Sunday Book-Thought 127

My interest in these matters is not so much in the final editorial decisions which one would have to make about these different readings, nor even in the reasons for such eventual choices. Rather, I want to draw attention to the structure of the situation which such a procedure reveals. Here certain relations are prevailing between author and copyist which are not purely mechanical. Furthermore, both author and copyist understand and operate within the accepted terms of the relationship: Byron and Mary Shelley continued to work in this way from 1816 until he left Italy for Greece in 1823. Indeed, their relationship is nothing less than a paradigm which operates through all periods of Byron’s literary career, and with all persons in his literary world who had a hand in publishing his poetry.
Furthermore, all the historical evidence suggests that this is the structure which normally prevails between authors and the literary institutions within which they operate. From the (mostly) anonymous scribes of the Middle Ages to the famous cases of the twentieth century – Maxwell Perkins, for example, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X – authors and their literary agents (or employers) have collaborated to varying degrees in the transmission of literary works. Sometimes these relationships operate smoothly, sometimes the author will struggle against every sort of intervention, and between these two extremes falls every sort of variation. Nevertheless, as soon as a person begins writing for publication, he or she becomes an author, and this means – by (historical definition) – to have entered the world of all those who belong to the literary institution. Blake’s decision to seek complete freedom from that institution, though futile, is nonetheless an important limiting case, for it sharply underscores the determining authority of the institution.
Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 52-52.

Sunday Book-Thought 104

What is a book? Certainly it is not, or not only, a bound stack of stained wood pulp, or a papyrus scroll, or a sequence of ones and zeros on a microchip. It is nothing near so definite. I have called it at various times an action, an operation, an interference pattern, a parley, a playground, a parenthetical clause, a syncope, a séance, a Schrodinger’s cat, or a Trojan horse. It might also be helpful to keep in mind the obsolete noun ‘handfast’, meaning variously a firm grasp, a handle, the handshake that seals an agreement, or a contract or covenant, especially a marriage betrothal.
But for now let us say simply that a book is a situation.
Shelley Jackson, ‘I Hold It Toward You: A Show of Hands’, in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature, ed by Joseph Tabbi (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 13-38 (p. 14).