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.