All our so-called consciousness is a more or less fantastic commentary on an unknown, perhaps unknowable, but felt text.
Nicola Masciandaro and I are pleased to announce a new imprint of punctum books, Glossator Special Editions, a co-production of punctum and Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary. Glossator Special Editions will publish book-length commentaries and aims to encourage the practice of commentary as a creative form of intellectual work.
The first edition in this series, to be published in early 2012, is Ann Hassan’s Annotations to Geoffrey Hill’s Speech! Speech!, a thorough and patient explication of Hill’s 120-stanza densely allusive poem that both clarifies and deepens the poem’s difficulties, illuminating its polyphonic language and careening discursive movement. The author’s method is at once commentarial, descriptive, and narratorial, staying faithfully with the poem and following its complex verbal and logical turns. The book generously provides, rather than direct interpretative incursion, a more durable and productive document of “the true nature / of this achievement” (stanza 92), a capacious, open understanding of the text that will prove invaluable to its present and future readers.
What is commentary? While the distinction between commentary and other forms of writing is not an absolute one, the following may serve as guidelines for distinguishing between what is and is not a commentary:
- A commentary focuses on a single object (text, image, event, etc.) or portion thereof.
- A commentary does not displace but rather shapes itself to and preserves the integrity, structure, and presence of its object.
- The relationship of a commentary to its object may be described as both parallel and perpendicular. Commentary is parallel to its object in that it moves with or runs alongside it, following the flow of reading it. Commentary is perpendicular to its object in that it pauses or breaks from reading it in order to comment on it. The combination of these dimensions gives commentary a structure of continuing discontinuity and a durable utility.
- Commentary tends to maintain a certain quantitative proportion of itself vis-à-vis its object. This tendency corresponds to the practice of “filling up the margins” of a text.
- Commentary, as a form of discourse, tends to favor and allow for the multiplication of meanings, ideas, and references. Commentary need not, and often does not, have an explicit central thesis or argument. This tendency gives commentary a ludic or auto-teleological potential.