June 29, 2014

Stealthily Fake Books

One of the charges here is that the Joyce estate connived with the editors of the 1986 "corrected" edition of Ulysses to make enough changes to justify extending the copyright as though it were a new work.

Did this (and could this) work? And is this the only text currently available, as it was when the article was written in 1988? The one I'm reading happens to be the 1961 Modern Library one, so it looks like I'm safe. But how would you know which one to order from Amazon?

I should probably just get over it, but as I've written over and over and over (and over), alteration of the text of books, especially without informing the reader or making it challenging for the reader to learn that changes have been made, fills me with rage and anxiety. In this case it's not a matter of bowdlerlizing the text or "updating" it to make it more "with-it" but rather (if the charge of the article is to be believed) of "correcting" it under false pretenses. And in this case, it seems that at least in the initial publication, there was substantial fanfare about it, a notice on the cover, and a considerable "apparatus" that made it clear that "improvements" had been made. However, subsequent versions of the same text may well leave all this stuff out, particularly the apparatus. You can't tell from the Amazon listings what text is on offer, and it is extremely unlikely that your local bookshop, if you still have one, will feature an array of possible copies of Ulysses whose copyright pages you can peruse to make sure you've got an untainted version. Moreover, you'd only know that there was a tainted version in the first place if you'd happened to read an obscure article from the New York Review of Books, 1988.

I'd love it if the standard were a textual history notice at the front of every book, noting the kind and extent of changes that have been made throughout the book's history.

But as that is never going to happen, the only rational course of action is to assume that all texts are tainted till proven untainted, and in the absence of proof, seek out and read first editions only. That'll get expensive and take up a lot of time, but it's better than reading stealthily fake books.

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 29, 2014 11:15 PM