Sunday, March 30, 2014
This was written after I discovered (from watching a Tom Hanks movie about a man and a dog) that my friend Paul Seydor, the author of PECKINPAH: THE WESTERN FILMS, was making a new career for himself as a film editor. I wrote the article planning to wait to contact Paul until I had an offprint to send him. As it turned out, he brought a rough cut of TIN CUP to our house in SE Pennsylvania on his way to see his mother in SW Pennsylvania--appropriate since my Great Grandfather Costner is Kevin Costner's Great Great Grandfather. The picture of us together was taken 29 March 2014.
The auteur-author paradox: how critics of the cinema and the novel talk about flawed or even "mutilated" texts
Studies in the Novel. 27.3 (Fall 1995): p413.
Critics of the novel and critics of movies behave in strangely diverse ways when confronted with mutilated or merely flawed texts. In cinema, a quintessentially collaborative medium, critics bow to the power of a single controlling vision, acknowledge that such vision can be damaged by one means or another during or after filming, and routinely applaud attempts to restore that vision, typically by reconstruction of the "Director's Cut," as new movie posters or video-cassette packages proclaim. When dealing with novels, the production of which is usually a quintessentially solitary task, many literary critics now deny the power of a single controlling vision, deny the possibility that the text they are familiar with could be badly flawed, resist the idea that for some novels there can be no perfectly readable text, and denounce attempts to remedy damage, such as the release of a reconstructed text of a novel.(1) The auteur lives; the author is dead.
Film critics understand that "desecration" can begin "well before" a film even opens - Roy Frumkes's words in describing the effects of Sam Spiegel's rushing David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia into release late in 1962, "forcing six or more months of postproduction to be crammed into four," and personally taking part "in the butchering of Lean's less-than-fine cut."(2) Film critics also accept as common knowledge that in part - even in large part - many coherent films can be rendered incomprehensible by tamperings made after completion and initial release. David Denby summarizes a late stage in the history of the already cut Lawrence of Arabia: "In 1969, Columbia Pictures, readying the movie for television, cut another fifteen minutes, at which point the complex characterization of Lawrence, never entirely clear in any version, was rendered altogether indecipherable."(3) The heading of the article on Lawrence of Arabia by Roy Frumkes reads: "There was every chance the film could not be saved at all" by the restorer Robert A. Harris: "No one had realized how extensively it had been mutilated by unauthorized cuts, studio indifference and time" (p. 285). In the world of cinema, reconstructors or restorers may be heroes. Harris was driven by a "passion" that "led him to try to reinstate the missing twenty minutes of film and sound footage" to Lawrence of Arabia, says Jane Baeumler, who thinks that aesthetic qualities such as characterization, coherence, and motivation were restored by Harris's efforts:
Much of Harris's work involved extending scenes that had been trimmed in the truncated version - including a notorious sequence in which Lawrence is raped by a sadistic Turkish officer. His main concern was to retrieve subtleties of characterization and essential narrative information.(4)
Film people are interested in the intended functions of scenes and the effects (deliberate or inadvertent) of cuts; they are interested in processes - the creative process, the process of deterioration, the process of restoration.
Criticism like this by Frumkes, Denby, and Baeumler could be matched by many other comments on Lawrence of Arabia and a good number of other films, from the relatively simple restoration of a "Director's Cut" to an immensely complex restoration such as was devoted to the 1954 A Star is Born.(5) A book which deals repeatedly with flawed films is Peckinpah: The Western Films (1980),(6) in which Paul Seydor studies the extant forms of the cinematic texts and relates those forms to the circumstances of production. Writing fresh cinematic history, he "reads" the forms of the text in the light of biographical, historical, and specifically textual evidence. The result is scholarship on important American aesthetic documents, and at the same time it is the best sort of criticism, that which grows out of comprehensive scholarship. Repeatedly, his scholarship allows Seydor to break free of previous criticism, such as analyses which deplored a screenwriter's or the director's failures at characterization when in fact the failure (a real failure, accurately identified by the critic) resulted from the studio's alterations of the "text." Seydor says of the studio's cutting of The Wild Bunch: "many filmgoers and critics familiar only with the cut version were, and are, bothered by the missing scenes and have, as a consequence, criticized the film for its alleged weak characterizations and ill-motivated characters" (p. 81). Peckinpah was blamed when he was innocent - when, in fact, he had been victimized.(7)
In Seydor's study a recurrent motif is the mangling of films during one or another stage of production and another is the creation of coherent films which were subsequently mangled. Often in Seydor's woeful tales what is lost is motivation. He quotes Peckinpah on having to sit in the cutting room and watch someone else cut down Major Dundee: "'What I worked so hard to achieve - all of Dundee's motivation (what it was that made him the man he was) - was gone'." This was material Peckinpah had "'both written and shot and cared very much about'," but which the studio "'had thought unnecessary to the total effect of the film'" (p. 52). (This notion that the "total" effect can be achieved without a great deal of the total material is one that links the studio executives to textual theorists and literary critics.(8)) For all his sympathy with Peckinpah, Seydor judiciously explains that some movies have been damaged less than others. The "mutilation" of The Wild Bunch in no way approached "what was done to Major Dundee (or what, later, would be done to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid)," Seydor says (p. 84), yet "the net effect of the cuts is to diminish the epic scope slightly, reduce some of the ironies moderately, and lessen the complexity of characters and character motivations considerably" (p. 85).
