Peter Hulme in conversation with John Drakakis
20th April 2017
The following conversation between John Drakakis (JD), emeritus professor of English at the University of Stirling, and Peter Hulme (PH), emeritus professor of Literature at the University of Essex took place at Lancaster University on 13th March 2017.
Members of the BSA may download a PDF transcript of this conversation, with additional pictures, from the ‘documents’ section of our resources for members.
JD: Peter Hulme, let me begin with reference to the volume that you and a group of your colleagues at the University of Essex, Francis Barker, Margaret Iversen and Diana Loxley edited in the Routledge New Accents series entitled Literature Politics and Theory in 1986. This was a collection of papers culled from the Sociology of Literature conferences that were held in Essex over a 10-year period from 1976 to 1984. This volume appeared right in the middle of an explosion of ‘theory’ during the 1980s, and the conferences themselves were instrumental in drawing together leading practitioners. This volume appeared a year after Alternative Shakespeares in which you and Francis Barker had a very influential essay, “Nymphs and reapers heavily vanish: The discursive con-texts of The Tempest”. The occasion of your visit is to deliver a guest lecture on The Tempest, a play that you have edited in the Norton Shakespeare series, and that you are now working on for a second edition.
Your own work is positioned right in the middle of a period of intellectual excitement that we all experienced from the late 1970s onwards, and well into the 1980s. But let me begin by asking you how the series of conferences in which you were involved came about. They were very revolutionary in every sense, and Essex was regarded as an extremely avant garde university.
PH: It came about originally as an adjunct to the M.A. that we ran there in the Sociology of Literature which began in the late 1960s soon after the foundation of the university. It obviously was, I suppose ‘conjunctural’, to use a word from those days, coming at a time when there was an expansion of universities, more people coming into higher education, and a generational shift involving younger academics and postgraduate students, along with, of course, the translation into English of a huge amount of continental theory, some of it older theory written decades earlier, such as Georg Lukács, and which was just now beginning to be translated; but also newer French theory, in particular Barthes, Foucault and Macherey, Althusser, Derrida and Lacan: all the familiar names in French theory that were beginning to be translated and therefore taken seriously within the English-speaking world. Another consideration, of course, was the radical politics of the time. All those things came together and my slightly older colleague, David Musselwhite, had the idea that we should organise a series of conferences. I guess that once you have had one or two and they’ve seemed to go well and people want to come back, the series gets longer and longer.
JD: It did actually release a whole new critical and analytical vocabulary. For example, you mention the word ‘conjunctural’ as part of a vocabulary that now seems to have passed somewhat; I don’t hear many people talking about ‘interpellation’ these days, but the term ‘ideology’ has come into mainstream discourse although often in rather peculiar circumstances. It seems to me that that particular conference did release a new kind of vocabulary that began to come to fruition with Terry Eagleton’s Criticism and Ideology (1976), and then the publication of Pierre Macherey’s A Theory of Literary Production along with Althusser’s Lenin and Philosophy and Althusser and Balibar’s Reading Capital. All of this was, in certain respects anathema to the traditionalists who thought that literature was to do with aesthetics and certainly not to do with politics. Although, curiously enough, when you look back to the 1930s there were a number of, certainly Shakespearean, scholars who had an inkling that there was something ‘political’ going on; for example the early Scrutiny school and people like L.C. Knights whose Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson, that incorporated the work of socialist historians such as R.H. Tawney whose Religion and the Rise of Capitalism lay behind Knights’ analysis of the acquisitiveness that Jonson satirised in his comedies.
But the Essex conferences were a very influential series, because even if you hadn’t been to any of them (and I hadn’t), you knew about them. And they became the model for a number of other conferences; I think particularly of the Literature, Teaching, Politics conferences that began with an inaugural conference at the Polytechnic in Glamorgan and that we argue about the date. Was it 1978 or 1980? All of this helped to put politics on the agenda and at a time when all of this new material was beginning to emerge: the early Derrida, and Althusser. The fuss from humanist Marxists about Althusser, historians like E.P. Thompson whose The Poverty of Theory was an unrelenting diatribe against the structural Marxism of Althusser, and influential leftist critics such as Arnold Kettle whose widow once told me that: “Arnold would not have a copy of Althusser in the house! It is difficult to imagine that kind of thing now, where people choose their theoretical position.
