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Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I am a fan of Texas because I am a fan of Houston. I spent a little time there, in the pastoral period of my poetic career, my oaten reeds years, and found, to my surprise, that the gun ranges were outnumbered by Cy Twombly pieces. Brilliant food, too, served in plates so big you could curl up and sleep in them after the meal, if that’s the kind of madness that grips you. And the music. And the architecture (in parts). Even the whole Enron corporate sphere had bred a cool, pierced, tattooed counter-culture that zoomed around the appalling roads on skateboards. But Dallas. Dallas, Dallas, Dallas. How do I love thee? Well, not very much. Not the melted cheese that was everywhere. Not the unpeopled streets. Not the drive to the airport.

But these four SAA things were good:

1. The size of my room. Bigger than Lancashire, easily. The bathroom was a different zip code.
2. Room service. God, what have I been doing all my life? Why cook? Why leave the room? Why leave the bed?
3. The opening night drinks reception in that stunning Renzo Piano sculpture park. Amazing, despite the bar snack of choice seeming to be fried bread.
4. The attempts to explain, respond to, and generally justify the return of authorship as an undeniably pressing (but somewhat worrying) variable in scholarship – principally in the session on ‘Complete Authors?’. Martin Butler talked about the tensions between the priorities of current Jonson editors, and Jonson himself: the current editorial desire to foreground a theatrical context, for example, which Jonson tried to bleed away in 1616; the decision to erase some of Jonson’s less smart revisions (and, therefore, implicitly, to return to a strikingly evaluative model of editing/criticism) – which means restoring, for example, the sleeker, leaner, generally hotter quarto versions of texts like Cynthia’s Revels, bloated into irrelevance in the Folio; the desire to order the Workes chronologically, instead of the pleasing career arc that Jonson made the Workes describe (theatrical texts -> poetry -> court-commissioned work). All of which suggests that while Jonson's reputation as a writer is surely higher than it has been since the c17, as an editor his stock is Bear Stearns low. I liked Gary Taylor’s attempt to replace the author with the ‘worker function’ and, more broadly, his call for an artisanal theory of literary creativity, stressing things made, and working for others. (Or is this one more problematic middle-class appropriation of ‘artisanal’ – like artisanal cheeses, breads, olive oils, the kind of things Berkeley-born people can’t stop talking about.) Eric Rasmussen was a bit shaky on the RSC works, I thought: very funny on the yellow cover, and interesting on the early modern exclusion of collaboratively-authored plays from Works (no Pericles (etc) in Shakespeare (1623); no Eastward Ho! in Marston (1633)). But when asked to pin down the editorial justification for a Folio-based edition (and, in particular, to explain certain anomalies like Two Noble Kinsmen being in the RSC ‘folio’ edition but not the 1623 Works), he didn’t seem to come up with much – unless I missed it, which is quite possible, amid the vast aircraft hangers in which papers took place. One other thing: turns out Ben Jonson’s corpse was buried vertically, head down. Excellent!

  • At 3/18/2008 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I liked "Complete Authors?" a lot too. I liked Rasmussen more than you, I guess. I thought he was admirably even-keeled on the textual debate; when someone asked why he didn't use the quartos, he gave what seemed to me to be a pretty rational answer: they decided to go with the folio because, for many of the multiple-text plays, someone (H&C, or Jaggard, or Blount, or whoever) clearly decided not to simply set from printed copy (always the preferred choice in the printshop) but rather to set from manuscript, in order to print a different version than the quarto(s) that had already appeared. And so the editors decided to trust (or give authority to) that decision, figuring (not unreasonably, I think) that whoever that person was probably knew better than we can now know what the relationship among those variant texts was, and chose to value the now-Folio version. That seems like a coherent and justifiable rationale to me--and actually one that I hadn't heard or read enunciated quite so clearly before. Of course, there are perfectly valid reasons for reading, studying, and choosing as copy-text the quarto versions as well, and Rasmussen acknowledged as much. Especially these days--when facsimiles, edition of discrete versions, and parallel texts are so readily available--I always find it a little odd when people object strongly to editorial choices like this one. It's one thing if an edition is muddled or self-contradictory, but if it's coherent and clearly articulated, then it's generally going to be fine with me. Some of the questioners of Rasmussen seemed to have the mistaken impression that he had declared himself the Lord High Executioner and laid down an edict that henceforth no one will be allowed to read, study, or teach the quarto versions. And one of the questioners just seemed crazy and ridiculously assumed that Rasmussen did not understand early modern regimes of copyright.

    I thought Taylor's talk was interesting as well, and spirited as always. I don't think he succeeded, of course, in his rather idiosyncratic attempt to prove (seemingly mathematically) that collecting an author's work results in more, not less, proliferation of meaning. Applying combinatory algebra to Foucault seemed like a bit of a category error.

    Butler's discussion was great, as he always seems to be, although I think probably least engaging for non-editors, given that Rasmussen had Powerpoint and Taylor had black nail polish and bawdy jokes.


  • At 3/18/2008 02:40:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I agree about Rasmussen, though I think that point would've been helped by actually being made the center of his talk, which was sort of disjointed. I mean, as much as I enjoyed the powerpoint and the stuff about the yellow binding (and the home furnishings catalog picture was fantastic), it sort of amazed me that he began with ten minutes of jokes that had absolutely nothing to do with what followed. I was expecting at least a rhetorical segue. But he was really just like, "And now, my actual talk."


  • At 3/18/2008 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    One of the other interesting features of the new Jonson and Middleton editions is that they both plan to include what sound like ambitious online components. It'll be interesting to see what these actually end up including, but it seems like the sites may be establishing a new benchmark for good scholarly editions. Or in ten years we may look back at them as the embodiment of early twenty-first century internet folly.

    I liked Taylor a lot this conference: I was a little surprised by the transformation from Country Western to Goth professor (though not that surprised), but I liked seeing him so happy at the reception for the Oxford Middleton, and I thought he was quite gracious in highlighting the work of all the contributors to the volume.


  • At 3/18/2008 03:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I thought Butler was interesting for opening up some distance between "complete authors" and their intentions -- in effect showing the places he was, for strong reasons, editing against Jonson's final intentions. Taylor's anti-Foucault broadside seemed to be aimed at taking us back to a different version of the olde days (by which I do not mean the Renaissance) and an author-only focus. While ignoring a lot of the smart work that's been done to make that more complex. There was surprisingly little pushback on that in the Q&A, except in that last question.


  • At 3/18/2008 04:06:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I clearly have a diminishing memory: what was that last question?


  • At 3/18/2008 06:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    The question was: why not use "playwright" instead of "author," if you're interested in artisanship and labor, since "author" comes with a lot of additional modern baggage. Interesting exchange, I thought.


  • At 3/18/2008 09:05:00 PM, Blogger James wrote…

    I liked all three of these talks, as well, though I don't know exactly why ER led off with an anecdote about his mom. MB's talk was good in a general intro sort of way, and you have to love the Jonson burial stuff. I thought GT was engaging as usual, though his revaluation of Foucault and the author function sounded like it was devised for the original release date for the Oxford Middleton, which was what, 10 years ago now?

    Speaking of which, has anyone who picked one of those monsters up worked out what exactly Jeff Masten is doing with the commentary notes dancing a little waltz around the text of An/The Old Law?


  • At 3/18/2008 09:06:00 PM, Blogger James wrote…

    Also, the pillows. I would trade in my car for five or six of those Fairmont Hotel pillows.


  • At 3/19/2008 12:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Let me offer a resounding "Huzzah!," or something else appropriately Renaissance fair-ish, for the return of conference / seminar blogging on this site.


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