Radical Book History

SHARP Affiliate Organization Panel at MLA
Radical Book History: People, Archives, Methods
Thursday, 5 January 2017, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Franklin 3, Philadelphia Marriott

  • This roundtable will discuss the study of “radical” book trade figures, the use of “radical” methodologies or archives. Digital humanities will be an important aspect of this discussion. Literary modernism and censorship in the twentieth century will be another common theme.
  • Amy Chen will look at the market for literary collections in the United States from 1944 forward, and its impact on the literary canon.
  • Ronan Crowley will talk about large-scale digitisation initiatives that shed light on the way James Joyce wrote Ulysses.
  • Hannah Field will discuss the issue of titles rejected from British deposit libraries and its impact on the ideal of the universal repository.
  • Laura Heffernan will look at a largely neglected figure, the editor John Rodker who collaborated with major modernists such as Ezra Pound and James Joyce.
  • Eric Loy will talk about the Henry Miller Literary Society and censorship in twentieth-century America.
  • Heidi Morse will look at American small presses that helped catalyze the spread of black feminist discourse and writing by radical women of color in the 1970s and 1980s.

ABSTRACTS

A Quantitative Approach to the Canon: Literary Collection Acquisition Patterns

Amy H. Chen

A radical reconceptualization of book history requires us to think not only about how books are composed, published, and read, but also how writers’ papers, which document the creation of these books, circulate in their own market.

This paper will examine literary collection acquisition trends for the authors listed in Volume E of the Norton Anthology of American Literature using quantitative descriptive analysis with primarily nominal data. Results of this study include, but are not limited to, the demographics of writers with placed and unplaced collections; how often literary collections are given rather than sold; and what type of connections are most likely to result in an author selecting one academic library over another to hold his or her collection.

The research presented in this paper comprises three chapters in a forthcoming book to be titled Archival Bodies: The American Literary Collections Market since 1944.

‘Trieste-Zurich-Paris’: Literary Geography and Large-Scale Digitisation

Ronan Crowley

As an émigré Irishman living on the Continent during and immediately after the First World War, James Joyce wrote Ulysses (1922) in ‘Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914–1921’, as its final line famously proclaims. Criticism has suffered, however, from being too narrowly focused on the social networks to which this itinerary introduced the writer. Moreover, while generations of readers have noted the densely allusive nature of the novel, entirely overlooked is the role that Joyce’s migrations played in creating this multilayered, reiterative effect. Ronan Crowley’s paper, ‘“Trieste-Zürich-Paris”: Literary Geography and Large-Scale Digitisation’, focuses on the transforming print ecologies of war-torn Europe in order to trace the impact that relocation around the Continent had on the preeminent resource for Joyce’s writing: the printed material from which he derived reusable copy. Not only will such analysis sharpen our understanding of the compositional history of a modern masterpiece – revealing an even wider, more fundamental cosmopolitanism than previously suspected – but it also reveals the relationships between the print culture of the early twentieth century and the mass digitisation of this material ongoing since the early 2000s.

No Such Book: Legal Deposit, Rejected Items, and the Ideal of the Universal Repository

Hannah Field

Arguments for the legal deposit of books—the process by which a select group of libraries receives all copyrighted publications gratis, and preserves them for posterity—are typically founded upon egalitarian principles. Indiscriminate conservation of absolutely everything is legal deposit’s chief recommendation as an archival practice. However, legal deposit is also marked both by debates around what should be included in these (elite) libraries, and by a relatively unexamined history of rejection. Plays, novels, almanacs, sheet music, digital media: these materials, among others, have challenged not just the practical implementation of legal deposit, but also its catholic ideals. This paper will use titles rejected from British deposit libraries as the basis for a radical methodology for examining ephemerality, canonicity, national print cultures, and the universal repository. Examining items rejected from legal deposit brings currently high-status items (such as novels and plays) into dialogue with items that remain neglected to this day (such as almanacs and sporting manuals); it also illuminates the negative formulation of concepts of print’s value, which comprise exclusion—the ‘no-such-books’ that will not be preserved—as well as positive decisions. At the paper’s centre are copyright debates in 1818, when publishers and authors complained that deposit libraries, including those at Oxford and Cambridge, rejected too many books. Library representatives were then forced to justify their acquisition practices in the House of Commons. These parliamentary records provide an unexpected location for disavowals and defences of the period’s key print forms, including the novel, as well as for meditations on the universal repository in theory and in practice.