But how did all of that morph into the essay that you wrote with Francis Barker for Alternative Shakespeares? That was a really interesting intervention, and at a time when nobody was thinking about The Tempest in these terms at all. What you and Francis did was to mount an assault on the traditional criticism, and by introducing two terms really: ‘discursive’ (that perhaps, you could say something about) and the idea of ‘con-text’ with a hyphen, and when I was editing the essay I was told that the hyphen was very important.
PH: Let me just go back a couple of steps then. Theory, in those Essex conferences tended to focus on – insofar as it focused on texts and events — the modern period. But there were a number of individuals – and I am not including myself here – such as Francis Barker, who was with me at Essex, and Kate Belsey, and others, who had those theoretical interests but were early modernists. One of the things that we did in the conferences, because we were very very clear that we wanted an historical focus, was to have a series on particular years. So, as well as 1789, an obviously revolutionary year, and another on 1936, we chose 1642, another key political year, giving an opportunity to the early modernists to have their say about the early 17th century. Francis, who was my colleague – we were appointed at more or less the same time at Essex- was an early modernist who worked on Shakespeare and other things, and we had very similar theoretical and political interests. My work was in the Caribbean, and so the one textual point of contact that we had was in The Tempest. He was interested in it from a Shakespearean and early modern point of view, and I was interested in it because of its purported Caribbean connections: I was beginning to work on the book that became Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492-1797 (1986). I can’t remember the exact circumstances in which we got involved in Alternative Shakespeares, whether we were asked to write our essay or whether we volunteered it.
JD: I think I’d heard about it, but I’d taught Francis’s young brother Simon at Stirling and he may have been the conduit.
PH: Whatever the circumstances, we decided to do it, and it was a good opportunity for us to work together. It does seem like another world entirely, but the ethos of the 1970s was on collective activity, which made the organising of conferences great fun since everybody had to agree on everything, so it always took a very long time. With today’s teaching schedules, you would never have been able to do it. We were very keen on doing something together, and we did. The number of hours that went into writing that essay… We did write every single word together. It wasn’t a question of you write this paragraph and I’ll write that paragraph, so there was a huge amount of debate and discussion before we committed to a final form of words. That was the background to it. Given that it had to be quite a short essay, we were obviously needed to say something about The Tempest, since that was the point of Alternative Shakespeares; but we also wanted a theoretical framework, so it was clearly a question of trying to decide which elements of a theoretical vocabulary could be useful. Both of us were fairly eclectic; in other words, we were not simply going to take a single theoretical framework. ‘Discursive’ was very much the word of the moment, coming out of Foucault – I guess the Archaeology of Knowledge had been translated fairly recently — and we were certainly very keen on trying to find a different kind of language to talk about the relationship between text and context. ‘Discursive’ seemed to offer the opportunity of at least breaking down any very clear division between text and context, while still paying attention to the relationship between different sorts of text. I’m not sure that we were using it in any very exact Foucauldian way: it was, inevitably, rather gestural in a short essay; but it was, nevertheless an important word for us. ‘Con-text’, I guess, did somewhat similar work. One of the important debates of the time related to the way in which some French theorists (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) were being read by their British acolytes as removing texts of any kind from their original moment of production. In other words, the emphasis was very much on reading, on how you read something now rather than being interested in what it might have meant when it was originally produced. That was in many ways a very liberating move, and there were lots of very interesting readings that came out of that theoretical approach. But we, I guess, as kind of old Marxists, were very reluctant to let go of that original historical moment. We wanted history in there, and it was in trying to negotiate between those two sets of imperatives that we came up with the idea of ‘con-text’ with the hyphen. So, in other words, you didn’t just have, in the old sense, the literary text and some kind of vague surrounding context, nor did you let go of the idea that there was a moment of textual production and just focus on the readings which proliferated, but rather you tried to hold on to the idea that the text might be rooted in its moment of production, not as a separate and special kind of text but as one that might be productively read alongside other texts, historical texts, produced at roughly the same time. But not, as I say, simply as ‘background’, but rather as co-eval, so that they might be productively read alongside each other.
