Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 24, Number 1, March 2002.

ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)


2002 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Several months ago I began to wonder, what could I possibly say in this address that members of our Association had not heard before? How to begin after a full dinner, with an audience of slightly drowsy, cropful scholars who share so many of the same articles of faith regarding theory and practice? What had Mary-Jo Kline not at least touched upon in her magisterial Guide to Documentary Editing? What had we not discussed since the mid-1980's when I attended my first ADE annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island? What kindly advice had G. Thomas Tanselle not thundered; which comic note or chord had that rascal John Simon not sounded?

Novelty was possible if I recounted my experiences with the textual remains of Anne Bradstreet, Charles W Chesnutt, and my pet figure Frank Norris. But these seemed rather narrow topics to inflict upon an audience so various and, at this hour, so near to the gate of the kingdom of Nod. Interest might be stirred did I suggest that we jettison the sobriquet of editor so that we might end the ongoing ordeal of having to explain to others special kind of editing we do. Good Lord, how many times do we have to go through that? But, should my modest proposal trigger a riot, the ADE treasurer would be hard pressed to pay for the broken crockery, bent flatware, and my medical bills. Finally, a bit of documentary evidence having to do with Norris suggested a solution. I recalled his response to a like situation: he decided to speak on nothing----absolutely nothing at all. That was the actual subject of a formal presentation he made when a student at Berkeley. It occurred to me, then, that my only hope for finding the-road-less-traveled-by lay in likewise testing the wayward path of irrelevance. Thus I cast my lot; and, in short order, real life provided a portion of my script, truth having once again trumped fiction and pointed the way that I should venture forth.