In discussing Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Seydor acknowledges that critics have suggested that the movie seems to have suffered little from whatever cuts were made. For leaving this impression he credits Gordon Carroll and Roger Spottiswoode: they fought with the studio on Peckinpah's behalf so as to "guide the picture through the bargaining sessions with some of its dramatic sense and unity preserved intact" (p. 199). He describes what can survive as interpretable and powerful even after severe cuts:
since what was cut are those scenes in which character motivation, social pressure, and personal and professional obligation are seen to generate action, incident, and decision, the released version has, to be sure, a "ritualistic," "mythic," rather "existential" "purity" that is not without a certain hypnotic power, beauty, and fascination. All the same, that purity remains a pretty sporadic, because largely serendipitous, affair, and it is of no help whatever toward filling in the narrative lacunae. (P. 199)(9)
Some of the undeniable power is adventitious, unintended by Peckinpah, and consequently uncontrolled. Informing Seydor's book is a belief that true artists strive to achieve old-fashioned aesthetic goals of coherence and even unity: "Many of the scenes [in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid] are interlocked with Peckinpah's usual intricacy so that, as with The Wild Bunch, removing something in one place usually means something else falling out or failing to cohere fifteen pages or several minutes later" (p. 200).
Reviewers of Seydor's book readily accepted his descriptions of the damage the studios had done to Peckinpah's films. Library Journal used the compound form "mutilated / re-cut" to describe the films;(10) Booklist used "sabotaged";(11) Film Quarterly used "mutilation" and referred to Seydor's discussion of "particular damage done by studio cutting";(12) Western American Literature decried the "butchery . . . of individual scenes."(13) In the practical world of cinema critics, almost no one defends the cuts of a film made by the studio. Early in 1963, however, W. N. D. Mason-Lowe wrote a letter to Films and Filming in defence of the hacked up version of Lawrence of Arabia that was shown shortly after its world premiere in a 222-minute version:
When the film was first shown, for reasons of time it was a rough, uncut version. At the Metropole now it is a finished picture and with David Lean's twenty minute cutting he has now completed his original intention. Whether or not the film is better now is beside the point. But it is certainly not the prerogative of any member of any audience to enter upon something they know nothing about.(14)
The cutting was of course not Lean's, and absolutely no film critic echoed Mason-Lowe's sanguine refusal to judge or to complain. Derek Elley, looking back on this odd letter, commented scathingly: "Who, one wonders, was 'W. N. D. Mason-Lowe?'" (p. 28). In literary criticism, critics fearlessly rush in to defend one mutilated text or another, often denying that it could possibly be damaged; in film criticism, any such hapless critic would be asking for the fate of poor W. N. D. Mason-Lowe.
While film people share much of the language of old-fashioned literary criticism and talk freely about the one subject now most studiously avoided by literary critics (the creative process), they may reveal a limited understanding of just what can go wrong in a form such as the novel. Seydor quotes Peckinpah as saying: "'The worst that can happen to a novelist is that his book goes out of print, but it survives, somewhere, in libraries, at least, in its original form'." Seydor glosses this comment incautiously: "In other words, in the traditional arts when an artwork fails we can be pretty sure it is the artist's failure. But when a film fails, whose failure is it?" (p. 53). What Peckinpah says of a book is often true. The 1893 version of Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets survived in a few copies (more held by bibliophiles than libraries, perhaps) for more than half a century, during which almost everyone who wrote on the book discussed the severely expurgated 1896 edition. Once attention was called to it in the 1950s, facsimiles of the 1893 edition and new editions of it were published, and that version soon became standard, despite its tacit repudiation by Fredson Bowers in the much-criticized Virginia Edition.(15) But it often happens that books get into print after being expurgated, just as films get released after being cut by the studio. A book that got slightly cut before publication, then was subjected to severe expurgation before being re-released, is the American edition of Melville's Typee.(16) In this case the English edition contains a fuller text than the first American text, and much fuller than the expurgated text, so what is lost are only those slight omissions which the English publisher said he had made "on the score of taste" (Typee, p. 279). Sometimes when books are cut before publication the "original form" survives, sometimes not. The "original form" of Maggie survives, but the "original form" of The Red Badge of Courage does not all survive. Most of it does, in the final manuscript (including most of the original chapter 12, wholly removed from the 1895 edition), and some of the rest can be recovered in imperfect, unrevised form, from parts of the draft which fortuitously survive.(17) Although some parts lost from the final manuscript cannot be supplied from the draft, we have a fair idea of how many words are lost, though not what the words were. We can make do with what we have and read the reconstructed The Red Badge of Courage, reading something very close to what Crane completed but not reading quite the full text and not reading some passages in what had been their final form. As in film, the degree of truncation, mutilation, and maiming varies from text to text. (The first American Typee was not much censored, while what was published as Sartoris by William Faulkner was "incoherent" and "ludicrous."(18)) As in film, the amount of material lost is not always directly proportionate to the damage done to comprehensibility. Very small cuts from the Esquire text of Norman Mailer's An American Dream, each of them emphasizing the psychological equality of the hero with another man, so disturbed the hierarchy of characters that excellent critics reading the Dial text have printed wildly variant lists of the main characters in the novel.(19) As in film, the extent to which restoration is possible also varies in novels. (It was possible to make a coherent reconstruction of the out of copyright The Red Badge of Courage; legally, only Mailer could "authorize" the restoration of tiny passages in An American Dream.)