JD: That seems to me to be very important, because the traditional way of reading texts in relation to history seems to conform to one of the two models of reading; the first is the F.W. Bateson line in which literature remains at the apex of a hierarchy, supported by history, and the second, is the anti-historical and anti-theoretical Leavisite line of the direct engagement with the text, even though, as I said, at the very beginning, some of those involved in Scrutiny began to flirt with Marxism, but then resisted it. Your essay is extremely condensed, and in 7000 words there is almost an entire history of the current state of criticism, because the idea of ‘discursivity’ while it has its obvious links in Foucault, also raises a different kind of question related to Bakhtin, some of whose writings, particularly, Rabelais and His World and The Dialogic Imagination, and Problems in Dostoevsky’s Poetics were beginning to be read at the time. It was the ‘dialogic’ element, and I got a clear sense when re-reading your essay, and now listening to your lecture, that you were and still are interested in the ‘dialogic’ element of the text, whereby what appears to be monologic has all kinds of things going on underneath the surface that effectively disrupt the text’s monologism. I don’t think that this what Foucault was talking about. Foucault was much more interested – and new historicists took him at his word – in the operations of ‘power’ and in the dialectic between ‘subversion’ and ‘containment’ where, for new historicists it was the process of containment that was the more important. However, by the time that Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Vol. 1 appeared in English, you had a more sophisticated version of power which was much closer to Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism: power produces its ‘other’, but the place of the other is the location from which you might mount an assault upon the dominant. That causes all sorts of problems, even leaving aside Foucault’s departure from the Marxist notion of total revolution. But you have never relinquished that dual identity of the text, and you’ve stayed with texts, which is important, because, although you don’t often hear this allegation, these days, theorists were often accused of departing from texts and, to use the words of Malcolm Evans, “writing with a wand on the sky”. It was alleged that you never bothered with texts, that it was somehow reactionary. But you and Francis didn’t depart from the text; you teased out every possible meaning in the text while retaining that all-important historical framework. And this is why the idea of the ‘con-’ with the hyphen seems to me to be very important because it assaults that linear notion of the ‘source’ – that somehow every text can be traced back to a source. And we don’t think of that linear pattern of thought as being ideological, or even quasi-religious.
David Quint’s book on Origin and Originality in the Renaissance, that was published in 1986, the same year as you published Colonial Encounters, really does expose that. Indeed, the whole question of source, with its hangovers from the tradition of Shakespeare criticism where scholars assume that Shakespeare read all of the sources that they have identified, the implication being that he had access to a huge library (of the sort that scholars themselves have access to). Whereas, your notion of ‘con-text’ raises some fundamental questions, it seems to me, about the nature of textual origin. For example, if all these texts are in some sense simultaneous – some might be linear in a temporal sense, some not, – it still doesn’t answer the question of how Shakespeare himself read. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that. Did he move his lips when he read? Did he read in a group? We actually don’t know. What we do, of course, is to impose our own ‘literary’ understanding of these issues on the object of our enquiry. Now your use of the term ‘con-text’ with the hyphen becomes absolutely crucial and I think that very few scholars have been prepared to take this issue up. There has been a kind of taking a step back, as in Janet Clare’s recent book, Shakespeare’s Stage Traffic: Imitation, Borrowing and Competition in Renaissance Theatre (2014), which is a very scholarly and very learned book, but there is a sense in which there is all this stuff flying around in the theatre and you situate Shakespeare inside it, and you make of him a businessman in the modern sense of the term, but you still preserve his authority. And even with regard to issues of ‘intertextuality’ that appears in a very neutral context in Clare – a term that you do use, but with an important difference, because you want to retain the political aspect of it- which seems to me to be absolutely crucial, because if you go back to Kristeva it is not just texts that serendipitously bump in to each other; there’s a politics involved in the process, so that it isn’t just the fact that there is a multiplicity of texts, or a plurality of texts, which is what the very few commentaries on Shakespeare’s ‘sources’ and ‘intertextuality’ that I’ve read seem to be satisfied with; this is a kind of free-floating formalism. I do think that your essay was prescient, and I still don’t think that we have explored fully many of the issues that you and Francis were raising there. I was, by the way, delighted to have it in the collection because it actually addressed directly the issues that we were trying to draw attention to at the time.
