DIGITAL EDITIONS OF ULYSSES: SORELY LACKING THE PRESENCE OF AN EDITOR

LINDA WETHERALL

Ulysses by James Joyce holds the prestigious position of being considered the one of the best, if not the best, English-language novels of the twentieth century. Countless scholars have spent the entirety of their lives devoted to analyzing and studying James Joyce’s references and writing conventions. The novel has not only been widely embraced by scholars, but by the general public as well. People over the world celebrate Bloomsday, a holiday named after the protagonist of Ulysses that takes place on June 16th, the same day that all the events in the novel take place. A novel that is so beloved by scholars and the public alike have led to countless editions of Ulysses being published over the nearly one hundred years of the novel’s existence. Logically one would think, as I have, that a novel that is considered one of the best English-language novels of the twentieth century and that is beloved by both scholars and the general public would have Ulysses on the forefront of digital publication. Publishers, scholars, and editors should be clamoring to publish the most extensive and thorough digital editions of Ulysses possible with the almost limitless possibilities of the digital medium. However, this logical assumption is not reality. Digital editions of many classic and canonical works, specifically Ulysses, are subpar and fall short of the expectations established by their print counterparts.

I came across this revelation concerning the digital editions of Ulysses when conducting research for my textual history essay. Due to Ulysses being a canonical work, I needed to find a fresh angle of textual criticism that had been virtually untouched by scholars thus far. Since I own a Kindle, I quickly determined that digital Ulysses would be my focus. Much to my delight, I thought I found my niche since I discovered that no scholarly work had been done on digital editions of Ulysses, but then I discovered why this was the case.

My original idea for the paper was to focus on the subtle word and grammatical changes that deviated from the first edition. I thought these changes would be much more numerous in digital editions because of ease to make changes in the electronic medium with very little oversight. However, my tentative thesis for my paper quickly altered when I discovered there was a consistent lack of an editor’s presence in the digital editions. Two out of the three editions I examined were free editions. One of these was entirely based upon the first edition of Ulysses: the statement claiming it was based on the first edition was the only editorial note within the entire edition.[i] The only editorial notes in the other free edition was that it was distributed by Project Gutenberg, then further information about Project Gutenberg and its goals were included in the back of the edition.[ii] Even the third edition that cost money and was referred to as an annotated edition lacked an editor’s presence.[iii] Only forty annotations were included for the entire novel, which is a stark contrast to a printed edition of Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses.[iv] Don Gifford’s companion edition is comprised only of annotations and notes for Ulysses[v]; despite the edition not including the text of the novel, the edition still manages to reach over seven hundred pages, which certainly makes the forty points seem insubstantial.

The lack of an editor’s presence in any of these digital editions is truly concerning. Not a single one of the editions has an editor’s name attached to it, let alone a provided editorial statement and reason why the format of the text within these digital edition differs so drastically from the format of the first edition. Without an editorial presence, the reader and text suffer. In his article “Electronic Scholarly Editions,” Kenneth M. Price discusses the duties of an editor: “Editors are shirking their duties if they do not offer guidance: they are and should be, after all, something more than blind, values-neutral deliverers of goods. The act of not overtly highlighting specific works is problematic in that it seems to assert that all works in a corpus are on the same footing, when they never are. Still, there are degrees of editorial intervention; some editions are thesis-ridden and others are more inviting of a multitude of interpretations.”[vi] In a novel like Ulysses that is filled with constant references to other works and literature, and even parodies other writing forms through the careful formatting of its text, absolutely requires guidance from an editor to enable the readers navigate the text and to understand this novel’s complexity.

Currently there are no editorial digital editions of Ulysses available to the public. However, there is hope on the horizon for digital versions of Ulysses. After more research, I have discovered that there is an online project called “Infinite Ulysses” led by Amanda Visconti. “Infinite Ulysses” will provide the whole text of Ulysses based upon the first edition published in 1922 free of charge. The site will allow readers to interact with the text by favoriting and bookmarking pages, adding comments and annotations as well as highlight sections of the text. Readers are also able to see the most popular pages and chapters of the day on the site’s main page. While this is the most interactive digital edition of Ulysses to date, Infinite Ulysses lacks any supplemental material beyond the text itself and the user added annotations. The site is set to officially launch on June 16th, 2015.

The possibilities of digital editions are virtually endless since they are capable of integrating pictures, music, videos, articles, and every other form of media within the text to immerse the reader fully into the text. While including other forms of media can be beneficial to the readers, Price discusses the negatives in his article: “The idea of including everything in an edition is suitable for writers of great significance. Yet such an approach has some negative consequences: it can be seen as damaging to a writer (and might be seen as counterproductive for readers and editors themselves). In fact, the decision to include everything is not as clear a goal or as “objective” an approach as one might think. Just what is “everything,” after all?”[vii] While digital editions should not be expected to require everything imaginable that has even the slightest relevance to the text, they should at the very least require the presence and name of the editor as print editions do. When concerning such an influential canonical text, like Ulysses, where even the slightest change can vastly alter the meaning of the novel, readers deserve to know who it was that made those changes and why. Without the presence and guiding hand of an editor in digital editions, the readers of these editions are lost within the digital void.

