". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"White Cotton and Black River" - The Importance of Titles and of Editors

"White Cotton and Black River" is an extended meditation on my favorite subject, the interpenetration of history and literature. This is told through four Mississippi scions, two of whom are historical figures, Newton Knight and Jefferson Davis, and two of whom are literary, William Alexander Percy and William Faulkner. Though I write only about seven books specifically, I mention many others within the context of the subjects of the seven books.

Steamer Katie Robbins loaded with cotton.  Collection of the Old County Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The essay turned out to be something other than initially intended.  Giving up the embeds in the text of what I thought I was doing in favor of what I really was doing, was so hard, because I was so blind to those embeds.  Like our original text, like our darling but irrelevant parts, getting rid of preconceived notions is almost impossible by oneself.  But they are what drag down a piece of writing if allowed to remain.

Editors! We cannot have too much editorial input!

The most gratifying thing is that Editor loves it, loves it not least because he didn't know anything before about what's in it. He fell in love with Newton Knight.

I understand better now too, why I ended up with something different from what I was originally writing. It began changing because Editor hated the title I had: "Mississippi: Idyll and Elegy."

Thus I dropped the title, and was working without one. I never can compose without a title. So, I didn't know what I was doing anymore, and it took forever to get to what I got to. And I'd had all that embedded previous text composed around the now non-existent title.

So this is another first, putting a title to something finished, instead of starting with the title.

None of this matters a jot to anyone else, but it is interesting for me to think about. The writing process -- one never knows how it will proceed.

Lafayette County, model for Faulkner's Yoknapawtapha County

"White Cotton and Black River" is about 11,000 words, with about 18 illustrations. Before starting the revision and editorial process it was over 30, 000 words. Yah, alas, I am a very slow writer.

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