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Material Texts: Peter Stallybrass (Penn), “Whitman: Manuscript in Print”
Monday, March 12, 2018 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center
6th Floor of Van-Pelt Library

We will be welcoming Peter Stallybrass for a talk entitled: “Walt Whitman and the Manufacture of Manuscript.” Peter writes:

After the early anonymous editions of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman had his signature cast in metal to print on the bindings and title pages of his books, and also started selling an “autograph” edition in which he signed every copy. Much as he hated autograph hunters, he recreated himself as the “manuscript” poet whom they craved.

When Whitman published his poems, he obsessively worked on the details of how they would appear on the page, having each separate poem job-printed as proofs before collecting the revised versions into books. But a curious feature of these “proofs” is that they were printed in multiple copies and many were marked up by Whitman himself in exactly the same way. The multiplicity, as well as the survival, of these “proofs” reveals that they are not really proofs to be returned to the printer for corrections at all. They were in fact printed copies of his poem with the crucial addition of his own hand-written revisions. He sent these to friends and patrons on both sides of the Atlantic, where they were carefully preserved – above all, because they contained the material traces of Whitman’s own hand. In other words, Whitman reinvented manuscript circulation in the age of print.

My talk will focus on how Whitman used “manuscript” in printed works not to make money but to create the literary archive that we now have, one of the most massive collections of manuscript remains of any nineteenth century author. At the same time, I will give an example of how he made a “first draft” by carefully copying out an earlier version (mistakes, crossings-out and all) to create what has always been believed to be the first version of the poem, but which is in fact a manufactured relic, designed for posterity.

Peter Stallybrass is a retired professor of English who is at present teaching more courses than he has ever taught in his life. One of these courses is “Introduction to Print Culture,” which Roger Chartier and he have co-taught since 2001. This course has been a major inspiration for his scholarly research, together with libraries and librarians (particularly on the 6th floor at Penn, at the Library Company of Philadelphia, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and at the Huntington Library), the work of the University of Pennsylvania Press, other co-taught courses with friends and colleagues, and collaborative publications and research groups. Above all, what has kept him going since 1993, when it first began, is the History of Material Texts Workshop and the inspiration of its participants.