Movie critics do well when they are confronted with flawed texts. They talk in practical terms about loss of motivation, damage to characterization, damage to structure, and they celebrate an ideal text that is sometimes almost completely recoverable, sometimes not. They do the best they can in supplying missing passages and in suggesting their duration, thinking it important to acknowledge gaps and imperfections rather than attempting to smooth them over. The restorers took chances with the attention and patience of viewers when they let the surviving sound track play during a scene in Lost Horizon (1937) while showing on the screen what Alan Stanbrook describes as "production stills and freeze-frame shots."(20) In his survey of film restorations, Stanbrook treats the reconstructed Lost Horizon as a lurching, clumsy example, but neither he nor any other film historian or film critic objects, in principle, to the attempt to reconstruct a lost original. In the reconstruction of The Red Badge of Courage ellipsis-dots mark six brief gaps in the 1895 edition; in two of those, portions of the draft are substituted for the missing passages.(21) Film critics would recognize those ellipsis-dots as parallel to their own expediencies, to be justified by the result. Literary critics behave very differently, for they are so enamored with the notion of a perfect artifact that they cannot bear to read a text containing indications of loss or damage. The pretend gaps of the deconstructionists were pretty to talk about a few years ago, but even the hardest-nosed deconstructionist never confronted real textual gaps.
In our 1974 study of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night,(22) Brian Higgins and I did not trace Fitzgerald's dogged, miserable, brave, and sometimes brilliant attempt to impose order upon his successive drafts of the Tender material, first for the serial, then for the book, in all of which the flashback order was built in (mature Dick Diver, then younger Dick Diver), and did not study in detail the biographical circumstances through which, after the failure of the book, Fitzgerald came to think that reordering the sections might give the work a chance for success. Matthew J. Bruccoli had done that work.(23) Instead, we showed how the edition published by Malcolm Cowley in an attempt to follow Fitzgerald's late instructions(24) created far more problems than it solved. We argued that during the composition what Fitzgerald wrote "at any stage was written precisely the way it was because he had in mind the general way and even particular ways it was affected by what he had already written and would affect what he was yet to write" (p. 139). By the time he got to Book 2, therefore, "almost every detail of what he chose to write was to some extent a consequence of what he had already written and was designed to cause certain effects in the mind of the reader who had already read certain scenes" (p. 139). In Book 2 he had "calculated just what degree of psychological shock he wanted the reader to experience as he passed from the largely romanticized view of Dick in his maturity to the section on Dick's wartime days" (p. 139). As we pointed out, Fitzgerald himself had provided a precise definition of the reading experience: "it is confusing to come across a youthful photograph of some one known in a rounded maturity and gaze with a shock upon a fiery, wiry, eagle-eyed stranger" (p. 139). Our conclusion was that pervasively, "in ways large and small, the reordering of the sections of Tender is the Night alters or altogether destroys the effects Fitzgerald elaborately calculated, and absolutely no evidence shows that he desired or even foresaw the full consequences of his reordering." At times, we continued, the experience of reading the Cowley edition "is not merely different and largely adventitious but is actually illogical or even nonsensical" (pp. 146-47).
In 1986 appeared Milton R. Stern's Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night".(25) Stern did not reprint the Higgins-Parker article, but in a section called "The Text Itself" he distilled eleven points from it and rebutted them, one after the other, before he declared: "In sum, it is totalitarian to declare as a matter of fact or as a matter of settled opinion that one or the other version is the only version that should be considered" (p. 25). Higgins and I had not said that no one should consider the Cowley edition, but in fact only a few classes of readers would need to, even aside from the fact that Fitzgerald's heirs now want to keep it off the market. Fitzgerald specialists, a relatively small class of critics, need to study that text, since they cannot talk about the history of Fitzgerald criticism without having access to a text some critics worked from. A smaller class of textual scholars might wish to use the Cowley text as a teaching tool for a highly specialized class, for it is invaluable in showing just how authors can go wrong when they wish, oh, wish! that they could remedy some disaster, or when they wish, oh, wish! they could import intentionality retroactively. But anyone who cares about the author's intention during the creative process deserves to read a text as close as possible to what Fitzgerald wrote when he was in control of his material, not the text Cowley later printed. "Totalitarian" is a take-no-prisoners term, not a term that opens the way to thoughtful discussion of aesthetic issues.