John Rodker and the Failures of Print

Laura Heffernan

This paper opens with an overview of the humbler histories of print recently offered by scholars such as Leah Price, Lara Cohen, and Trish Loughran. Arguing that we have over-estimated print’s power, these critics highlight instead the failure of books to furnish individual interiority, foster imagined communities, or even be read at all.  What, if anything, could be radical about these new accounts of print’s inefficaciousness?  To answer this question, this paper turns to the 1920s to consider a constellation of projects undertaken by poet, publisher, and editor John Rodker. Though Rodker collaborated with major modernists such as Pound and Joyce, he has largely been left out of literary histories of that movement — ostensibly because of the frankly sexual content of his writing and of his subscription-based Casanova Press, which produced luxury editions of historical erotica.  We might thus associate Rodker with the promises of radical print and book shop counter-culture, yet I argue that Rodker himself grappled through the 1920s with his own lived sense of print’s failures. Indeed, Rodker envisioned a future without print and a public undivided by literacy; he ceased writing and publishing himself in the early 1930s.  Drawing on his publisher’s papers, editorial correspondence, and the dream journals he kept during his psychoanalysis, I reconstitute Rodker’s experience of the limits of print and suggest how his work indicates the radical promise of book history’s own turn from authorial geniuses to uncelebrated publishers/editors/readers and, most recently, to non-readers.

The Henry Miller Literary Society: Subverting Censorship in 20th Century America

Eric C. Loy

Published in 1934 in Paris by Obelisk Press and an instant classic for the European world that produced the book, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was “immediately famous and immediately banned in all English-speaking countries” (Shapiro ix). Three decades later, Grove Press published and released an American edition, which led to dozens of obscenity lawsuits in more than twenty states—a legal quagmire not settled until 1964 by the U.S. Supreme Court decision that vindicated Tropic as a work of literature.

Through an archival excavation of original correspondence and official publications currently stored at the University of Minnesota, this presentation recounts the genesis and development of the little-known Henry Miller Literary Society (HMLS) as it represents and participates in the cultural shifts surrounding Miller’s and Tropic’s tumultuous history of reception in the United States. The society, founded by Minneapolis printer Eddie Schwartz in 1958, comprised a grassroots effort for the publication and promotion of Miller in his own country, in his own time. Examination of letters between Schwartz and Miller as well as the society’s newsletters and other publications reveal a highly motivated and coordinated campaign for the cultural and academic acceptance of Miller’s work.

Accordingly, primary documents will be presented to illustrate the society’s historical narrative of subverting literary censorship and their support for one of American literature’s most radical figures. This account of the HMLS thus engages radical book history twofold: by recovering lost or suppressed narratives of censored literature and through the proposed model of an archive of documents to tell such a story. Invited roundtable discussion will focus on the continued importance of material archives and on strategies for editing primary documents in a political context.

From Shameless Hussy to Kitchen Table: Women in Print History

Heidi Morse

The first editions of Pat Parker and Ntozake Shange’s first books, Child of Myself (1971) and For colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf (1975), share a surprising intimacy: they were both run off the same AB Dick 360 offset press in poet-publisher Alta Gerrey’s garage.  Alta’s Shameless Hussy Press, founded in 1969, produced bold chapbooks with a philosophy of minimal editing and maximum exposure.  A decade later, Barbara Smith co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which published key feminist texts such as Home Girls (1983) and This Bridge Called My Back (1983, 2nd ed.).  Both presses helped catalyze the spread of black feminist discourse and writing by radical women of color, but they also depended on DIY methods and a very small labor force—mostly unpaid—for production and distribution.  Alta carried boxes to local Bay Area bookstores, while Kitchen Table used longtime volunteer Lucretia Diggs’ home address for years because she was such an integral part of daily operations.  Feminist print circuits in the 1970s-80s were bound to the daily lives of the women who made them work, and scholarship on radical print history offers a unique opportunity to examine this interconnectivity.  Using the daily operations of these two presses as case studies—with archival evidence from UCSC McHenry Library (Shameless Hussy) and the Lesbian Herstory Archives (Kitchen Table)—this paper theorizes radical women’s print history as a history of radical everyday actions by women who believed in the power of print.

