Portland State University. Department of English
Book reviewing, Editing, Textual criticism, Publishers and publishing
The specter of literary difficulty is at bottom the very same as, or a primary aspect of, that which has dogged and driven textual scholars and literary theorists, linguists and philosophers of language, educators, legislators, theologians, and aesthetes—in short, “professional readers” of all stripes—from time immemorial. As such, it carries with it a bevy of unknowns, questions thus far neither satisfactorily answered nor, in many cases, even fully and properly articulated. This likely has a great deal to do with the fact that the term difficulty is and has historically been applied in a variety of senses to a radically diverse plurality of elements, figures, and phenomena of the literary world. It appears as a qualifier of texts, of authors, of the basic processes of reading, and of the interpretive and discursive activities which accompany and embody the practice of reading itself. The result of this definitional breadth, or fuzziness, and of the phenomenological hydra-headedness indicated thereby, has been the persistent indissolubility of textual difficulty before a centuries-long assault from all sides.
Given so disquietingly bleak a history of investigative shortfall, a comprehensive account of literary difficulty is readily acknowledged to be leagues beyond the scope of the present study. Instead, what is here ventured is a derivation of useful insights into the actual and potential role of the modern literary editor within the readerly apparatus. Approaching difficulty as a lens upon, or point of entry into, editorial theory and praxis shall serve to illuminate certain inconspicuous and oft-unrecognized aspects of literary editing and the philosophies undergirding it. Some special attention will be paid to the implications of certain theoretical developments around authorial agency and intent for practical editorial concerns, and how difficulty may serve to shed light thereupon. More generally, though, it will be demonstrated that, contrary to an intuition common among the casual and uninitiated, the role of the editor is by no means the wholesale mechanical expunction of difficulty from texts; on the contrary, in certain cases an editor may, in theory, determine that a text is to be optimally enriched for the greatest number of relevant, interested parties by the deliberate insinuation and cultivation of some significant measure of difficulty. To understand the logic of this line of thought, it is first necessary to explore the senses and contexts in which literary difficulty may be meaningfully considered valuable.
Brown, Brendan, "Publishing Puzzles: Some Implications of Literary Diffculty for the Editor" (2016). Book Publishing Final Research Paper. 19.