To judge from the reaction of critics, one of the most unforgivable things I said in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons was that Pudd'nhead Wilson was unreadable.(26) I used that term because the work published as Pudd'nhead Wilson contained two principle sets of anomalies. The first anomalies arose in December 1892 when Mark Twain joined a middle section written when Tom Driscoll was a white youth (invented as a love rival to one of the conjoined twins) to a new ending and then a new beginning written when Tom was part black and a slave. Mark Twain did not revise the middle chapters to contain the idea of slavery and he did not revise out all of the passages in which Tom remains the (white?) rival for the affections of Rowena. A second set of anomalies was created in July 1893 when Mark Twain salvaged much of the manuscript by discarding many of the scenes in which the conjoined twins figured, while removing (from the salvaged portion) some but not all references to the twins' being conjoined, and retaining some scenes that were conceived only because the twins were conjoined. Some scenes in the salvaged book, such as the Democrats' nominating David Wilson for mayor just after he had lost his first case, are absolutely incomprehensible: in the longer manuscript the Democrats nominated him because he had just successfully defended Luigi, one half of the conjoined twins, from Tom Driscoll's charge of kicking him, the argument being that since the twins had only two legs all told there was no way to know which twin did the kicking. I was not suggesting emending anything in the text of Pudd'nhead Wilson - merely that we need to recognize how it got to be in the form that was published. Of course Pudd'nhead Wilson was readable, critics chorused - they had been reading it for years! Susan Gillmann and Forrest G. Robinson convened a conference at Santa Cruz to say so, and published the papers.(27) In their lead article, "Pudd'nhead Wilson Revisited," James M. Cox brushed aside the idea that there was something problematical in Pudd'nhead Wilson: "I'm old fashioned enough to want to take texts as I find them" (p. 8). Gillman proclaimed, with equal conviction: "Parker is patently wrong when he dismisses Pudd'nhead Wilson as 'patently unreadable'" (p. 238). When David Denby called the television version of Lawrence of Arabia indecipherable, no one rushed to denounce him as a philistine or a heretic; no one said he preferred to take his movies as he "found them" on commercial television. Why is it sensible to say something about damage to a film and heretical to say the same thing about a novel?
Film critics want to know details about the archival material restorers have access to, and rather than taking the results on faith they are perfectly willing to second-guess a reconstruction, as Alan Stanbrook zestfully does. By contrast, the literary critics in the Gillman-Robinson collection act as if my account might be accurate but in any case is too intimidating to challenge: it can be ignored, but not challenged. Gillman and Robinson refer to my "painstaking research" (p. viii), as a result of which I left things "now pretty firmly documented" (p. ix). Robinson refers to the "plausible reconstruction of the history of the novel's composition" (p. 22), allows that "Parker's textual scholarship is of undoubted value," and says that there "can be no serious quarreling with Parker's facts" (p. 23). Does this mean that there can be frivolous quarreling with my facts, or that the facts may be ignored with impunity? Why did the State of California pay for a very large convention where critics declared that my reconstruction of the history of the composition is "plausible," instead of dispatching scholars to the Berg Collection and the Pierpont Morgan Library to find out whether it is true or not? One answer is that to the New Historicist there is no truth. Being a New Historicist means you never have to do history, never check a fact, because there is no such thing as a fact, only a plausible opinion by the odd surviving old scholar. The original New Critics brought their traditional scholarly training into their criticism; the members of the next generation of New Critics and this new generation of New Historicists throw up their hands in what looks like baffled hostility or awe disguised as principled skepticism: "pretty firmly documented," "plausible"!
Yet Gillman and Robinson in their introduction attempt to differentiate themselves and their colleagues from the New Critics. To hear them tell it, the New Historicists take "the incoherence in Twain's narrative" as "political symptom, the irruption into this narrative about mistaken racial identity of materials from the nineteenth-century political unconscious" (p. vii). One might think this irruption could have taken place only very late in the composition, after the narrative contained any mistaken racial identity, but not so. To the New Historicist, the sequence of Mark Twain's brainstorms, documented in notebooks and in the manuscript, constitutes no proof at all. Robinson rebuffs me by saying that the "second Tom was there in Mark Twain's imagination from the beginning, inscribed deeply within the 'matter of Hannibal,' and bound to emerge as the dominant pattern of doubling continued to unfold" (p. 41). Notice the New Critical belief in "dominant pattern," projected onto biography, where every future possibility is already always present.
The New Historicists boldly declare their superiority to New Critical aims: "Instead of searching for a hidden unifying structure, as did a previous generation of New Critics, the scholars in this volume are after what Myra Jehlen calls 'the novel's most basic and unacknowledged issues'," race and sex (p. vii), even though race and sex were not issues at all until about half of the manuscript was written. They go on: "Most of the essays in this volume are subtextual studies which seize upon the text's inconsistencies and contradictions as windows on the world of late-nineteenth-century American culture," therefore seeking "to make the strata of Mark Twain's political unconscious available for critical scrutiny" (p. vii). In pursuing these inconsistencies and contradictions these critics ignore all the real, verifiable textual inconsistencies and contradictions such as I detailed. The more they try to distance themselves from the New Critics the more they reveal their parentage. This is Michael Cowan:
It is perfectly possible of course, as Hershel Parker would argue, that this "dangling" plot reflects the haste and carelessness of a "jack-leg" novelist more than crafted thematics. However, it seems equally plausible to find such a truncation part of a larger inconclusiveness . . . central to the themes of both Those Extraordinary Twins and Pudd'nhead Wilson. (P. 246)
Such a truncation may be inconclusive, but it is central to the themes. Robinson even believes in a "submerged coherence" that runs through all the scattered "parts" - presumably through Pudd'nhead Wilson, Those Extraordinary Twins, and the rest of the manuscript, which Robinson never consulted (p. 36). Plainly, Paul Seydor is hopelessly backward in alleging that some of Peckinpah's films have been truncated or mutilated: he should have sought larger patterns of inconclusiveness central to the themes of The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
The critics of Santa Cruz claim to tolerate incoherence, but there is a cryptic reference to "one of us" - either Gillman or Robinson - who believes that "there is a discernible 'sense' running through the text's apparently hopeless disorder" (p. viii). Somehow my "painstaking research" (p. viii) has allowed these New Historicists the chance to "appreciate more than ever before the so-called 'aesthetic anomalies' of the texts and enjoy the opportunity - not exploited by Parker - to make sense of them" (pp. viii-ix). According to Gillman and Robinson, "lapses in fictional coherence make historical sense" (p. xiii). They have arrived at precisely the stance of the New Critics I quoted at the end of my chapter on Pudd'nhead Wilson in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, those hellbent on demonstrating the perfect coherence of the text the author had warned was the least little bit problematical. Forrest G. Robinson at one point comes clean about his determination to find unity in disorder:
I want to build a coherent critical argument about Pudd'nhead Wilson on the deeply fractured textual foundation most recently brought to our attention by Hershel Parker. . . . It is essential to our cultural health that we make as much sense as we can of the stories we tell and retell ourselves, especially when they touch significantly on matters as prominent and as vexed as racism and slavery. (P. 22)
The New Historicists and the New Critics, we must conclude, are Extraordinary Twins, after all. Robinson is personally tolerant of me, knowing that I am witless, not malicious: "In his epistemology . . . as in other ways, Parker is ill-prepared to glimpse the coherence of the incoherence" (p. 41). But Robinson is a moral therapist on a grand scale while a barbarian like Parker (did he know my father was half Cherokee and Choctaw?) threatens the "cultural health" of America.
