Juxta and excess: The case of Aimé Césaire

(Guest post by Alex Gil – read full entry at NINES)

I’m a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Virginia currently working on a digital edition of Aimé Césaire’s early works under the sponsorship of  l’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie and ITEM. Some of this work also moonlights as my rather schizoid dissertation (read French poet/English Department) and I consider it part of my long-term goal of generating and sustaining enthusiasm for reliable digital editions of neo-canonical Caribbean literary texts. I am rather new to this blog, but not to Juxta. I started working with Juxta around the time when I started working with Aimé Césaire’s signature poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, roughly 2 years ago. At the time, Juxta saved me enormous amounts of time proofreading my retooled OCRs and generating an apparatus. It was later, when I started working with Et les chiens se taisaient, a longer text with substantially more variants and transpositions, that Juxta revealed to me both its current shortcomings and its ultimate promise.

We could say that Aimé Césaire was a migratory poet in the fullest sense: He had perfect pitch for context and used it to quickly adapt his voice to new audiences as his work traveled around three continents. As a student of literature he was as much a product of his Paris education as he was of the journey that brought him there and back to his home base in Martinique. His major works, and the many revisions they were subjected to during his lifetime, provide the final testimony to his restless poetic trajectory.

To the textual critic who approaches this corpus for the first time, one feature stands out above all others: The sheer number of transpositions from one version to another. In past conversations, I have likened his stanzas and lines to Lego blocks in order to quickly explain how he seems to have an utter disregard (or is it exactly the opposite?) for sequence. In the case of Et les chiens se taisaient the text begins its life as a three-act play on the Haitian Revolution, has an adolescence as a poetic oratorio with heavy Christian overtones and grows up to be a heavily abstract play about the struggle between universal Slave and Master figures. Throughout this transformation, stanzas and lines are bandied about without care for consistency, sometimes going from one speaker to his or her antagonist in a later version.

When I began using Juxta for Et les chiens se taisaient, I only expected the same functionality that was perfect to the T for Cahier d’ un retour au pays natal, but as soon as I started working with the first two instantiations of the text, the manuscript and the oratorio, obstacles and yearnings started cropping up. In its current build (1.3.1), Juxta struggles with long texts with many transpositions. After several meetings with NINES and Nick Laiacona, it became clear that a memory issue combined with the graphic rendering of connectors was the culprit. Apparently, Juxta has a built-in limit to the amount of internal memory it uses from the machine, and rendering the graphic connectors puts substantial pressure on these resources.  To account for transpositions, Juxta allows you to mark “moves” manually from one text to the next, creating a list of these moves as you go along in one of the bottom panels. This system is intuitive and easy to use, and complements the automated functions nicely, but it becomes unwieldy in a collection with heavy traffic. While Cahier d’ un retour au pays natal had a total of four, albeit significant, moves in its four major versions, Et les chiens se taisaient has an overwhelming 64 moves just between the manuscript and the first published version!

Click here to read the full entry at NINES.

One thought on “Juxta and excess: The case of Aimé Césaire

  1. Pingback: on sequences, noise and Juxta.

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