Tag Archives: publishing

Book Groups Beware

It will, of course, be no surprise to textual scholars and members of the Material Texts Network that textual variance is rife in works of contemporary fiction. However, for a number of reasons – pertaining to copyright, digitisation, and an assumption among many hermeneutic/theoretical critics that texts published around the world are self-identical – textual variance remains an under-studied phenomenon for those working on novels that are fresh off the (digital) press.

When I was recently working on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas [2004], however, I found a range of variants that exceeded my usual expectations of accidentals by quite some range. One of the chapters (‘An Orison of Sonmi ~451’) was almost totally rewritten in US and electronic editions of the text. I decided to investigate this further, even wondering whether the author had deliberately submitted different manuscripts to different publishers in an attempt to play a trans-textual game (the chapter in question does, after all, focus on storing the words of a death-penalty convict within a state archive for preservation and stability).

It turns out, as ever, that the differences are due to a social flaw in the editing process and not due to any technological aspect. Indeed, in 2003, David Mitchell’s editorial contact at the US branch of Random House moved from the publisher, leaving the American edition of Cloud Atlas without an editor for approximately three months. Meanwhile, the UK edition of the manuscript was undergoing a series of editorial changes and rewrites that were never synchronised back into the US edition of the text. When the process was resumed at Random House under the editorial guidance of David Ebershoff, changes from New York were likewise not imported back into the UK edition. In the section entitled ‘An Orison of Sonmi~451’ these desynchronised rewritings are nearly total at the level of linguistic expression between UK and US paperbacks/electronic editions and there are a range of sub-episodes that only feature in one or other of the published editions.

What I really wanted to know here, though, was what these edits actually did to the text. How would close reading be affected by these changes? What was actually different, and where? Since the extent of linguistic changes would be drastic, I compared functional questions and responses in this chapter (which takes the form of an interview). In other words, if, in terms of plot development, a Q&A was doing the same job in both editions, then I marked the sections as identical. I then modified the D3.js Sankey chart software to allow unlinked nodes and… hey presto, we can roughly visualize the changes to the syuzhet introduced through the editorial process.

DavidMitchellVersionVariants

Reading from top to bottom of this diagram on both sides allows us to see clearly reorderings and omissions between editions.

But… so what? “We” know that texts vary and that this is likely to be the case in the contemporary as much as in medieval studies. But that’s not the case for everyone. Indeed, as James F. English has noted, the canon of contemporary fiction in the academy is broadly determined by the literary prize culture circuit. Yet, with such variance, who can even be sure that all members of an international jury are reading the same text? What about online international book groups? What about local book groups where some readers are using a digital edition? What about the mass of academic criticism that has conducted close reading of one or other versions but never noticed these differences?

Stemma

 

 

So much for close reading…

 

 

 

 

 

The full version of the article is available to read at: Eve, Martin Paul, ‘“You Have to Keep Track of Your Changes”: The Version Variants and Publishing History of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas’, Open Library of Humanities, 2 (2016) <http://dx.doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.16995/olh.82>

 

Spiralbound at Sluice Art Fair

Sluice is a radical four-day art event that questions the role of the contemporary art fair. Taking place during Frieze Week, Sluice acts as a refreshing counterbalance to the corporate manufactured glamour of the Frieze Art Fair. This year Sluice is located on the South Bank in London’s iconic Bargehouse building at Oxo Tower Wharf. Throughout the weekend there will be performances, screenings, talks and a collection of artist-run spaces and galleries exhibiting new and challenging work. Unlike Frieze, entry is free. Spiralbound will be at the Sluice Art Fair throughout, displaying our range of recently published books.

Spiralbound is a non-profit artists’ publishing project exploring the susakpressinfluence of new digital technologies on the material presence of the book. Strongly supported by London gallery studio1.1. and existing as an offshoot of Susak Press, we work with artists and writers who want to use the book medium to experiment beyond, and challenge their usual practice. By subverting the capabilities of digital print on demand, the project’s aim is to publish book editions that remain uncompleted and in flux as we allow our authors the opportunity to re-shape and interfere with the book’s original version. Spiralbound is investigating how new digital technologies influence the way in which we read literary texts and how new digital influence is encouraging experimentation with the materiality of the book.