Into the Digital Future

SHARP Affiliate Organization Panel at MLA
“Into the Digital Future: Amazon, Apple, and Google Make Book History”
Vancouver Convention Center West 121
Thursday, 8 January 2015
1:45pm–3:00pm

The Book Trade from the Perspective of Its Businesses: Recent Developments
Daniel Raff, Univ. of Pennsylvania

This talk will survey the evolution of channels of distribution for long-form reading matter and the relationship of channel actors to their customers from the mid-1990s to the present. It will begin with the growth of “superstore” bookstore chains in the 1990s, probing the consequences of this for mall-based chains and independent bookstores and also the internal impediments to profitability and further growth the chains developed as the 90s wore on. The possible and actual histories of online bookselling will be sketched, from the early 1990s roots through the near catastrophe of the early post-millennium years to the present. The current state of play is one in which the number of independents       is much diminished, the principal mall chains have been absorbed by larger entities, Borders (with its captive mall chain) has gone bankrupt, Barnes & Noble is troubled, and Amazon’s book sales and market share are flourishing with many of the “books” it is selling being electronic files readable only on Amazon-sold and -controlled devices. The legacy publishers are very worried, with, as the recent and ongoing struggles between Amazon and selected major publishers this calendar year have shown, good reason. Amazon’s resources and competitive strategy—as these have developed, as they have the firm currently situated, and the opportunities they have created for Amazon and other collective actors going forward—will be characterized in a way that will situate the discussion in the papers by Laquintano and Sickmann to follow.

Amazon Et. Al.: Self-Publishing and the New Intermediaries
Tim Laquintano Assistant Professor of English Lafayette College

This presentation will begin by profiling the meteoric rise of self-publishing and its growing role in the contemporary publishing economy (recent estimates suggest 30% of Amazon’s best selling ebooks are self-published). Then, working from the premise that digital giants (e.g., Amazon) have become key intermediaries in the publishing chain, it will attempt to theorize, in a grounded way, how the “new intermediaries” shape the work of self-publishing ebook authors. The presentation draws on ethnographic interview data from a six-year study of seventy ebook authors to show how digital distributions systems impinge on the relationship of writers and readers. It pays particular attention to how the affordances of such systems (publishing policies, payment systems, metadata) shape the production of writers and their attempts to foster the circulation of their texts. It ultimately aims to advance a burgeoning discussion about how writers negotiate new models and possibilities for publishing.

Co-Creating Fictional Worlds Online: Hugh Howey and Kindle Publishing
Carrie Sickmann Han, Indiana University

Hugh Howey’s bestselling science fiction series, The Silo Saga, is attracting attention in the book industry for its unique online publishing history. What began as a short story published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP) quickly grew to a three-novel series (all first published using KDP) when an enthusiastic readership took advantage of online forums to demand more. Despite an unparalleled deal with Simon & Schuster that allows Howey to retain electronic rights to the books after they appear in print, Howey adamantly rejects any claim to exclusive rights to the fictional characters, events, and worlds he creates. He actively denounces Digital Rights Management (DRM) and encourages readers to use his fictional worlds as springboards for their commercial publications. Howey’s view of fiction as “a potentially collaborative affair” is gaining popularity with digital authors and readers, and major publishers like Amazon are responding by developing platforms that encourage readers to become co-creators of their favorite stories. By tracking Howey’s innovative use of Amazon’s newest publishing platforms, this paper will argue that we’re progressing towards a digital future that treats fiction as co-created, interactive, expanding worlds that extend beyond a single book or author.

Posted in MLA

Milton and Book History

SHARP Affiliate Organization Panel at MLA
Vancouver Convention Center, West 204
Friday, 9 January 2015
3:30pm–4:50pm

This collaborative session, proposed by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing and the Milton Society of America (both MLA allied organizations) highlights the fertile intersection of book history and Milton scholarship and shows how the material forms of Milton’s texts are inseparable from the meanings produced by their readers and consumers. The meaning of Milton, these panelists demonstrate, is produced not simply out of technical industry, but by social forms, ideologies, political and intellectual dispositions, as well as the creative energies of writers, translators, and book producers. The three panelists identify the various kinds of agency involved in these transactions, building on recent new understandings of the histories of reading, authorship and publishing that have challenged the view of Milton as a lonely writer. If Milton is a social writer—one of the earliest to see the potential of the printing press to expand cultural and political inclusiveness—most recent work on Milton and the history of the book has focused on ideas of authorship and on the role of the author himself. This panel highlights how the media and circumstances of dissemination constitute the meaning of Milton’s works; it thus contributes to an understanding of authorship and cultural bibliography, and it also adds original historical findings to a sociological account of Milton’s early networks.

This panel brings together three Milton scholars who apply the tools of book history and bibliography to investigate and elucidate Milton’s life, career, and works. The first paper, Blaine Greteman’s ‘Milton’s first book and the making of a print author,’ explores the first work Milton had printed, the Epitaphum Damonis, an elegy that has rarely been discussed in a print context. Yet, as Greteman argues, the poem carefully affirms, reconstitutes, and expands the social, poetic network that Milton had established in during his schooling in England and his travels abroad during the 1630s. Greteman, drawing on both archival work and his ongoing digital project, maps the circulation and production of both print and manuscript texts to illuminate the ways that the Epitaphum inaugurates Milton’s investment in the book, in print authorship, and in the poet’s robust social involvement with his world.

