Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ralph Ellison's Endless Revisions

Ralph Ellison's failure to publish a finished follow-up novel to Invisible Man during his lifetime has baffled critics and scholars of American literature. While a posthumous text, larger than Juneteenth, is imminent, the scholars who edited Ellison's volumes of writing into the forthcoming book to be published by the Modern Library suggest that Ellison's embrace of word-processing technology led Ellison to revise, repeatedly, already well-crafted sentences. Anyone fascinated as I am about how how technologies, particular the digital computer, alter the way we think and write will want to read The Invisible Manuscript, which contains something of a cautionary tale about writing with word-processing software: Computers make it easier to rework your writing, yes. But avoid the temptation to revise pepetually. Writers, particularly those with perfectionist tendencies, can get lost in syntactic detail and lose track of the larger project.