Robinson is not alone in warning that Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons could damage public health. Gary Davenport described my assumptions about authorial intention and the existence of damaged texts as "dangerously mistaken" - dangerous because I might lure an innocent reader to treat a literary work as if it were a discursive work, not a perfect work of art: "The real value of an 'iconic' view of literature is that it precludes this confusion: it acknowledges the irreducibly complex nature of literary intention by rejecting external evidence that might apply to simpler expressions of intent."(28) That is, anyone who, on the basis of biographical, textual, and bibliographical evidence, concludes that a text is flawed and tries to see if something like perfection can be restored, would be wise to keep that conclusion to himself or herself lest it shake some reader's faith in the perfection of the verbal icon: "the idea of the text is absolutely necessary - even if it is only a necessary fiction - for the study of literature to make sense" (p. 504). In thinking that intention might be "grasped through a study of data," I was a thoroughly dangerous man whose views were "inimical to the higher values of literary culture that have survived, somehow, from the beginnings of literacy to our Age of Information" (p. 504). Something is unfair about all this. Paul Seydor was every bit as dangerous as I was, but nobody said his views were inimical to cultural health and the higher values of cinematic culture.(29)
Of all the attitudes displayed by critics of the novel toward the textual evidence in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons the strangest is a lack of curiosity about variant forms of the text. I would have thought that lovers of Mark Twain would have begged me to publish Pudd'nhead Wilson as he wrote it and first tried to sell it, so they could understand the trajectory of his career, if nothing else. I was sure every critic of Crane would be avid to learn just what it was that the young author wrote, just what the thing called The Red Badge of Courage was in 1894, when Crane was trying so hard to publish it, if only to understand what he had in hand when he wrote George's Mother and the other pieces of 1894. In an essay specifically on getting used to the form of The Red Badge of Courage which Crane wrote,(30) I led readers through several months of Crane's life, showing what Red Badge consisted of when various events were occurring. My hopes for the essay were frustrated, for no Crane specialist pursued my essay with a full reading of the novel as it stood for many crucial months in the young man's life. Instead, Crane specialists, led by Donald Pizer, most recently in a 1990 collection, have concentrated on trying to suppress the reconstruction rather than trying to understand it.(31) In this Pizer collection James Colvert devoted twenty-six pages to demolishing the reconstructed The Red Badge of Courage, not to seeing how the parts of the work function in the fuller version, not to seeing what the book meant in the form Crane completed and tried for months to get into print. He mentions, in his last section, that it is valuable to have the book in its early form - but only "for what it shows about the development of Crane's mind and art as he refined the theme and ruthlessly excised the windy and repetitive 'adolescent ontological heroics,' as Parker aptly describes them" (p. 258). But the excision took place some months into 1895, so Colvert still ignores the long period in 1894 before the text was cut. In any case, "development" is not shown in an author's hasty excising or in an author's thoughtless compliance with an editor's excising. Anyone who wants to see Crane in the process of developing has only to look at what he did when he worked from draft to final manuscript.
The power of the New Criticism is nowhere more obvious in the refusal of literary critics to express any interest in learning just what a masterpiece was like when the author finished it and tried to sell it. To talk about original forms of literary works is to risk denunciation. Patrick K. Dooley cites the 1982 Norton reconstructed text as "the 'infamous' Binder version of Red Badge."(32) "'Infamous'"? Jack Stillinger calls me the "most extreme theorist of textual primitivism to date," right behind (or ahead of) Jonathan Wordsworth.(33) Why? Because I believed in the myth of solitary creative genius, and even believed, he said, in something "extremely dubious" - that "'genuine art is coherent'" (p. 227). What I had showed, indeed, was that genuine art is the product of a process that pushes toward coherence, whether or not it achieves coherence. It seems to me that acknowledging the power of the author, the authority of the creative process, is a matter of ethics, a matter of our behaving responsibly, as human beings, to other human beings, authors. Teaching a text closest to the author's creative process, and reconstructing that text, if necessary, in order to read and teach it, is, at bottom, an ethical matter. By this standard, it is not the critics of the novel but the cinema critics who are producing ethical criticism.
