Canadian Editing, America Pressures

  • Dean Irvine (Editor) and Smaro Kamboureli (Editor)
    Editing as Cultural Practice in Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by James Gifford

It’s inevitable. Some readers of Editing as Cultural Practice in Canada will hurriedly draw blue pencils to dispute the anonymity and invisibility of editors in Canadian literature. Ellen Seligman, Rudy Wiebe, and Robert Kroetsch, or Douglas Gibson, Jack McClelland, and others could be set in a list that blurs literary talents with editorial and commercial acumen. Yet the point remains: the deliberately obfuscated and belated archival recovery of editorial interventions makes editorial work more a scholarly than a critical concern. It is outside of the mainstream appreciation of culture, Canadian culture. If we comfortably ask “where is here” and acknowledge conflicted histories and territories of what we loosely call Canadian culture as a site of contestation rather than stability, then the invisible operations of power, persuasion, and painful excision or censorship are indeed doubly occluded. For this, Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli have assembled an indispensible volume to theorize editing in the unique historical conditions of Canada as well as to historicize the editing of Canadian literature.

The surprise is the recurrence of concerns, both theoretical and historical, across the diverse chapters (all of which are strong). No editorial theorist is more frequently cited than the American Jerome McGann, followed closely by Dean Irvine, often to access McGann. For scholarship cited, McGann again leads, followed by Irene Gammel and Carole Gerson, both of whom contribute fine work to the collection in discussions of their respective projects. This surprises because of recurrent references to uniquely Canadian cultural and material conditions that shaped book history and editorial praxis—chief among these is Canada’s contiguity with America. Gammel and Benjamin Lefebvre’s chapter on L. M. Montgomery considers Montgomery’s conflict with her American editor and publisher in the context of what Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm’s earlier chapter on Indigenous editorial practices describes as “mainstream success” (in contrast to success for a community, culture, or collective goals). That is, competition with/for American editorial and publishing norms is prominent in nearly every chapter, yet often not expressed as such. Gammel and Lefebvre’s contrasting case is Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap’s The Little Review and the editorial complexities of Ezra Pound’s entanglements, such as the “Exiles” issue containing what would become Ernest Hemingway’s in our time. The comparison works well but naturalizes American scholarship of editorial history. Likewise, George Elliott Clarke opens an American abolitionist context for African Canadian literary production, with many works he describes published in the US. Even Hannah McGregor’s excellent work on Martha Ostenso calls to her Norwegian birth and American life. Our familiarity with American book history, such as conflicts between copyright-protected local literary talent and freely pirated literature from abroad until 1891, plays a role in Canadian book history and editing too. To go “mainstream” does not just mean to reach bookstores in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver—it means to connect South.

Irvine and Kamboureli gesture to this problem in their introduction via the ostensible rarity of acknowledging or appreciating editing’s importance to cultural production as well as the contrast between American and Canadian organizations and conferences on editorial practices. The unemphasized point is that American scholarship long acknowledged editing in American literary culture and scholarship, as noted in references to Maxwell Perkins, while Canadian criticism (via McGann) has given less attention to the book industry and editing as curating Canadian literary culture. For example, Gammel and Lefebvre look to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast in its newest edition as a way of approaching the complexity of ownership for Montgomery’s works in Canada and the challenges of posthumous editorial production. However, they do not gesture to the rationale for timing the re-edition: the expiration of copyright in Canada, which also shapes editions of Montgomery. By publishing a revised edition of A Moveable Feast prior to the work’s fiftieth anniversary, the estate avoided the expiration of copyright, even more so by stressing the creative role of Hemingway’s widow. It is obvious that copyright terms (among other forces) shape Canadian literary production as it sits beside its much larger and different market to the south, just as the free pirating of foreign British work hindered local literary production (a staple narrative employed in surveys of American literary history).

In line with the exigencies of Canada’s publishing industry being adjacent to a larger neighbour and competitor, the period of study shapes critical perspectives as well. After the introduction that emphasizes twentieth-century Canadian literature, the chapters open with Christl Verduyn’s work on Marian Engel, whose archives are available for editorial interventions because of Engel’s early death. This is followed by Akiwenzie-Damm’s Indigenous editorship amidst contemporary authors, and generally with modern authors dominating the following chapters. In most instances, this relates to the availability of deceased authors’ archives (or to editors’ present work in Akiwenzie-Damm’s quotations of correspondence). Hence, mid-century careers dominate. These material forces contextualizing the critical work of the project are not remarked as overarching concerns for editing as cultural practice in Canada, which again surprises yet is ubiquitous. At the same time, it is intensely gratifying to find successful Canadian editing projects discussed by the editors themselves, Gerson and Robert Bringhurst especially, but also Paul Hjartarson, Verduyn, Laura Moss and Cynthia Sugars, Bart Vautour, and others. It is even better that they have an intensely entangled set of shared concerns and contextualizing material conditions.

Editing as Cultural Practice in Canada derives from the Editing as Cultural Practice workshop in 2011 in partnership with Kamboureli’s TransCanada Institute. Most of the contributors are, therefore, familiar from Kamboureli’s TransCanada book series and Irvine’s Editing Modernism in Canada. This connects the book to other books, as well as the 2015 twinned issues of English Studies in Canada (41.1) and Journal of Modern Periodical Studies (6.2) edited by Faye Hammill, Hjartarson, and McGregor (all contributing or cited here). These connections are the collection’s success: it provokes our blue pencils. It demands much of following work.



This review “Canadian Editing, America Pressures” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 12 Jul. 2017. Web.

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