Saturday, 6 August 2005

Editors and Butchers

Great piece in today's Guardian by Blake Morrison on the role of editors and how it is becoming less and less important in publishing houses. He argues that while it is becoming easier to get work out there, through a variety of formats (including blogs!), if editors are becoming obsolete, it is bad for language and bad for books. It is true. And he says that the decline in the position of editors is related to the rise of university courses on creative writing, that if you walk in to a class you hear exactly what we can read between Pound and Eliot, or Maxwell Perkins (at Scribner) and Wolfe.

15 comments:

hesitant hack said...

i think you still need an editor even if you have taken your book through the process of a creative writing workshop, course or degree. Some editors, though, are overly invasive. I'm experiencing that at the moment with someone, and I can tell you that's not good for writing either. If there's a decline in editors, that is a real problem, and it should be looked into and something done about it. But I don't think writing courses can be held responsible entirely. there are other factors.

Miglior acque said...

You mean your editor for the article? I would make a distinction between an editor who is editing a 'literary text' (sorry...whatever that is) as opposed to a journalism editor. Does that sound snobbish? I just see they're preparing such different things, for different people.
I think that Morrison was talking about how good editors end up teaching now rather than working in the publishing houses, that somehow the cultural capital has passed from the publishing house to the university. I wonder. There are other factors of course. These are things that develop over a long time and have to do with the profound changes in the publishing industry. How is that article going?

hesitant hack said...

it's not a journalism editor

Miglior acque said...

Oh, that editor... Sorry! eek.

kcsefalvay said...

As the old theme goes, Gutenberg made everyone a reader, Xerox made everyone a publisher, to which one might add, Pyra, the creators of Blogger, made everyone a publisher who is even read now and then. But it's true, the whole developmental process skipped a beat. While I don't think the absence of editors from blogs is solely responsible for the decline of language, I hold for sure that it certainly promotes it. Ten years ago, no one evend ared to abbrevieate 'through' to 'thru', except in orders and some notices where brevity was paramount. But nowadays, you can find it on any blog, and the day is near when newspaper editors will allow 'thru's and English language will then take another step of departure from its original state.

But then again, why can't one be oneself's editor? Why can't one amass a few style guides atop his monitor, and now and then check back every post whether it conforms to a style guideline? I guess that should be made a movement among bloggers, and so should be the promotion of correct grammar.

Darragh said...

How neurotic!

There's no such thing as correct spelling; there are only conventions, so when there's a new consensus concerning the acceptability of 'thru' versus 'through', then 'thru' becomes acceptable. There's nothing to mourn here.

Similarly, there's no 'correct' grammar either; there are only acceptable or unacceptable grammatical forms according to the consensus of the linguistic community. Living languages are changing all the time, so grammar is no exception to the process of evolution either. Don't fight it; learn to love it!

Miglior acque said...

Sorry guys, only checking in now. Hmm. I think that my point is that editors actually do stuff, and sometimes they do good stuff. Ok, I know there can be problems, such as HH is experiencing. kcs's is talking about how 'thru' rather than 'through' is indicative of the need for speed, for putting one's thoughts down very quickly, and therefore in danger of being rash, badly formulated, or just plain 'badly written'. THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A CRAP WRITER. That's very very important to remember. Let's have none of this post-modern b/s about how God love's us all. How Lydgate is as good as Chaucer. No way. Simple as that. Just read the poetry. If you want to continue believing Lydgate is better, then read James Simpson and not Lydgate.
Ok, Darragh, you're right. Conventions are what keep the language the way it is. But convention is what aims at a standard from which we all communicate with each other. Convention, in other words, is not a dirty word. Embrace change, by all means. But ask yourself why.

kcsefalvay said...

"THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A CRAP WRITER. That's very very important to remember. Let's have none of this post-modern b/s about how God love's us all." - I wish I have had teachers like you ;) You really spoke from my heart this one time.

Darragh: There is indeed correct language and incorrect language. Take for example the double negative. Even though it's accepted in some sociolinguistical circles (it's a non-U way of expressing the negative), it is incorrect. Why? Because "I can't get no..." is sturdy and awkward English. (Almost) being a law student, a legal analogy comes to my mind. There are laws that are completely nonsensical, and there are those which can be agreed with with nothing but a fair portion of common sense. Grammar is one of the latter. You don't have to agree with prescriptions because they are prescriptions, but because it 'sounds/looks stupid' otherwise (such as the double neg). It's not about linguistic change. Baing a foreigner and having been taught English the way it was used in the 70's (yeah, Hungarian education is lagging behind), I've been told not to use the apostrophe short-form in writing. Now read through my comment, and you see five times I have used it. Why? Because the rule not to use it is nonsensical, except one is talking about strictly serious texts. To add to what M.A. said, I'd say "Embrace change, but ask yourself why, and whether it's really comfortable and aesthetic for you to use the new form."

Miglior acque said...

Gawd, after all my talk about good inglish, look at my apostrophes getting out of control in my last comment: a rash of ticks! "God loves us all". I have read Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I promise. And I knew the rules before hand.

Thanks kcs, your comment is interesting. I too taught my foreign students to keep the contractions to a minimum (and Darragh, too has a lot of experience in that field, I do not know what his position on contractions is...), but when one writes in a casual informal way, one tends to leave these things be. And that is I think an important aspect of what we are talking about: formality. It's that blogging, and emailing, posting notices on the web etc are all in a category of formality that is much more difficult to define than, say, an article in an academic journal, or a local newspaper, or a newsletter. And formality and context carry all of their own conventions.

Darragh said...

Context is important, yes; but even the character of the context, be it formal or informal, is conditioned by the consensus conventions of this or that particular linguistic community. The point concerns grammatical first principles, and those principles are not of the objective order of other empirical sciences such as physics, chemistry, genetics, etc. Different disciplines offer different degrees of objectivity, so the 'correctness' of grammar is of a completely different order to correct geometry.

Anyway, 100 years from now, if this blog survives, curious prescriptive grammarians of the 22nd century will wonder at our barberic solecisms while descriptives will nod knowingly at the inherent variation of our language. Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose!

kcsefalvay said...

This discussion reminds me somewhat on a discussion in my field (law), namely that between legal originalists, who go after the letter of the law, and legal constructivists, who tend to interpret rather loosely after the sense of the laws. And this is not a recent debate, it was omnipresent in legal development, between strict literarists and social contractarians, etc. And in the end, I guess it is a dichotomy between Conservatives and Liberals (in the traditional, political science terms).

Darragh: Univ, too?

Darragh said...

Univ, no; university, yes! (TCD)

kcsefalvay said...

Is TCD = Trinity College, Dublin? (sorry, I'm still somewhat uninformed with these abbreviation riddles).

Darragh said...

Well, if it was a riddle, you get a gold star for your guess!

kcsefalvay said...

Well, say hello to the Jedi Librarians (in case you get the joke - not really appropriate in these elevated spheres, but still :))

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...