For half a century, most literary critics have refused to acknowledge that interpretation of literary works may depend upon biographical, historical, bibliographical, and textual information. They have refused to acknowledge anything problematical about familiar texts, even those an author warned readers against; while this mind-set has prevailed, unsurprisingly, other familiar texts are regarded as unproblematical only because no one has investigated their textual history. If even the most resourceful critics are running almost on empty when they deal with flawed texts, there is a direr possibility that much criticism of the novel in general, not just novels with texts known to be problematical, may be reaching something very like a dead end. If cinema criticism is alive and well in part because its practitioners believe so devoutly in the auteur, might the joyful celebration of the resurrection of the author tend to revive studies in the novel?
UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE
1 I wish to thank Steven Olsen-Smith for criticizing and helping to verify this essay.
2 Roy Frumkes, "The Restoration of 'Lawrence of Arabia'," Films in Review 40 (April, 1989): 285-91; the quotation is from p. 285.
3 David Denby, "An Epic Masterpiece Revisited," Premiere 2 (Feb., 1989): 27-28; the quotation is from p. 27.
4 Jane Baeumler, "Shot by Shot: Restoring a Lost Scene from 'Lawrence of Arabia,'" Premiere 2 (Feb., 1989): 54-56; the quotation is from p. 56.
5 See Ronald Haver, A Star is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and its 1983 Restoration (New York: Knopf, 1988).
6 Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.
7 This happens in literary criticism. See my Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1984), p. 160, on a critic of Stephen Crane: "[James] Colvert rightly notes 'the deterioration in the quality of the writing' in the last chapter, 'the appearance of a tendency toward incoherence.' But these faults are not in the MS version and they result from the loose ends left when excisions were clumsily made. There are various sentences in the last chapter which are literally incoherent because of the excisions. Colvert is quite wrong in blaming Crane for being unable to convince us of something: he had done it right in the MS."
8 See my "'The Text Itself' - Whatever That Is," Text 3 (1987), 47-54, especially my discussion of the common idea, best phrased by G. Thomas Tanselle, that editorial decision rests upon the editor's "'interpretation of the author's intended meaning as he [the editor] discovers it in the whole of the text itself'" (p. 48); as I point out, there are many sorts of circumstances where an editor can deal with "only part of the text itself in what is widely accepted as being the text itself" (p. 49).
9 Substitute "adventitious" for "serendipitous" and you have what I frequently described in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons - situations that make a sense, and even a plausible sense, but one which cannot have been conceived by or executed by the writer, where a passage conveys intentionality that cannot be authorial. See for instance pp. 42-43, on Sanctuary, or p. 129, on Pudd'nhead Wilson.
10 David Bartholomew, Library Journal 105 (Feb. 1, 1980): 422.
11 David Elliott, Booklist 76 (June 1, 1980): 1399.
12 Ernest Callenbach, Film Quarterly 33.4 (1980): 21.
13 Mark Busby, Western American Literature 15 (Winter, 1981): 309-10.
14 As quoted in Derek Elley, "Lawrence Rides Again," Films and Filming (May, 1989): 28.
15 The response to the Virginia Maggie is summed up by Edwin H. Cady, Stephen Crane, Revised Edition (Boston: Twayne, 1980), p. 24: "In the realms of esthetics and creative psychology, to say nothing of Crane studies, Professor Bowers, however learned an expert in general textual bibliography, is an amateur. Like Donald Pizer, Joseph Katz, and Hershel Parker (and almost everybody else), I thought Bowers was wrong. As an original member of the CEAA Board and the quondam general editor of a major edition, I felt betrayed."
16 Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern Univ. Press and the Newberry Library, 1968), pp. 306-11.
17 Reviewing Fredson Bowers, The Red Badge of Courage: A Facsimile Edition of the Manuscript (Washington: NCR/Microcard Editions, 1972 and 1973) and Bowers's edition of The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1975), in Nineteenth-Century Fiction 30 (March 1976), 558-62, I first laid out a plan for reconstructing The Red Badge of Courage. Subsequently I supervised a reconstruction of the manuscript by my then-student Henry Binder and, as guest editor of a special Stephen Crane number of Studies in the Novel, heralded that reconstruction. See Binder's "The Red Badge of Courage Nobody Knows," Studies in the Novel 10 (1978): 9-47. The reconstructed text was first published in vol. 2 of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979) then reprinted as a separate hardback by W. W. Norton in 1982.
18 See Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, pp. 47-48.
19 Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, pp. 181-212, especially pp. 196-207. The inability of the critics to identify the four or five main characters is discussed on pp. 190-91; I conclude (p. 191) that the "failure of such good critics to agree on something so simple as who the main characters are strikes me as the best possible sort of empirical evidence that Mailer had indeed damaged his novel - and by the smallest of excisions."
20 Alan Stanbrook, "As It Was in the Beginning," Sight& Sound 59 (1989-90): 29.
21 The Red Badge of Courage, ed. Henry Binder (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), pp. viii and 163-68.