Nicholas von Maltzahn’s paper, ‘Who printed Areopagitica? The Press and Milton’s Paper Work’ proposes to announce a major discovery, one based on scholarship von Maltzahn is undertaking for his volume in the Oxford University Press Complete Works of John Milton (forthcoming). Although Areopagitica has enjoyed great fame as Milton’s defense of the press from pre-publication licensing, its printer has still, until now, not been identified. Von Maltzahn will identify the printer, and on that basis will revisit Milton’s conception of the press’s work in the English Revolution, with special reference to the conceptions of the labour and literary genres involved in that publication within the underground print networks for such illicit publication. Both printer and author, it will be shown, shared a pattern of commitments that were both literary and political.

While these first two papers emphasise the importance of cultural bibliographic context in Milton’s own day, the third paper, Angelica Duran’s ‘Milton’s Areopagitica: A Speech to the World,’ chronicles the translations of Areopagitica in various languages and countries in recent or contemporary settings. After giving a brief history of Areopagitica’s translation or prohibition dates into various languages (twenty languages, including French, Hungarian, Japanese, and Polish), her paper then focus on two recent cases, Spanish and Chinese, chosen because the issue of censorship in each country produced complex response to Milton’s powerful statement against pre-publication licensing. Duran explores the different cultural impacts of Areopagitica’s first publications in the vernacular in Spain (1941) and China (1991), highlighting the ways Milton’s writing engages with topical debates over censorship. This paper brings the study of book history up to the present. The 370th anniversary of his anti-censorship pamphlet Areopagitica reminds us that Milton was not only a poet, he was an activist, deeply concerned about how ideas, in the form of printed texts, circulate in society.

Stephen Dobranski, a distinguished leading researcher in the field of Milton, authorship, and the book trade, will provide a response to the panel, putting the papers’ wide chronological sweep (from 1630s England to 1990s China) in context for the study of Milton and of the history of the book.

Greg Barnhisel (co-organizer) is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of English at Duquesne University. He is the author of James Laughlin, New Directions, and the Remaking of Ezra Pound (Massachusetts, 2005) and the forthcoming Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy (Columbia, 2014) and is one of the editors of the journal Book History.

Sharon Achinstein (co-organizer, presider) is Professor of Renaissance Literature, University of Oxford; she will take up her position as Sir William Osler Professor of English Literature at Johns Hopkins University in July 2014. Her books have explored the histories of political communication and literature in the early modern period, and include Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (Princeton, 1994), Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England (Cambridge, 2003), and two edited collections, Literature and Toleration (Oxford, 2007), and Gender, Literature and the English Revolution (Cass, 1994), and she is currently on the Executive Committee of the Milton Society of America.

Blaine Greteman is Assistant Professor of English, University of Iowa, and is author of The Poetics and Politics of Youth in Milton’s England (Cambridge, 2013), and has published articles on Milton, Jonson, and Donne, as well as long-form political journalism. He is currently working on a digital project, “Shakeosphere: The Early Modern Social Network,” for which he earned seed funding in 2013.

Nicholas von Maltzahn, Professor of English at the University of Ottawa, is editing Areopagitica as part of his volume of Milton’s tracts on religious liberty for the Oxford University Press Complete Works of John Milton (vol. 4, forthcoming). He has published numerous studies especially of Milton and Marvell, including a book- length Andrew Marvell Chronology (Palgrave, 2005); an edition of Marvell’s Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government (in The Prose Works of Andrew Marvell, Yale, UP, 2003); and a monograph on Milton’s History of Britain (Oxford UP, 1991). Angelica Duran is Associate Professor in English, Comparative Literature, and Religious Studies at Purdue University, author of The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution (Pittsburgh, 2007); editor of A Concise Companion to Milton (Blackwell, 2007); and is currently coediting Milton in Translation (under consideration). She has published articles on Milton’s reception in Spain, and has coedited a volume in comparative cultural studies, Mo Yan in Context: Nobel Laureate and Global Storyteller (forthcoming, Purdue UP, 2014).

Stephen Dobranski is Professor in the Department of English at Georgia State University, and has authored significant contributions in book history to Milton studies, his Readers and Authorship in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2005; pbk, 2009); and Milton, Authorship, and the Book Trade (Cambridge, 1999. pbk, 2009). Author of The Cambridge Introduction to John Milton (Cambridge, 2012), Dobranski has edited Milton in Context (Cambridge, 2010) and Milton and Heresy (Cambridge, 1998; pbk, 2008).

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