 volumes of MP (III & IV). At which point Ruskin shifted attention to architecture & Venice, and I shifted forward to Seven Lamps of Architecture (Vol. VIII), the 3 volumes of Stones of Venice (IX, X, & XI), and the lectures that more or less go along with Stones (Vol. XII). Then he returned to Modern Painters, for two further volumes (Vol. V & VI).

So I finished Modern Painters 4 a number of weeks ago, a mediation mostly on mountain geology – or so it seems in retrospect – with a few thoughts on Turner along the way. And I'm all ready to launch into the final volume of the work, when I realize I need to trawl ahead across my shelves to Library Edition Vol. XIII, which is comprised more or less of miscellaneous writings on Turner, most of them produced as a byproduct of Ruskin's being named one of the executors of Turner's will, & spending time cataloguing & sorting Turner's bequest of his paintings, drawing, & sketches to the nation. Modern Painters 4 was finished in 1856; Ruskin didn't publish Modern Painters 5 until 1860. And between those dates, he published enough material to fill four more volumes of the Library Edition (XIII – XVI). So I may or may not complete my long haul thru MP by the end of this year. We'll see.

At any rate, Vol. XIII is thus far rather interesting. The introduction is frankly fascinating, treating as it does Ruskin's work on the Turner bequest, the immense sift of sketches and drawings – thousands upon thousands – left behind in Turner's studio and dwelling. (The Library Edition has the most meaty introductions of any scholarly edition I've ever met; they're really a running biography of Ruskin, & were indeed packaged as such by ET Cook after the LE was finished.) The first real "work" in the volume is The Harbours of England, which amounts to descriptive copy Ruskin wrote for a series of 12 reproductions of Turner seascapes.

It all made me realize how little I really know about Turner (tho I went to the fantastic Turner exhibition year before last at the Metropolitan Museum, & like everyone else was blown away), so I pulled down & read the only Turner book handy – Graham Reynolds's Turner in the "World of Art" (now Thames & Hudson, my own copy OUP) series. A quick & satisfying read, tho the color reproductions in this copy are execrable. There are a few moments of nice prose:
After [Fingal's Cave] remained unsold for thirteen years, C.R. Leslie chose it for James Lenox, whose first reaction was disappointment at its indistinctness. When Turner heard this he made the famous reply: 'You should tell him that indistinctness is my forte.' [My new favorite quotation of the moment]

Yet more private were the sketchbooks in which Turner made compositions of couples in bed, and other Priapic subjects. It is one of the pleasanter ironies of history that Ruskin, who was not conspicuous for matrimonial success, was obliged to review these frankly lustful scenes amidst all the drawings in the Turner Bequest. He inscribed one sketchbook of this kind with the words, 'They are kept as evidence of failure of mind only.'
Paging thru the rest of Library Edition XIII & sampling what amounts to Ruskin's catalogue copy, however, makes me realize how much I enjoy reading art catalogues in general. So I've turned a quarter of my attention to Jane Ferrington's excellent 1980 Wyndham Lewis, a catalogue of a massive Manchester City Galleries exhibition. It makes me want to get out my paints and canvases.

Is it any wonder I never get anything significant done? Well, I did review Marjorie Perloff's latest here, and have just read proofs for a couple of things due out soonest. Word on the street has it that the new Parnassus is out with my essay on Guy Davenport, but I haven't gotten my copies yet.