Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Crying out for annotation?

Janet Frame wouldn't agree.

Her writing is rich with allusion and parody and parallel and intertextuality, a pleasure for those who recognise the references and engage with them. But she sometimes had to battle with her editors who tried to get her to be explicit about her ubiquitous quotes and echoes of the great writers of the past as well as snippets of popular culture, song, myth and history. She didn't want to have to spoil the flow and stop and say "as so-and-so said..." It would be as intrusive as if TS Eliot had included all the sources of the wonderful tapestry that is The Waste Land, in the actual poetic text itself.

I can predict - wryly - that the very people who may well cry out for more footnotes and for explanation and interpretation of Frame's non-fiction, are the ones who already know many of the little details anyway. One suspects that such a person would just want to make sure everyone else knows they know. And if their complaint is that the 'context' hasn't been set, then you can be sure that they will mean "the competing context", ie, the standard patronising version so prevalent in the New Zealand universities.

Having no context is a context. It asks you to take Frame at face value instead of second guessing her or challenging her agency.

In putting together In Her Own Words our policy was to explain Janet Frame as little as possible, and to give her the floor.

Annotation, in any case, is a great delight best left to the professionals who enjoy it so much, and there is a field day to be had with the new book. Please enjoy!

Michael King gave a talk at the 2000 Wellington International Festival of the Arts in which he tried to convey Janet's position on annotation and citation. I think he gives her too harsh an attitude in attributing her the belief that people "did not deserve" to be told, if they hadn't already noticed an allusion, because I think her feeling was more that the text shouldn't be dissected, it should be absorbed on a deeper level as a living thing; but I do remember her annoyance at her prose being divided up and categorised according to its influences and echoes, so from my own observations I can confirm that he has the basics correct:
Her view was that those who recognised the allusion found their own reward; those who did not, did not deserve to be told. Her wish was that readers and critics simply enjoy eating the pudding instead of putting in their thumb and pulling out a plum, and by so doing announcing what good boys they were. And it was this preference that had made her uncomfortable about the function of literary criticism in general, which she said, produced newly sprung essays "With my own books lying alongside them like shrivelled skins".

Page 30, 'The Road to Oamaru (pp18-33) in Tread Softly For You Tread On My Life: New & Collected Writings Michael King (Cape Catley 2001)

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