You said, Peter, that at the time that you were writing Colonial Encounters, which came out in 1986. Alternative Shakespeares came out in 1985, but the proposal for the collection had been with Routledge since 1982. The reason that the publisher was reluctant to go ahead with the project was because they also published the Arden Shakespeare at the time, and they were concerned that this was going to be a radical assault- which it was – on that very august enterprise, that all of the senior Shakespeareans were involved in. In those days, these were senior professors who were powers in the land; they had institutional power and they had academic power although it has to be said that many of them were far more liberal (in the old sense of the term) than this suggests. And the fact that many of us – who were described at the time as ‘young Turks’ – ultimately came to sit in chairs of English, is an indication of just how liberal that establishment became. There was a time when the issues that we were all preoccupied with were very hotly debated, and we exchanged, shall we say, some rather acerbic comments with our senior interlocutors.
But can you say something about Colonial Encounters. You see yourself as a ‘post-colonial’ scholar, and I’m wondering what post-colonial actually meant in the 1980s. And you might perhaps say something about what the term means now when it doesn’t seem to have the kind of impact that it did in the 1980s. I suspect partly because everybody now tries to spot the latest academic fashion; so ‘post-colonial’ gives way to ‘gothic’ which then gets exhausted and we think of something else: something like ‘post-truth’, perhaps. So, can you say something more about that connection between the term and how you situate yourself within it.
PH: Yes. I suppose that the interesting thing about the 1970s and early 1980s was that ‘post-colonial’ wasn’t used as a term. In fact, I did once check when it was first used, and it was, as late as 1984 in the title of a set of proceedings from a conference in Gothenburg in Sweden, and in that case it really took over from the term ‘commonwealth’. So, to speak of Colonial Encounters as post-colonial, was retrospective because that term was not available. In that sense, I don’t know what I would describe myself as in the 1980s. Do you have to think of yourself as a particular kind of scholar? At the time I was working in the Caribbean; geographically that was where my research was centred, and I suppose I did describe myself, and think of myself geographically, so that book was trying to tell the history of a particular set of islands through the writings about it, and therefore coming at The Tempest from a very particular point of view and taking seriously the point I made in the lecture, that Caliban might be thought of as a version of ‘cannibal’, from the root ‘Carib’, which also gives us ‘Caribbean’; and then asking what that might mean in terms of how we approach the play. I suppose I thought of it still as a ‘con-textual’ reading, but a different kind of context. It seems to me that you can read ‘con-text’, as it were, from a point of history, in other words where you take, say, the early 17th century, and you read The Tempest alongside other texts that were written more or less at the same time. That gives you a sense of a particular kind of discourse that was in operation, and you are situating the play as part of that textual range. But you can also read it, as it were, in a more linear fashion where you are moving through, as I was in that book, from Columbus to the end of the 18th century, so that The Tempest becomes part of a series of texts that are writing, in some sense, about the same place, so that you see the ways in which it might be thought of textually, ideologically, to be drawing on earlier texts, and then lending its own vocabulary and characters and language to the texts that come after and rework it; Robinson Crusoe would be the obvious example in relation to The Tempest.
