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Experimental Bibliography Plan
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Experimental Bibliography Plan

3 min read

Making my traditional bibliography for The History of Eliza Warwick, it seemed like a lot of the information expected in such a bibliography has a representative function, or else describes an anomaly. Representative information, that could tell us something about the work as a whole, like the title and publication date, and information about anomalies that you wouldn’t expect given only the representative information, such as ornaments or weird pagination, both make the cut. Some of the information that the highly codified form of the traditional bibliography demands, like pagination and collation, struck me as not particularly useful in representing the novel, instead simply uniting to say, “We are a book with pages.” On the other hand, information about plot and characters had no place in the traditional bibliography. How do you decide what information is representative, and what information is just incidental? Isn’t this distinction kind of arbitrary?

These questions remind me of Barthes’s claim that one can distinguish between details that are symbolic and details that serve no other purpose than to unite with other otherwise meaningless details to create reality effect. As a number of people pointed out in class, the distinction between Flaubert’s pyramid of boxes and his barometer seems arbitrary -- how does Barthes know the barometer isn’t a symbol? How can you tell what is reality effect, and what has a representative or symbolic purpose?

Just as the barometer might conceivably be an ignored symbol, might in fact want to convey a meaning other than “We are the real,” the many pieces of information left out of the traditional bibliography, judged not to be necessary for cataloguing the novel, might also relevant to its categorization. The traditional bibliography includes information about volumes, but not the sub-divisions within volumes. Eliza Warwick, an epistolary novel, is divided into letters, bracketed by salutations, valedictions, and the occasional postscript, but the traditional bibliography doesn’t capture that information. So, my experimental bibliography will.

I’m taking the formal components of the letters that make of Eliza Warwick -- salutations, valedictions, and postscripts -- and superimposing them onto barometers. For each component of the letter, the barometer’s arrow points to one thing: “We are the epistolary novel.” Except, the letters’ openings and signoffs signify more than just reality effect; signoffs like “Your affectionate friend, C. Huntley” also convey information about the main characters and their affect towards one another. My goal is twofold: to convey this information and to suggest that it, like the barometer that is measuring it and classifying it as reality effect, can’t be easily classified as either reality effect or representative, just as people in class felt that Barthes should not be so quick to dismiss Flaubert’s barometer as a symbol.