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editing books

Feb 01, 1995 02:10 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


I'll be in Florida on Business for the next five days, but
will pick up on responses when I return.

ET>In reading your postings last week, I can see that we
basically agree regarding the preparation of old
theosophical books for republication. The only point of
difference might be where we handle obsolete words. I'd
replace them, judiciously; other people might include the
definition in square brackets or a footnote.

I can't think of any obsolete words in Blavatsky, Judge etc.
Any words that I have needed to look up were always in a good
dictionary.  Perhaps a word might have shifted meaning.  For
instance "gay" has taken on new meaning since HPB's time, but I
think most people still understand the older meaning without an
editor resorting to substituting the word or putting it in square
brackets.  Besides a good dictionary would account for the
changes of meaning.  If editorial interference were necessary, I
would opt for the square brackets in a footnote.

ET>In my comments to Liesel where I mention that I'd leave
alone books with a few exceptions, my "few exceptions"
refers to the "left alone," e.g. to slight corrections as
I've discussed elsewhere. My "few exceptions" was not
intended to imply that we leave most books alone, and revise
but a selected few titles.

I understand.  I was just asking for examples.

ET>I'm sorry if I've upset you with my last comments about what
you've said regarding editing books. I realize that you're
not for intentionally making or keeping books hard to read
simply because you've studied them the hard way, an attitude
which you aptly characterize as "puritanical crap." You may
have been too quick to defend yourself, though, when feeling
unjustly criticized, rather than asking me: What do you mean
by this?

No apology necessary.  I wasn't upset.  Apparently,
sometimes my posts have a way of suggesting that I'm upset when
I'm not at all.  This has happened before.  Any suggestions?

I took your "hard way" the way you meant it, that I "studied
them the hard way", and expect others to do the same.  My
personal standards are too high for myself to put up with most of
the time, causing anxiety and ulcers.  I wouldn't wish them on
anybody :-).

ET>When you make a strong statement that, as a general rule,
the works of dead authors should be left untouched, you're
making an evaluation of right or wrong, an ethical judgment.
The question is the ethical treatment of works of authors,
now dead and unable to review and approve any proposed
changes to their works.

Yes, one is making an ethical judgement.  Is it ethical for
someone to intentionally (or even unintentionally) misrepresent
your intellectual property after you are dead.

ET>There are a number of changes that could be make to a book,
when reprinting it. Each change needs to be evaluated on a
case-by-case basis, and a separate value judgment made, with
some supporting justification. With ethics, we don't just
have an absolute black-and-white rule which says "always
this way," but rather have a careful weighing of the pros
and cons of an individual situation, with the balance
tipping towards the greater common good.

We also have standards of scholarship to consider.  Those
standards were established to protect the author from

ET>What are some example changes that might be made to books,
when reprinted? First, a facsimile edition needs to be
preserved, regardless of other editions, for historical and
scholarly research.


ET>The books could be computerized and
retypeset. The quotes could be typographical set apart from
the body text, and perhaps even set apart with a different
color on a computerized book. Spellings could be corrected
to American English (changing "colour" to "color" may affect
the feeling of a poem, but not a block of prose).

OK, but why bother.  "colour" tells me that the author is
probably British.  Why disguise that?

ET>Sanskrit and other foreign terms could be given standardized
spellings, accents, and hyphens.

Standardization of Sanskrit is fine, if it helps the reader to
find the word elsewhere.

ET> Original page markers could be inserted (e.g.  a bold "[20]"
where the end of the original page 20).  Obsolete terms could be
corrected or definitions annotated.  And corrective annotations
could be brought in from later works to explain or correct the
materials (e.g.  in "Esoteric Buddhism" we could add as
annotations HPB's corrections in subsequent years).

Fine, as needed.

ET>Taking out materials that are considered offensive, illogical,
or stupid by today's standards, to sanitize an author's works
(like taking racist comments out of CWL's or Jinarajadasa's

Now we come to a question of motive.  Perhaps the readers might
consider CWL's or CJ's racist remarks relevant to their
evaluation of these writers.  Why disguise their racist
attitudes? To make them appear that they are not? Is that being
honest with the reader? Same for illogical or stupid remarks.
Why not leave them in for the reader to evaluate.  The job of the
editor is *not* to determine what the reader should or should not
see.  That is censorship.

ET>How do we distinguish what are good from what are bad changes
to books? Good changes make the literature more readable, more
lucid; they remove unnecessary roadblocks to a reader's
comprehension of the literary work.  Bad changes repress or alter
the contents of a book, to make it say something different,
because of some political agenda or desire to sanitize
objectionable contents.

Right on!


PJ> As I recall the passage from Jerry S.  about not having read
any Theosophical classics was in response to Dan Caldwell's
request for people to post their recommended reading lists, or
rather in response to someone's response.  As to dates??? maybe
around Christmas.  Dan might recall.

Yes, I recall the context--just missed the joke.  Maybe Dan will
find it.  Thanks.

Ken O'Neill,

Thanks for the report on Prophet.  Do you have a reading list for

Jerry Hejka-Ekins

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