JD: Of course, all this was at a time when the critical vocabulary in mainstream academic English literary discourse was fairly reactionary by our standards; for example, the first lectureship in what we would now call ‘post-colonial studies’ at Stirling was a lectureship in ‘Commonwealth Studies’. This was partly because the late A. Norman Jeffares, who was one of the professors at Stirling at the time, was one of the progenitors at Leeds – where we both spent some time – of ‘Commonwealth Studies’. Your own positioning is very important and it is one that you have never relinquished since it has enabled you to continue with what we might call comparative studies. It is still unusual in Departments of English – although it has to be said that Essex was a Department of Literature and not a Department of English literature – and in the case of Essex this was important because it allowed for the kinds of comparativism that characterises your own work.
PH: It was important. In fact, my own background at Leeds was that I studied Spanish, so I was coming into a Literature Department not with an English background at all; so as with all these things, there is an element of doing what you need to do, and I needed to establish some kind of credibility within English Studies, and the book was trying to do that. But at the same time, I was very aware of the non-English, the Hispanic and the Latin-American elements in particular, that made me very suspicious of a term like ‘commonwealth’. It didn’t fit with the Latin-American experience, so I guess that although I wouldn’t have thought of it then, I was looking for a term like ‘post-colonial’ which would allow me to talk about these things together, whereas ‘commonwealth’ was a very exclusionary term that was concerned only with the ‘Anglo’ element.
JD: Of course, thirty years down the line, there is a sense in which the term ‘post-colonial’ almost appears to be massively over-used, so that now, everything is potentially post-colonial. As a result, the term has been devalued and has lost the kind of intellectual rigour that it had when you were setting it up. Is this your impression, or is there something else more substantive that is at issue here: perhaps that has to do with the institutional pressures that force academics to come up with things that are ‘impactful’. We never labelled things back in the late 1970s, although there was always a sense that we were ‘materialists’ in one form or another. John Ellis and Rosalind Coward’s book, Language and Materialism (1977), that now seems to have been forgotten, make this point. And the Foucauldian idea of ‘discourse’ is that it is material in its effects but that this is not something essential(ist) at all. But then we got the beginning of these little ‘camps’: New Historicists – but then the irony about New Historicism is that it was a title of an essay by the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce in the early1930s. And Greenblatt, although he was in Cambridge when Raymond Williams was there, never acknowledges Williams’ influence, but takes a certain reading of Foucault – although a very sophisticated version by comparison with some of his acolytes – and this, it seems to me, where the labelling really started to proliferate. And then, of course, Alan Sinfield and Jonathan Dollimore’s Cultural Materialism that was, in part, the adaptation of Raymond Williams’ phrase, but which distinguished British academics from North American academics, and now there are all sorts of little niches; for example, ‘Animal Studies’, ‘Ecological Shakespeare’, and there are others. You now choose your little camp, whereas what united us all in the late 70s and through the 80s was that we were all dialectical or historical materialists in some form or another; some were post-structuralists, some became post-structuralists, and there were various blends that involved Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and various kinds of formalism. Here the Essex conferences, and the Literature-Teaching-Politics conferences acted as hubs where interests could be shared, and expanded, and where critical vocabularies could be refined and refurbished. Is this your reading of the situation, or do you see it differently?
PH: I think I’d agree. I tend not to get fixated on individual words. ‘Post-colonial’ tends to be used, perhaps less precisely these days, or has been overtaken in the circles in which I move, by the roughly equivalent term ‘World Literature’. And so, World Literature Studies, and Centres of World Literature now exist where before you might have expected to find Centres for Postcolonial Studies. And I’m not sure that I worry too much about that. You could look at it in two ways. You could say that that was due to the fact that the arguments that Postcolonial Studies were making have now been won, and since nobody is opposing them, there is no longer much point in insisting on the term. The term was a way of insisting that there were post-colonial approaches as opposed to colonial approaches, and that the latter were colonial without realising it, since, as with all powerful ideologies they were regarded as the natural way of seeing things. ‘Post-colonial’ was making the point that ‘No’ they’re not natural and you could see them from post-colonial perspectives, and I’m not sure that there are many people who would disagree with that nowadays. ‘Post-colonial’ is less important to press as a term. I think there is still discussion of the term and its complexities. But two things have changed. One is that people have been in discussion about the proper geographical range of the term, and this has especially interested me: for example, can you talk about US literature in 1810 as ‘post-colonial’? Why not? Since the United States was being created at that time as a post-colonial country. And it does seem to me that there are interesting things to be said about re-reading early 19th century US literature as post-colonial, or the Latin-American literature of the middle of the 19th century. Is it possible to say, for example, that the literature starts off as post-colonial, but then doesn’t remain post-colonial after a certain point? So, I think that there are still discussions to be had which are now to do with the complexities of the term rather than simply using it, as it were, to make a political point.
