Upon Closer Inspection

January 26, 2019

Recently an article appeared suggesting that the editorial/publishing history of James Joyce’s Ulysses serves as evidence of the academic legitimacy of posthumous editing. The BBTEDIT site also indirectly points to this claim, as it cites the source of the historical account (The Library of America) as an institution supporting posthumous editing.


My associates at AIW requested me to respond to this conclusion, to wit, that the editorial/publishing record showing numerous revisions of Joyce’s Ulysses supports the posthumous editing of the Prabhupada’s original publication (MAC72). Is this comparison legitimate? Can it be fairly stated that because scholars do not object to the revisions of Joyce’s work, therefore scholars (and Prabhupada) would also not object to JAS's handicraft?


We at AIW do not accept this as a justifiable conclusion and offer instead the following perspective.


What the Ulysses article reveals is, in fact, the opposite of what is suggested by the supporters of BBT83. In fact, the editorial/publishing history of Joyce’s classic work clearly demonstrates the endless confusion an unsealed edition creates. The narration presents an author (Joyce) who never authorized a specific edition, but rather seemed to enjoy sowing confusion about “versions” of his novel, as he was incessantly tinkering with his work and over time worked with numerous publishing houses. Yet we know  Srila Prabhupada was just the opposite; he published a fully authorized edition through a highly respected publisher (MacMillan), and, as we also know, was an author who abhorred endless tinkering (aka "the change disease"). He presented his literature without material reservations and with the authority of the Godhead.


Furthermore, in contrast to the account of Joyce's Ulysses, the MAC72 was not a "tortuous process of gestation." It was a straightforward submission to a top publisher, followed by years of direct acceptance by the author himself, accompanied with direct instructions to not change the text.  Joyce, on the other hand, never instructed his books be left alone, nor railed against changes to the text or pictures.  Indeed, as aforementioned, he appeared to delight in the uncertainty generated from various manuscripts and drafts. For example, the authors of this article (on revisions to Ulysses) point out that Joyce could never leave his novel alone, creating a situation wherein, "Every proof that was pulled became another invitation to yet further revision." How unlike Prabhupada, who wanted to conserve his original work, and described it as dictated by the Absolute (Changeless) Truth.


Interestingly, we see that as late as 1984 (more than six decades later), when Gabler published a "corrected text", the literary community first offered "acclaim, then doubts, and finally outrage." This again belies the suggestion that unrestrained editing is typical. Rather, what we see is a case study in what happens when there is no authoritative version that is sealed by the publisher, in conjunction with the author. The entire account is a graphic lesson for the BBT directors to see what inevitably happens when such a Pandora's Box is opened and confusion reigns, and we should all gain greater insight into why Prabhupada wanted to avoid such fluidity.

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