Juxta and excess: The case of Aimé Césaire

(Guest post by Alex Gil – read full entry at NINES)

I’m a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Virginia currently working on a digital edition of Aimé Césaire’s early works under the sponsorship of  l’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie and ITEM. Some of this work also moonlights as my rather schizoid dissertation (read French poet/English Department) and I consider it part of my long-term goal of generating and sustaining enthusiasm for reliable digital editions of neo-canonical Caribbean literary texts. I am rather new to this blog, but not to Juxta. I started working with Juxta around the time when I started working with Aimé Césaire’s signature poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, roughly 2 years ago. At the time, Juxta saved me enormous amounts of time proofreading my retooled OCRs and generating an apparatus. It was later, when I started working with Et les chiens se taisaient, a longer text with substantially more variants and transpositions, that Juxta revealed to me both its current shortcomings and its ultimate promise.

We could say that Aimé Césaire was a migratory poet in the fullest sense: He had perfect pitch for context and used it to quickly adapt his voice to new audiences as his work traveled around three continents. As a student of literature he was as much a product of his Paris education as he was of the journey that brought him there and back to his home base in Martinique. His major works, and the many revisions they were subjected to during his lifetime, provide the final testimony to his restless poetic trajectory.

To the textual critic who approaches this corpus for the first time, one feature stands out above all others: The sheer number of transpositions from one version to another. In past conversations, I have likened his stanzas and lines to Lego blocks in order to quickly explain how he seems to have an utter disregard (or is it exactly the opposite?) for sequence. In the case of Et les chiens se taisaient the text begins its life as a three-act play on the Haitian Revolution, has an adolescence as a poetic oratorio with heavy Christian overtones and grows up to be a heavily abstract play about the struggle between universal Slave and Master figures. Throughout this transformation, stanzas and lines are bandied about without care for consistency, sometimes going from one speaker to his or her antagonist in a later version.

When I began using Juxta for Et les chiens se taisaient, I only expected the same functionality that was perfect to the T for Cahier d’ un retour au pays natal, but as soon as I started working with the first two instantiations of the text, the manuscript and the oratorio, obstacles and yearnings started cropping up. In its current build (1.3.1), Juxta struggles with long texts with many transpositions. After several meetings with NINES and Nick Laiacona, it became clear that a memory issue combined with the graphic rendering of connectors was the culprit. Apparently, Juxta has a built-in limit to the amount of internal memory it uses from the machine, and rendering the graphic connectors puts substantial pressure on these resources.  To account for transpositions, Juxta allows you to mark “moves” manually from one text to the next, creating a list of these moves as you go along in one of the bottom panels. This system is intuitive and easy to use, and complements the automated functions nicely, but it becomes unwieldy in a collection with heavy traffic. While Cahier d’ un retour au pays natal had a total of four, albeit significant, moves in its four major versions, Et les chiens se taisaient has an overwhelming 64 moves just between the manuscript and the first published version!

Click here to read the full entry at NINES.

Using Juxta in the Digital Variorum Edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos

(Guest post by Mark Byron, University of Sydney, Australia)

I am currently assembling the digital variorum edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos with Richard Taylor. This edition aims to collate all published versions of every canto, including page proofs and setting copy, where available, and to integrate digital reproductions of illustrated capitals in deluxe editions, audio and video recordings of Pound reading his poetry, and a very large cache of annals material pertaining to the production of his epic poem over the course of sixty years.

We have chosen to use Juxta to collate the very extensive set of variants for each canto – the total number of witness files runs into the thousands – because this application addresses a number of issues inherent in such a project.

The Juxta interface lists any chosen comparison set, which, for example, might be as small as ten witness files for Canto VI or as large as forty witness files for Canto IV. The degree of variation of each witness text from a chosen base text is visually represented next to each file in the comparison set list. This provides an efficient means to identify the more eccentric versions (bibliographically speaking) of a particular canto. A curious reader viewing the Edit Note in the figure below might choose to compare the 1922 version of Canto II published in The Dial with the so-called “Base text” – the 1975 New Directions edition of the Cantos that was adopted by Faber in place of its own edition, marking the end of the separate stemmatic lineage of the British edition of the text. (It should be noted that any witness file may be chosen as a base text for the purposes of a particular collation.)

Juxta’s elegant interface provides immediate visual information concerning the kind and degree of variation between the two witness files represented here: the reader is already aware of the canto’s changed status after 1922 from the “Eighth Canto” to Canto II, and can see – immediately – that the heaviest revision occurs in the opening lines, a revision that ushers in the now-iconic address to Robert Browning (the rhetorical and semantic implications of which can be processed by means of careful comparison of the two versions).

Variation is visualized in the integrated heat map, and is complemented by the Histogram function, allowing the reader to see exactly at which points the densest variation might occur in the canto. In this case, the beginning of the text bears the most acute variation, but other significant variations occur throughout the canto, including the final lines. To be able to see this at a glance is truly a powerful aid to scholars, even those intimately familiar with the textual state and history of this poem.

The complexity of Pound’s text is legendary, and not all bibliographic features can be captured in either codex or digital editions. Yet Juxta provides the means to collate Greek text, including diacritics (seen in the example above), and the increasingly substantial presence of Chinese in later instalments of the Cantos. Indeed, any element present in the Unicode palette can be deployed in a Juxta text file. While those ideograms drawn by hand (often incorrectly) and included in published editions of the Cantos are not represented in the text field, photographic reproductions of them can be added as Edit Notes at precisely where they occur in a particular canto.

These features provide excellent reasons for the digital variorum edition of Pound’s Cantos to employ Juxta. Potential development of an HTML applet – allowing for an integrated collation function within a web-based edition – is exciting news indeed.

Mark Byron
Department of English
University of Sydney, Australia