JD: I see that, because there is the same problem in Scottish Literature where the claim that it is post-colonial is partly plausible, though the argument does seem to fall apart after 1603.
PH: And the same is true with Irish Literature
JD: Although there is a difference here, since no Irish king has ever occupied the English Throne. But post-colonial was always a term that was radical, and to that extent it was always a term that was slightly outside the institution of Literary Studies. Now the problem that I have – and I don’t know whether you share this – is that all of us who thought that we were fire-brand radicals in the late 70s and the 80s, – and we were, – I was lucky in that in the department in which I worked I was given a great deal of intellectual freedom, whereas I know that elsewhere people would pass each other in the corridors without speaking and they behaved in the most appallingly uncollegial of ways. But now we, who experienced a degree of academic marginalisation, have become, I am told, ‘the new orthodoxy’. The historical reasons for that seem to me to be interesting institutionally. But I am always horrified to find that I am being classed as some kind of new orthodoxy. I don’t know whether you feel the same way about this?
PH: You can look at it in two ways, can’t you? You can see that there is a simply a generational norm, in that one thing that starts of as being a revolt becomes the orthodoxy against which others revolt. I think that maybe I’d be more optimistic about that reading if there were signs of some kind of real revolt against the previous generation. Rather, in my more pessimistic moods I see the fact — and you can obviously look at this in wider political terms as well — that the fights that we thought we had won, it turns out that we hadn’t really won them at all. The previous normality tends to seep back in when you stop paying attention.
JD: This is the point that I was going to make because it does seem to me that we are in danger of returning to an old kind of historical analysis of literature, and there is now a sense in which there is a danger of a younger generation of scholars who now think that it is safe for them to put their heads above the parapets without the fear that people like us will chop them off. But I think that it is the institutional issue that now determines the progress of academic research. I don’t know whether you would agree with this but institutions have changed. The quarry for us and for our generation of ‘young Turks’, was always an intellectual one because we were reading literature differently; we were uncomfortable with the traditional way of reading. This was partly sociological since many of us would not, under the pre1960s dispensation, have ever expected, or have been expected, to go to university. The struggle now is not with the disciplines at all but with the bureaucratic structures of institutions that are much more difficult to overthrow. For example, we could disagree with the late Kenneth Muir, or T.J.B. Spenser, we could disagree with a whole raft of senior Shakespearean scholars, whereas it is much more difficult now to conduct an intellectual revolution when the target is institutional organisation, and where academics have been, by and large, deprived of control over a large part of their intellectual lives. It is the way in which institutions have changed that have marginalised disciplines like the Humanities.
PH: I would agree with that and I would probably add to it the fact that that kind of institutional conservatism tends to itself produce a disciplinary conservatism. One of the things that were certainly possible in the 1970s and 1980s, and that we thought of as the new kind of ‘normal’ that we were introducing, but that has become more and more difficult to sustain, was the idea that you could find ways of teaching and organising your teaching which corresponded to your ideas, so that you could introduce centres for post-colonial studies or whatever, or new MAs, for example, which we did do, but which have become very difficult to sustain as institutional pressures have grown, and have pushed back centres, and interdisciplinary work of all kinds: these become easy targets if you have an academic manager looking to make financial cuts.