22 Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker, "Sober Second Thoughts: Fitzgerald's 'Final Version' of Tender is the Night," Proof: The Yearbook of American Bibliographical and Textual Studies, 4 (1975): 129-52.
23 Matthew J. Bruccoli, The Composition of "Tender is the Night" (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1963).
24 New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951.
25 Boston: G. K. Hall.
26 See Chapter 5, "Pudd'nhead Wilson: Jack-leg Author, Unreadable Text, and Sense-Making Critics," pp. 115-45.
27 Mark Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson": Race, Conflict, and Culture (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1990).
28 "Necessary Fictions," Sewanee Review 93 (1985): 499-504; the quotation is from p. 503.
29 As I write this article Paul Seydor is acclaimed by Michael Sragow in "Ty Cobb Was Never Mr. Nice Guy," the New York Times (27 November 1994), along with the director of Cobb, Ron Shelton: "The director and his film editor, Paul Seydor, a former college English professor, are not afraid of using literary techniques in their movies" ("Arts and Leisure," p. 24). The emergence of the author of Peckinpah: The Western Films as the editor of a major motion picture strikes me as confirmation that cinema critics, for all their trafficking in fantasy, are far more professional, far more in touch with the realities of American society, than most literary critics.
30 In New Essays on "The Red Badge of Courage", ed. Lee Clark Mitchell (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), see "Getting Used to the 'Original Form' of The Red Badge of Courage" (pp. 25-47).
31 Pizer's campaign against the restored Red Badge of Courage has been unremitting, beginning with "'The Red Badge of Courage Nobody Knows': A Brief Rejoinder," Studies in the Novel 11 (1979): 77-81, which evoked a response by Henry Binder, "Donald Pizer, Ripley Hitchcock, and The Red Badge of Courage," Studies in the Novel 11 (1979): 216-23. Recently Pizer has used a collection of criticism in his campaign, the Critical Essays on Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990), where a commissioned essay by James Colvert, "Crane, Hitchcock, and the Binder Edition of The Red Badge of Courage" (pp. 238-63) was wholly devoted to attacking the restored text.
In a review of Pizer's collection in Studies in the Novel 23 (1991), Mary Ann Shaw protested: "one wishes fair representation had been allowed in support of the 'original and uncut' version of the manuscript by its leading proponents, Hershel Parker and his former student Henry Binder" (p. 400). ln American Literary Realism 1870-1910 25 (1993): pp. 88-89, Eric Solomon glanced at the "full-blown, if gentlemanly, demolition" of the reconstructed Red Badge of Courage by James Colvert, then protested: "In my opinion, then, Donald Pizer, while hinting at this volume's method in his introduction, has missed full disclosure. The book is in many ways a response to the 1986 New Essays on "The Red Badge of Courage", edited by Lee Clark Mitchell, which not only reflects post-structural critical concerns but also employs the Binder text, thus doubly offending Donald Pizer's stance. While selecting fine essays, Pizer also makes certain that many of them lead to his own and Colvert's conclusion regarding texts; the more enigmatic is the answer to what Henry Fleming learns about himself and his world, the more appropriate is the shortened text that tends to leave questions unanswered - and the more plausible are Donald Pizer's own arguments. Fine. But I would have appreciated either a straightforward (no irony or pun this time) explanation of editorial process early on or an inclusion of some words by Binder or Parker on the textual matter - other than those quoted by Colvert" (p. 89).
32 Stephen Crane: An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Scholarship (New York: G. K. Hall, 1992), p. 110.
33 Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), p. 227.
HERSHEL PARKER is H. Fletcher Brown Professor at the University of Delaware and Associate General Editor of The Writings of Herman Melville (1968). He is the author of Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (1984), Reading "Billy Budd" (1990), and an editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 4th edition (1994). Cambridge is the publisher of his and Brian Higgins's Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews (1995). His edition of Pierre for Harper-Collins (1995) is illustrated by Maurice Sendak. In the summer of 1996, Norton will publish the first volume of his Herman Melville; the second volume is due out early in 1998. He is also a work on an expansion of Jay Leyda's The Melville Log.
Cinema critics and literary critics have totally opposing views of "flawed" or even "mutilated" text. Paradoxically, the cinema critic readily accepts restoration of the director's cut; the literary critic frowns on the concept of reconstructing a flawed novel. Examples are given of films which went through the cutter and had been restored. Paul Seydor's 'Peckinpah: The Western Films' is cited as a scholarly document on flawed films. Several flawed novels have also been cited and examined. These include Mark Twain's 'Pudd'nhead Wilson' and F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Tender is the Night.'
