Dr. Fagan 3 credit hours
In this course we will explore the phenomenon of the 20th and 21st-century unfinished American novel. What happens when an author, particularly a fairly well known author, dies before finishing a work? Often the book is forever unfinished, and perhaps even published in its incomplete form. But far more often, editors take over, working to complete the text. The frequent occurrence of posthumous editing in American literature gives us an opportunity to think through some of the philosophies of critical editing, asking how an author’s intentions can be satisfied when he or she is no longer around to tell us what they are. We’ll also reflect on some fundamental questions about the shape books take once editors and writers set out to complete these unfinished works: what can the various posthumous editing projects of the 20th and 21st century tell us about the responsibility editors feel toward an author’s text? Who is responsible for finishing the work? What philosophy of the text does the editor subscribe to, and how does his/her editing of the text demonstrate that philosophy? Does the posthumously edited book belong to the author, or somebody else? How do audiences react to these completed books? And who has final say over when the book is complete?
Possible authors for this course may include Edith Wharton, James Agee, Ralph Ellison, Jovita González, Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, and David Foster Wallace. We will explore their texts and the contexts surrounding their posthumously published works. Alongside these writers we will consider primary source texts relating to various philosophies of scholarly editing.
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