Modern MS Codex Project: Editorial Group Reflection

Editor’s Initial Layout Thoughts: At first, our design was very basic with only a general idea of how we might lay pictures and text in our manuscript.

 

Design Statement


The editing team was tasked with assembling a sizable amount of text into a single work and organizing it in such a way that a greater meaning could be discerned from the work as a whole. This meant that the team had to determine both the selection(paradigm) and arrangement(syntagm) of the texts that the class had provided us with. The team was also forced to make several challenging calls about the project’s nature and direction. Key among these challenges was the level of revision we would put the initial works through.

The challenges that the group faced existed primarily in an abstract form. From the onset of the project, they felt daunting. The texts could be put through a myriad of possible combinations and permutations, but what would truly be the best way to sort them? We were initially uneasy about what would ultimately be our final arrangement: a division of the text into thematic categories, meant to emphasize the fundamental interdependence of form and function in Chaucer’s works.

At first, this thematic arrangement lacked a thorough “meaning” to it beyond what we had been taught in class. We all understood that Chaucer was more of a subversive figure than he might seem from a Layman’s perspective. It would feel trivial to deliver what was essentially the same conclusion that Jones delivered  in his work, when our text itself was something that would only really be perused by individuals who were already schooled in the field. The most compelling alternate arrangement we arrived upon was a simple chronological one. This would transform the text into what amounted to an extended biography of Chaucer. Nothing elaborate or inspiring, but nevertheless something a bit more novel than a mere regurgitation of Jones’s works.

 

The inspiration for our arrangement came from the form of the work itself. Because our manuscript foregrounded its status as a physical artifact constructed in a manner more akin to Medieval text than a contemporary production, it would only be appropriate to argue within the text that form and function are intrinsically bound to one another. As one can observe by a simple glance at the table of contents, the analyses that are primarily rhetorical in nature are positioned in the middle two sections, punctuated on either side by the analyses that are formal in nature. This was intentional: people tend to pay more attention to the first and last portions of any given text,and as such, an emphasis is placed on the other two sections, those arguments that concerned themselves with the concrete world-history and form- took up the outermost sections of the passage. Of these two sections , history was chosen to lead off the work, simply because the history essays would be a better way to establish a context for the sections to follow.

Arrangement of Text: The number of themes and essays depended upon the layout and length of the book. Therefore we analyzed the two-column approach that the scribes would utilize to decide how much text would fit on a single page.

The very first analysis within our collection was chosen as a sort of “concession” passage, providing a counterargument to the overarching secondary theme of our work, that being that Chaucer, as concluded by Jones, was a daring social subversive who managed to challenge the conventions of the time without declaring outright war on the establishment. Within sections, the rest of the essays were primarily ordered based on their ability to serve as “transitions” between their own section and the section immediately adjacent to each individual essay. We were only able to fit a single essay into the final section largely because very few of the individuals in the class actually chose to write about the subject. Unfortunately, the essay itself didn’t give a full coverage of the actual physical form of the writing itself, and instead focused on the poetry. We did feel that the subject matter of the initial poem, however, was very appropriate for a  closing discussion on the status of Chaucer’s works as physical artifacts.

The introduction itself was the product of one of the group’s editors, Will. He opted to concern himself primarily with that specific section,allowing the rest of the group to focus more extensively on editing the available passages.

Discussion of Process

Our group initially convened in class, on the same date that all of the other groups first met together. Because our task would share some significant overlaps with that of the design team -namely, page breaks and the finer points of the text’s formatting- we made acting in concert with their desires a top priority of our in-class discussion. Although the design team had provided a basic layout or vision for the manuscript, we still  had  to create a tangible and detailed outline of the manuscript’s content for the fabrication team to then follow.  This goal brought with it our fundamental challenges.  Our team needed to blend artful vision with reality, for our final product would have to be something that the remaining teams could work on without expending excruciating amounts of effort. Therefore, when the design team provided insight into their final design, our editorial team carefully analyzed even the most seemingly ordinary of details in order to determine whether the ideas presented in the design team’s brief were in actuality feasible. This initial discussion contributed to the design team’s final product and laid the groundwork for the rest of the project.

The Combination of Art and Logistics: This letter depicts the design team’s focus on visual details. We, as editors, needed to meld this creativity with logistics in order to create a working manuscript.

After the initial design had been composed and chosen by a democratic vote, the heart of the editing process began.  Our team’s process began with a meeting in the CULC where we chose content, including general themes and the poems and essays that coincided with them.  Our team decided that Chaucer appears to have four main themes in his collection of short poems: historical background, morality, romance, and form.  Once we had determined the themes, we chose the poems and essays that we would include.  Based upon time constraints and writing required for each essay, we determined that each of the themes would house two poems/essays.  After choosing the essays, our team decided that we would proofread each essay for basic grammar/punctuation errors and general coherence.  We came to the conclusion that tampering with our classmates’ works should not go beyond minor revisions that would not alter the spirit of the works. This is for the better: each member of the editorial team could not be as well versed in the subject matter as the author of the work.  Our team then began to ask how might we best meld the themes and essays together into a final collection of work that flowed from start to finish.  We resolved this issue by adding a brief intro to each section, which would transition the reader from one thematic idea to the next.

At this point in time in our editorial process, we delegated responsibilities as to who would write each introduction and began to use a google doc to house what would be our final outline of the manuscript.  We began to create a page by page layout, which specifically detailed placement of picture, poems, and essays within the manuscript.  As we completed each introduction, we inserted them into their appropriate, designated areas.  The final product came together easily as a result of our initial meeting.  By determining our group goals and general concepts in the beginning, our team lacked any questions as to how we would complete our contributions to the project after we departed from the meeting.  Due to our combined efforts, we were able to push out an acceptable final edition by the arranged date,and the baton was ready to be passed into the hands of the remaining teams.

What We learned

The principal problem that our group faced was actually an organizational one. After the initial design was selected by the class, we had a deceptively brief window of opportunity to work on our project. Unfortunately, we had not determined which passages to include in our text by the time the design team had finished its work and the final design had been chosen. Because of this, we were unable to work in-depth with the authors of the seven essays we chose in this passage. Because of this,we were basically constrained to making minor edits, and even then, the group felt uncomfortable about each individual edit it made to the original texts.

While we all had some ability to organize thoughts together to form cohesive arguments, we nevertheless did not initially feel adequately skilled to come up with a definitive “best” arrangement of the arguments in question. With the weight of the class’s ambitions , ideals, and desires resting upon our group’s shoulders, we were plagued with uncertainties about the route that the project should take. We learned to break out of a mentality that had been ingrained into us from our previous studies: the thought that there is a necessarily “best” answer to a challenge at hand.  Instead,  there is a certain value to be had in decisiveness, in efficiently formulating a specific strategy that works on its own right. In this case, we chose to take the project in a compelling direction that would ultimately produce a package that we feel is compelling.

Conclusion

Editing such a large project has had its share of challenges and successes, from deciding which essays and poems to include in the final version, to the proper layout of each individual piece. While the basic idea of what the manuscript was going to look like had already been established by the Design team, it was up to us to collect and finalize the actual content of the manuscript. While choosing which texts to include, we looked at the overall message that each piece conveyed to the reader, and at the contribution that it could make to the manuscript as a whole. We tried to keep each essay and poem that we decided to include as close to the original as possible, both to preserve its message and to keep our impact on each work minimal, so that the authors’ own words would be conveyed to the reader rather than someone else’s interpretation.

Final Layout: After all our considerations, we settled upon this final design to house both our creative, visual ideas and our literary content.


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