NOTES

[i] Joyce, James. ULYSSES (illustrated, Complete, and Unabridged) (plus Dubliners) Edited by Erik Empson and Jasper Joffe.

[ii] Joyce, James. Ulysses. Project Gutenberg.

[iii] Joyce, James. Ulysses (Annotated). Edited by Joseph Collins.

[iv] Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses.

[v] A site containing a marked up version of Ulysses featuring Don Gifford’s notes is available on Columbia.edu. However the site is not user friendly because it looks terrible and the links to the annotations do not work particularly well.

[vi] Price, Kenneth M. “Electronic Scholarly Editions : A Companion to Digital Literary Studies.”

[vii] Ibid

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988.

Joyce, James. ULYSSES (illustrated, Complete, and Unabridged) (plus Dubliners). Edited by Erik Empson and Jasper Joffe. London: Not So Noble Books, 2013.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Project Gutenberg, 2014.

Joyce, James. Ulysses (Annotated). Edited by Joseph Collins. Amazon Digital Services, 2014

Price, Kenneth M. “Electronic Scholarly Editions : A Companion to Digital Literary Studies.” Blackwell Reference Online. 2007. Accessed April 15, 2015. http://www.blackwellreference.com/public/tocnode?id=g9781405148641_chunk_g978140514864126.

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7 Comments

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  1. Linda,
    I enjoyed your post exploring the digital Ulysses. Though I have not read the book, I am inspired to attempt it now. After reading your blog, I think skipping the free e-books makes sense. The Infinite Ulysses (infiniteulysses.com) beta site appears professional and user friendly. I have created a log-in account to begin participation. The site editor provided helpful descriptions regarding the text she used and alterations she has made. This is already much more than is often provided with e-books.

    The frustrations you mentioned, such as not knowing which text the e-book is using and not knowing who (if anyone) has edited the work, seem far too common with the books in my electronic library. Many of my e-books were free, as I just wanted them for leisure reading. I assume these editions are free because the text was scanned into an optical character recognition program, and little proofing or editing would be possible at this price point. However, when I was willing to pay for a critical version, one was not available or else there was no information detailing the textual apparatus. Using electronic readers for scholarly purposes seems so promising, but having quality e-books is a requirement as yet elusive.

    For now, I think I will find a trustworthy critical edition (paper copy) to begin the journey. Recommendations, anyone?

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  2. Linda,

    I have often wondered why some book editions are free on my e-reader and if their quality is what we would consider substandard. Through your research, you have indeed found that this is the case and confirmed my suspicions. One would think that the canonical works would be so revered, that editors would do their best to preserve and annotate them with the most care. It is surprising that the editions you found do not even identify an editor. As you pointed out, the lack of editor presence leaves a reader wondering if the text can be trusted. With so many relying on e-book texts, it is a concern if editors are unaccounted for. As we have learned in our course studies, an editor’s role as a guiding hand is vital to the text.

    At your suggestion, I visited the “Infinite Ulysses” website and was amazed by what Visconti is trying to accomplish. Using crowd-sourcing to create this multilayered edition seems to be working quite well so far. Readers are adding annotations, comments are being made, conversations are simultaneously occurring, and students will benefit from this discourse. This seems to be a successful use of social media for creating extremely interactive material. I hope others follow her lead and create new editions with similar qualities. I could also see this model being utilized as supplemental material for many academic courses. It seems to be just the thing that the “electronic generation” would appreciate and use.

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  3. Chelcy Walker May 11, 2015 — 2:27 am

    Linda, your article pointed me to the Infinite Ulysses website, and I’m glad it did! I’ve been considering the many challenges and benefits that come from digital editions of texts, and I think your article points out how some digital editions can miss the mark and others can nail it. The primary factor in the success or failure of these editions is – as you put it – the presence of an editor. An editor’s role in “curating the noise” will be vital if we are to move many print editions to digital ones, since the world of online books is a confusing and chaotic one. Unless we have good editors like Amanda Visconti to do sound research, create an interface that is user friendly, and manage content to keep it up-to-date, digital editions are bound to become internet relics.

    I wonder if the success of Infinite Ulysses in using crowd-sourced annotations relies on the popularity of the text—and that this same idea would only work with the most canonical of texts? Ulysses is a challenging text with so many external references, and thus a heavily annotated online edition seems like the perfect thing. But envisioning a world of digital editions that encompasses lesser-known and easier-to-understand texts—is it likely?