Friday, March 28, 2014
Menand is wrong in the NEW YORKER and Leibovitz is right in the TABLET: Horrible Ideas have Horrible Consequences
In its July 11, 2012, tribute to M. H. Abrams at 100 the TABLET with the best intentions put me in the good company of “Jewish professors, critics, and scholars” who starting in the postwar years were “newly acceptable” in academia, but then the TABLET killed me off along with Trilling, Levin, Edel, and Kazin, leaving only Abrams. When I plaintively declared that I was still alive and did not spell my first name with a “c”, the TABLET revised the article to say that Mike (whom I loved not as a contemporary but as a mentor at W. W. Norton) was “one” of the last survivors of that group, not the very last. As another survivor, I comment now on the “Horrible Ideas” which Liel Leibovitz wrote about in the TABLET for March 21.In the review of Evelyn Barish’s The Double Life of Paul de Man Leibovitz says: “For all his darkness, de Man was not the first and will not be the last prominent man to be unmasked as a charming and cruel sociopath. If we choose to read his life’s story as a thriller—‘The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ph.D.’—we’re left with nothing but the pleasure of a good yarn; de Man’s habits tell us no more about his fellow academics than Rob Ford’s do about his fellow Canadian mayors. But there’s another reading of the de Man story, one at which Barish hints and that suggests that the life and the worldview are intertwined, and that even if there’s not necessarily causation there is certainly a correlation between the man perpetually eluding his past and the theory perpetually resisting definitions. It’s in this way that Barish’s book is most illuminating, giving us not only a clearer view of de Man but an intriguing framework through which to understand the sorry state of the contemporary academic landscape he helped shape.”
In the NEW YORKER on March 24 Louis Menand angrily rejected the notion of a correlation between de Man’s Nazi past and his literary practice. Menand starts his defense this way: “De Man may have been a scoundrel.” The “may have been” takes one aback—but Menand has already acknowledged that “for all intents and purposes” (my italics) the record shows that “the young de Man was a fascist.” I’ll start my quotation from Menand again: “De Man may have been a scoundrel who found a career teaching a certain method of reading, but that method of reading does not turn people into scoundrels. Probably ninety-nine per cent of the people who studied with de Man wouldn’t run a red light—forget about altering a transcript or voluntarily collaborating with Nazis.” There is, in short, according to Menand, no correlation between de Man’s past behavior and later theory and there is no correlation between his followers’ acceptance of his theory and their later practice toward other human beings. “As a literary critic,” Menand continued smoothly, “de Man was doing what American literature professors had been doing since the nineteen-forties.” And of course there was no correlation between the New Criticism and bad behavior in the real world. Or was there?
In Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (published in January 2013), I looked at the way the New Criticism could seduce its practitioners into dehumanizing both writers like Melville and writers on him. Relentless adherence to a life-denying literary theory, the New Criticism, I decided, has had deleterious consequences not just on literary criticism and what passes as biography (as in one piece entitled “A Brief Biography” which ignores troves of new documents). Worse still, such a theory ultimately damages the character of its practitioners, because to blind yourself to Melville’s aspirations and agonies, to treat him as an abstract “author figure” or “literary personality” (Charles Feidelson’s term) and not a real man, in the end leads critics to blind themselves to the aspirations and agonies of living people.
When the second volume of my biography was published Richard H. Brodhead damned me in the New York Times (June 23, 2002) as a “demon researcher” with a “single-mindedness worthy of a Melville hero,” a hero such as Ahab, who also ended in wreck. Can this have nothing to do with Feidelson’s calling Melville “a prime example of the demonic writer” (Symbolism and American Literature, 163)? I was a demon researcher but I could not be trusted because I had passed off private surmises as fact, Brodhead declared. According to Brodhead there was no evidence that Melville had finished a book called Poems in 1860. In fact, all scholars had known about Poems since 1922. According to Brodhead it was merely a surmise of mine that Melville had completed a book in 1853. Soon Andrew Delbanco echoed Brodhead, declaring in the New Republic that because I merely surmised the existence of The Isle of the Cross and Poems I should not be trusted anywhere in either volume of the biography. In fact, all scholars had known about the 1853 book since 1960, when the Davis-Gilman edition of the Letters was published, and I had published an article on The Isle of the Cross in the then-scholarly American Literature in 1990.
In accusing me (in the New York Times!) of making unfounded surmises Brodhead had blithely done horrific damage to my reputation. Worse, he had erased the existence of the grand array of Melville scholars who had preceded me. Most immediately and most painfully to me, he had erased the existence of three men, all dead by 2002, who had rejoiced at my discovery of the title The Isle of the Cross in 1987—Jay Leyda, Harrison Hayford, and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. Brodhead’s false accusations about me must be in some way a consequence of his New Critical training and practice, I decided. In sober truth, if your training leads you to dehumanize Melville, to be blind to his agony as Brodhead had been in his commentary on Pierre, how can you not carry your training over to the way you treat real living people, at least people unlike you, such as a fanatic, demonic researcher?
This is worth re-emphasizing in the light of Menand’s aloof certainties: If you think that facts about authors are not real and authors are not real, then you may come to see living people outside your own private circle as unreal. Cut them and they will not bleed, or if they do bleed their suffering can never be of the significance of your own discomforts or the discomforts of your class. Let me offer a maxim: The kind of literary criticism you learn to write and continue to write all your life affects all the rest of your behavior. Some of the behavior of Melville critics who refuse to look at documentary evidence is innate in their character, I assume, but some of their actions, I would think, must be a consequence of lifelong practice of a dehumanizing literary approach, the New Criticism. Their nature is subdued to what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.
Menand is sure that theory cannot turn anyone into a scoundrel. Well, even the comfortable old New Criticism can lead its practitioners to exterminate the achievements of great scholars, to write as if Leyda and Hayford and Sealts never existed. Horrible ideas (even horrible ideas about literature) have horrible consequences. Leibovitz is right.