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Book Traces

Reading about Andrew Stauffer’s project reminded me of a lecture that I saw last year at Duquesne University given by Cristanne Miller about her book, Reading in Time, in which she examines the marginalia and the material on which Emily Dickinson wrote her poetry and generates new “readings” of some of her canonical poems. Though Book Traces is really addressing the finished product of a published book rather than the processes by which it came to exist, I’m compelled by the reminder that the materiality of a text (and maybe, also, the way that readers interact with the “finished” product over the course of time) helps us do some sort of richer interpretative work and, certainly, to build a more complex context around the past (even if our ability to “know” the past can be severely limited by the boundaries of our modern epistemologies, our culture, our sense of the “logic” that governs time, etc., and even if the immediate application for that context isn’t yet visible because, for example, an obscure author’s work has been, to date, unexamined). I feel like there are potentially interesting implications within this project about the instability of a finished literary product: a book, as we all know, goes into the world, and as Kate brings up in her post, the meaning of the text changes depending on what kinds of experiences we bring to it. This is something that we know theoretically, and it’s something that I think we, as readers, know…experientially? affectively? maybe even corporally?…but it isn’t always necessarily reflected in our methodological practices unless we’re textual scholars or, potentially, historicists / cultural studies scholars / etc. I think this project also brings up interesting questions about resource allocation: what is deemed “worth” saving, and what is deemed trash, and how does this come to be? What are the conditions by which we are able to have both closely guarded and meticulously maintained archives, and then also trucks full of books that are, one day, available (and that incur fines if they’re not returned on time!) and, then, the next day, headed for the garbage heap?

One thought on “Book Traces

  1. Austin Bailey

    Lindsey, this reading actually reminded me of Miller’s work on Dickinson, too! Miller, if memory serves, talks in part about Dickinson’s fascicles and how she often composed poems that were intended to be read with other objects, such as plants and pressed flowers, in them.

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