So, you gradually push everything back to Departments of English, or whatever, so that if you push back to Departments of English, and you decrease the range of material that you teach, then you are pushing back to the teaching of a more restricted canon. Your focus then becomes, not on what new things you can teach, but on finding a more adequate way to teach the things that you have to teach. That is, obviously, going back to where we started, why Alternative Shakespeares is very important because it did address the canon. Whereas some of the work that I was doing was more interested in saying: OK, there are these post-colonial literatures that are being written and we’ve got to find ways of getting them onto the curriculum and teaching them. That has now become much more difficult. I don’t think that Shakespeare is going to disappear, so that kind of work that Alternative Shakespeares was doing will continue to be needed.
JD: Alright, let’s get back to Shakespeare, and talk about your modern Norton edition of The Tempest. Anybody who thinks that someone with a theoretical investment doesn’t look at texts closely, has to confront the fact that you have edited a text.
PH: To be fair, Bill (William Sherman) did most of the ‘real’ textual editing.
JD: Yes, but you were involved in the process. The first edition was in 2004, which is the edition I have. What you have done in the ‘Criticism’ section is that you start off with Frank Kermode, which is the 1964 Arden 2 Shakespeare which has now been superseded by the Virginia and Alden Vaughan Arden 3 version, that is much more attuned to colonial and post-colonial issues. But Kermode set the debate about The Tempest in terms of the opposition between ‘art’ and ‘nature’, and you have included it as part of the history of modern criticism of the play. How did you deal with the footnotes? I ask because I have a vested interest in this because I had a job with the Arden 3 Merchant of Venice because I wanted to include all kinds of detail that I think could be justified historically, that my general editor thought made that part of the book too long. So, I found myself having to cut the footnotes substantially, and also from the Introduction. Your Introduction is a much shorter one. And that prompts me to ask, what kind of brief are you writing to in the Norton? This is an important issue that it is necessary to know before mounting a critique of an edition. In many cases, some of the decisions are not made by the editor; they are made by the publisher, and they are to do primarily with money. My edition might have been 70-100 pages longer – all of which I thought at the time was indispensable – but on the other hand it does force you to make decisions. What was your experience of working with a text in this way?
PH: Well, when it came to the process, it is clearly different when you are working with somebody else. You have discussions, you have your own favourite things that you want to include, and to exclude things that you are not keen on, and you compromise, and that’s not a bad thing because you are going to increase the readership and the range of the edition. Bill is very much an early modernist so we came at the project from different angles, and we were able to complement each other. I don’t think that we disagreed about anything really. When it came to the critical essays that we included our experience then, and also with the second edition, is that everybody that we have approached was very keen on being included. Nobody ever refused, I think, and in several cases, because you are working to a word limit, we actually asked people if it was okay to reduce the size of their essays, sometimes by taking out some of the footnotes, sometimes by taking out some sections. Everybody was very happy with all of that. But even so, it does come down to money at the end, and sometimes, you might look at a section, particularly with modern contemporary critical essays, and you might think that the range is rather strange: why haven’t the editors included this rather than that? It usually turns out that the publisher of the essay you want to include is asking for a sum of money that is something like a quarter of your total budget. You think of the project ideally as being that this is the set of essays that you want to include, but it turns out that what you get is the set of essays that you can afford.
JD: I’m only too well aware of that. And of course, the book arrives with the names of the editors on the cover, and so they get blamed for everything. In fact, it is a publisher’s decision. I’ve jointly put together a collection that was going to be 800pp. long, but that the permissions amounted to over £10,000. The curious thing was that the most expensive items were those that were the more ‘radical’: writers like Lacan, Derrida, and even Raymond Williams. And when I say expensive, I mean anything between £1200 and £1900 per excerpt. This may be one of the reasons why you don’t see much of this material excerpted, and why all sorts of other material is included because it is cheaper. This is of course the practical end of the business. But let me conclude by asking you what the second edition of the Norton Tempest will contain that’s different from the 2004 edition?
PH: We’re still negotiating the financial complexities, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have a new section on Performances and Productions, which will allow us to mention at least a few of the films and ballets and operas, and the Rewritings section will include an extract from Percy MacKaye’s Caliban by the Yellow Sands (as well as an essay on MacKaye) and an extract from a hilarious play called Sycorax by the Nigerian playwright, Esiaba Irobi, who died sadly young.