What does it mean to be the fellow-worker and accomplice of a (modernist) writer?

Linda Parr

Katherine Mansfield, Prelude (London: Hogarth Press, 1918). From the collection of the National Library of Scotland.

I’m a book artist, with an MA in multidisciplinary printmaking. I have studied contemporary critical responses to the 2007 work of Sophie Calle, ‘Take Care of Yourself’, and the ways that the death of the author (at the point when the work becomes public) becomes the birth of the reader. 

Until this workshop I had no idea that academic vocabulary was not only written but also a living language. I spent the first break-time checking the meanings of gloss, exegesis, hermeneutics and historicism, etc.

Virginia Woolf’s writing is full of references and allusions which editors can explain. The editors can enrich and deepen our understanding and appreciation, offering the help required to penetrate the full meaning and see the work as it was in the author’s head.

When we learn to read, we guess and infer the sense sometimes; if we don’t ‘get’ it entirely it doesn’t really matter. We make our own meanings and persevere, and the same occurs when we start to read in a foreign language. We understand as much as we are able. The more you know, the more you pick up, and with the more connections you can make, you become a different reader. Can only experts close read, can experts only close read?

References and footnotes can interrupt reading. Do annotations increase the space, temporal or physical, between the writer and the reader?

Perhaps the use of headphones in a gallery can explore that point. We listen through them to interesting facts about the artist, the context, the curation, the provenance. However they may also lead us too far, and inhibit our personal responses to the work. Headphones have even been used to manipulate the flow of the public through a space. It has also been found that visitors spend more time reading information cards than they spend looking at the art. We did this ourselves in our meeting room. We looked at the several paintings on the walls and read the labels with interest. The art looked very pale and grey, even drab. The fact that they were all seasonal winter scenes only dawned upon us slowly, and then made them worth a second look, close reading them.

I began to understand that in editing a work one has to make educated assumptions about the writer and the reader. The editors can bridge gaps, provide mediation and explication. I can see that good annotation can bring both editor and reader together as collaborators with the writer.

Does a fully-edited, foot-noted, annotated and introduced work by expert and erudite scholars in fact become another work?

Could footnotes become so comprehensive and diverting that they become the body of the work?

Are there different ways of introducing the extra material which could suit different readers? New super digitisation methods will be able to offer different levels of annotation, easily available but unobtrusive, invisible unless requested.

Imprints of the New Modernist Editing
Art Editing Modernism