MLA 2021 You Didn’t Write, You Rewrote: Revision and Literary Production
Writers have long used revision as a creative tool, well before writing classrooms institutionalized it as such. Think of Pound ruthlessly cutting Eliot’s Waste Land, Moore slashing most of “Poetry,” and Robert Lowell turning stories and letters into cinquains, sonnets, and blank verse--and then revising some of those poems again, into other forms. To many, such acts of revision are the markers of a serious writer, one who pursues perfection in multiple drafts. But to others, it is the raw, riveting first draft that bears the marks of spontaneity, originality, and authenticity, like Frank O’Hara jotting down his Lana Turner “Poem” just hours before giving it at a reading, or the improvisational mode of freestyle rap where artists create and perform wholly new lingual constructions at once and on the spot.
Revision, this panel suggests, is an increasingly important area for literary studies as new technologies continue to make writers’ drafts, scraps, and rare published materials easier to access. Indeed, theoretical questions of revision have long been at the heart of exegetical debates, guiding scholars toward certain versions of texts over older, fragmented, or possibly apocryphal ones. Notions of revision extend beyond textual interpretation, too, with powerful social and political resonances. For example, revision has been a keyword for feminists since before Adrienne Rich wrote “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” (1972) and for Black studies since at least Gates’ The Signifying Monkey (1988).
We welcome papers addressing all elements of the relationship between revision and literary production, perhaps taking up questions such as: What do revision theories and practices teach us about revision today? How do we read unpublished drafts and texts that exist in multiple published versions? What can revision reveal about literary production and literary studies? If we are taught that writing and reading are interrelated processes when we study literature, how does the revision process fit into that model?