Spiralbound holds events throughout the year and at each event we launch new titles and also new editions of existing books. Our authors have the freedom to re-visit, edit and make a new edition of their book by adding or taking away image and text. As a result, the books Spiralbound produces reveal successive drafts and stages of an author’s work in progress. This allows the reader to collect and compare different versions of each book. By producing non-static content, Spiralbound is channeling performance and the immediacy of the live event into the book’s materiality whilst attempting to capture the flick and switch and pause and collect of internet-manifestocentered new digital media. For example in Manifesto (Daniel Devlin, John Hughes and Keran James), blurred images of unheralded literary and artistic figures of the twentieth and twenty-first century are uploaded and updated in each printing. These recycled and found images are juxtaposed with a collaborative group hacking and re-writing of an experimental text. Similarly, Skip I Am Far Above You (Keran James) unpacks and transforms internet spam into a piece of (in)coherent storytelling.

Books, like painting and sculpture, invite us to get our hands dirty socratesunlike the clinical touch and trace of digital surfaces. The materiality of new digital technologies, from the click of a mouse, to the thin peel of a protective iPad cover, to the buzz of a mobile on vibrate, are making contemporary writers and artists more conscious of the physical aesthetic of the book form. What connects the Spiralbound books is an engagement with the boundaries between fiction and reality. Both Socrates (Daniel Devlin) and Manifesto of A Tranny (Brian Dawn Chakley) capture live performance by combining text and video stills but it is unclear if these grainy images are depicting events that were stage managed, accidents or if they even took place. Biographies (Ghazal Mosadeq) plays with the recording and fabrication of fictional authors’ real life stories. Many Weathers Wildly Comes (Carol many weathersWatts) captures the practicality of an everyday walk yet is recorded through the blurred snapshots of a London dreamscape. Lamping Out The Trains part 1 (The RMT Jubilee South Branch Audio and Film Collective) combines oral recollections with fragments of radical London literature addressing themes of nostalgia, trauma and left-wing melancholia through a manipulation of found audio, film and text. The Glass Slipper (Athanasia Hughes) is a futuristic satire on consumerism and fashion and our increasing dependency on technology, yet the story is told through a relationship with a hologram.

Computer software programmes and applications like Photoshop or Final Cut glass slipperhave appropriated the visual materials traditionally related to books through their use of cut and paste, scrolls, paper clips and page turning. Digital Media theorist Lev Manovich states that ‘many new media objects are converted from various forms of old media’ (Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, 2001; p. 28). For example, a webpage can be read like a photograph album or an iPad application similar to a pack of playing cards (Manovich, p. 220). At the same time, archived text messages and emails cease to be emails. Rather they take on the form of a photograph, becoming a screen shot frame that has fleetingly captured a moment of a past life. This peculiar digital aesthetic is the essence of Spiralbound. Taking something fluid and in motion, freezing it, observing and considering it, watching it but allowing it to develop and evolve. As a result each book acts as a snapshot of live text, a fleeting moment in our spiral bound times.

Spiralbound books, therefore, exist in an in–between world. The books are produced and bound professionally yet they are determinedly not part of commercial publishing. These books cannot be found in bookshops. In a way they don’t really exist, as they have no ISBNS. Yet neither are they Artist Books. There may not be many copies but they are not limited editions. Print on demand allows easy access and production, and all Spiralbound books are sold at £5. They are not zines or pamphlets but borrow the DIY spirit of Punk. Just as Sluice is re-positioning and challenging the contemporary art fair, so Spiralbound, by responding to the influence of new digital technologies, is helping to re-position the Artist Book.

spiralbound3

Spiralbound will be at Sluice Art Fair 16 – 18 October 2015

11 – 6pm

Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank
http://sluice.info/2015

To see a preview of the books at Spiralbound please visit:
http://susakpress.org/spiralbound