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  4. Selena Efthimiou May 14, 2015 — 2:24 pm

    Linda, your blog post really got me thinking about digital editions of texts that are used in schools. Although I do not teach Ulysses, Shakespeare is commonly taught in the 9th and 10th grade at CDH and the teachers who teach the subject take vastly different approaches. For example, when I teach Twelfth Night and Hamlet, I make sure (as boring as it may be for some students) that I use print editions. My purpose is that I am able to go through the language bit by bit, without the distractions of the Internet and other bells and whistles digital editions have to offer. However, in the 9th grade, teachers have ditched the print editions of Shakespeare’s plays and currently use an app edition. This app is interactive and provides animated pictures and selected definitions to some of the words. What I’ve been told is that it also translates the entire play from Shakespearean English to modern English and you can watch the animations act out the play. Although it sounds fabulously engaging, from both an editorial and teacher perspective, I see some major negative consequences that directly link to the consequences you highlighted.

    You had claimed, “It can be seen as damaging to a writer (and might be seen as counterproductive for readers and editors themselves). In fact, the decision to include everything is not as clear a goal or as “objective” an approach as one may think.” The app edition of Romeo and Juliet seems to include everything and I struggle to see the value in that. Although it promotes engagement with the technology behind the text, it devalues the language Shakespeare uses. I think the same philosophy that a professor once told me about writing can be also applied to creating new editions of texts (especially digital): “It is better to write a lot about little things than a little on a lot of things.” Ultimately, I think it would serve the students and readers better if the app (and other digital editions) did just that. Focused a lot on little concepts, rather than targeting and “fixing” too much of the original text.

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  5. Linda,
    your presentation was so incredibly engaging, mainly because we could all tell that this was a topic that you feel very strongly for. Obviously you know this text well and you have really done your research. I thought that it was truly astounding that the digital editions that you found of Ulysses had little or no editorial presence. Kind of incredible for one of the most well known canonical works in literature. This made me wonder if there are other texts out there that are just as well known and as widely read that share in this problem. Are there other pieces of literature out there that do have digital editions but are so poorly edited that you can barely see a trace of the contributor? We have been talking all semester about how things are slowly (or not so slowly) moving to the web and that there are so many people who expect to find quality editions online. What if there are other canonical texts like Ulysses out there that are just as unfinished? Because that’s what this is. An unfinished text. If there are no editors notes then we have no context, we have no idea if the text has or has not been altered from the original, we have nothing to tell us whether this is a legitimate work of art. How many of these texts are out there that are being underrepresented in their digital forms? This is probably a problem we could fix, although it may take an army a decade to comb through all of the material to find out if it is a project that is really needed. All in all, your presentation was wonderful and thought provoking.

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  6. Jenny Bunkers May 14, 2015 — 8:42 pm

    Hi Linda, I enjoyed your presentation paper and your opinion on the negative impact of the lack of editing with electronic texts. This subject has become a huge concern with the constant advancement of different literary sites and how one can choose with the knowledge that it is worthy of citing as part of your research, such as the texts you came upon while trying to complete your textual analysis paper. I also found it difficult with finding sites that provided all the text and information that might be needed. An editorial hand would provide a huge advance in the digitization process that we all are coming to rely on. Also, the jobs (which is another topic) for editors are changing and those of us who wish to pursue this line of work will want and need to be active in editing online scholarly works. I found one site in particularly annoying and that was the e-Guttenburg site that you mention in your paper. It has a huge need for editing for scholars/students to be able to correctly utilize the numerous amount of texts contained. There are other much better sites, sites that we have access to as graduate students, that allow us to use with confidence and also they show what a difference any editing can make all the difference in researchable texts.

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  7. Josh McCaffrey May 14, 2015 — 10:28 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post, Linda. The Digital Ulysses site is wonderful (thank you for sharing it!), although it is not without challenges. I notice that it cannot be accessed on a phone, and I wonder at what point some of the user-generated comments would need to be deleted to keep the site from becoming too unwieldy. Still, I think this site would make reading Ulysses much more enjoyable than going at it alone.

    I was surprised to learn that there is not a decent digital version of Ulysses available anywhere. Its many historical references alone would seem to make it ideally suited to be turned into a comprehensive e-book loaded with notes, commentary, and supplemental features. Even though I almost never read e-books, I would take advantage of a great digital version of Ulysses because it would save me from having to look up words, phrases and references that are unfamiliar to me.

    From an economic perspective, what is nice about a book like Ulysses – or just about any canonical work, for that matter – is that the text itself would probably never need to be updated. This makes it different from, for example, an e-book about demographic trends in the United States, which would need to be updated regularly in order to stay current. Barring any new revelations about the text, Ulysses pretty much is what it is. For this reason, part of me is surprised that book publishers are not at least experimenting with digital versions. Alas, the other part of me understands that there is probably not much of a market for it.

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