I have just learned that depending on where one orders my Christmas novella about Williamsburg, it is a coin-toss whether one has my name, book title, and press upon the spine. One ordering from Barnes and Noble, for instance, has the correctly printed work; but then one ordering from Amazon receives a book with an empty spine. There is nothing that can be done without stultifying the availability of the work. In order to amend this situation, I offer anyone with a blank spine a personal designed edition, the spine etched in cursive with lightly hued ink, for free. For such a copy or copies, write to jwdn[@]upenn.edu.
The devil has a different way of pursuing each person.
Cavazzoni, Brief Lives of Idiots
Sumus ergo etiam nunc in Tenebris.
Hobbes, De Regno Tenebrarum
I had never thought about modernizing an edition of a given Renaissance work until this past November, reading Richard Rambuss’s edition of Richard Crashaw. This experience planted the subtle idea in my head. Yet I did think of any one text in particular to work with in such a way; nor did I develop a modus operandi in determining how I’d find such a work to, in a word, “modernize.” The idea of modernizing a text is problematic enough for me; Stanwood’s Jeremy Taylor and Shawcross’s Milton had long ago ensured that modernized works held no interest for me.
As my examinations of Blake’s Milton: A Poem progressed, I decided to likewise look further into how Milton operated in the minds of Shelley and Melville. Such is a book in itself. But in my research, I began to encounter other names amidst the 17th c. influence on British and American romanticisms. One such name that came up in some footnote or another was that of Matthew Hale. After a biographical and bibliographic glance at Hale I gathered that his Contemplations Moral and Divine was the one I would pick up at once.
Alas! Contemplations is like Flaubert’s theory of the author as the dream of the shadow of God: present everywhere, visible nowhere.
As I sat down with Hale I began to wonder – why is this text so obtuse? There ought to be a critical edition of Contemplations that on the one hand modernizes spelling in order to bring Hale to a wider audience, while on the other hand perhaps there could be a version of the volume as-is. Perhaps not; the modernized spelling might simply compel readers to either enjoy Hale in such an edited version with critical introduction, or further induce them to seek out Hale in the archives.
Let us not just revisit works on Hale’s life and work available thus far in order to present an up-to-date account of the life and works. To do this, why yes, of course; but to do it also as to form the first part of a long introduction, the second part of which would be a thorough examination of Contemplations Moral and Divine in light of contemporary Renaissance, Early Modern scholarship.
Either way, such is the thought at the end of 2022, amidst distant traces of the crackling vinyl choral tradition.
An American scholar at work in an archives must be deeply grateful not just for the persons and materials at hand, but for the wealth of scholarship available on the archives itself. One in an archives is likely at some point – particularly with prolonged, regular usage of said archives – to start pondering at some point how in fact the materials make it to the table at which one is sitting, in my case with cradles, weighted lace, and dulled scalpel at hand. In some cases the research unfolds into a question of authorship, time period, acquisition, and the movements which eventually lead to the home institution. Director of Manuscripts and Archives in the Yale University Library Christine Weidman’s 2006 article “Accessioning as Processing” sheds light on these questions. Although critical functions of the archives such as digitization have only accelerated since the piece was written, I find much of her insight prescient in a manner that is not constricted to an institution such as Manuscripts and Archives at Yale, with its then-staff of twenty-six, 58,000 linear feet of holdings, and an average of 5,000 reference requests each year.
How, for instance, can the archivist decrease wait time in making materials available to a given interested party while facing the various obstacles of the archive in the age of digitality? Weidman offers both case studies and specific insights such as the seemingly banal exchange of more boxes forthcoming as a necessary part of less descriptive boxes, in order to keep the engine of things well-oiled. “For us,” writes Weidman, “that is an acceptable cost for making the materials available for research more quickly and keeping them out of the backlog, but it might not be so acceptable for a small repository with limited staff.” This hypothetical caveat is apparent to anyone who has worked in different types of archives; but it is doubly indispensable for the researcher, on one hand, and the students of archives, on the other, in more realistically approaching each archives encounter. Along with Greene and Meissner, Weidman affirms that a more well-running archives works to
encourage thinking about arrangement and description in flexible and creative ways. Every repository (and every collection) has unique circumstances that will dictate what can and should be done in the area of arrangement and description. In the past, it has primarily been arrangement, description, and preservation down to the folder and/or item level. For many of us, this is no longer a realistic option for every collection that we take in or that is already in our backlog. As some repositories have already begun to do, we have to be willing to test new methods, analyze their consequences, refine as needed, and share our experiences with colleagues throughout the profession.
This definitional and practical extension of the archives is also detailed in Carolyn Steedman’s “Archival Methods” from Research Methods for English Studies (Edinburgh University Press, 2005). In both cases we are less than reconsidering than learning altogether how “What you read in the archive is in that eternal, open moment” (Steedman 27).
For at least the next year, I’ll be working on both dissertational research as well as research into another book that I should have information about here in the near future at the University of Pennsylvania. Before proceeding, though, I’d like to offer some information on the Schoenberg Institute here, for those curious:
Guided by the vision of its founder, Lawrence J. Schoenberg, the mission of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) is to bring manuscript culture, modern technology and people together to bring access to and understanding of our intellectual heritage locally and around the world. Simply put, SIMS acts as a think-tank for manuscript studies in the digital age.
We advance the mission of SIMS by:
developing our own projects;
supporting the scholarly work of others both at Penn and elsewhere, and;
collaborating with and contributing to other manuscript-related initiatives around the world.
At the core of SIMS is the Lawrence J. Schoenberg collection of manuscripts, which was donated to the Penn Libraries in 2011 as part of a landmark gift establishing the Institute—the largest donation of its kind in the history of the library. Closely associated with this is our flagship digital project, also established by Larry Schoenberg: the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. This free, open-access resource enables scholars and enthusiasts to trace the provenance of manuscripts from their origins up to today, and has a large, global user community. The Institute publishes a bi-annual scholarly journal entitled Manuscript Studies, which appears online and in print, and also coordinates other occasional hard copy and digital publications. Every year, SIMS hosts a variety of visiting fellows on a rotating basis, ranging from graduate students to senior scholars; their presence forms a key aspect of the institute’s vibrant intellectual life. We also host, in partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia, the annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, which brings together scholars from Penn and around the world every November to present cutting-edge research related to a specific theme.
SIMS staff have also spearheaded major digitization and research initiatives, including the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis collaborative digitization project (2016–2019), and OPenn, the University of Pennsylvania’s open access digital repository for cultural works. Projects currently in development include the Digital Scriptorium 2.0 redevelopment planning project, VisColl collation visualization web app, and Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art web database.
Alongside these research activities, SIMS staff teach a range of manuscript-related courses in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences and at other venues such as Rare Book School and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities’ Dream Lab. They also host one-off visiting classes from the university and beyond who wish to examine manuscripts housed in Penn’s collections, at levels ranging from kindergarden to advanced graduate study.
My work at the Institute can be found in abridged form here.
For my first round of examined materials from the Schoenberg Institute I chose four that operate as entrances into the greater projects on various levels.
Augustine of Hippo’s Commentary on Genesis, fragment dated 1650-1750, should not escape the Miltonist at the start of their own sojourn. Prerequisite classic studies into form and function of both Puritanism and Paradise Lost itself should include Perry Miller and C.S. Lewis, among several other works I intend to assemble syllabi with. But I mention Miller and Lewis here because they really opened my eyes into the critical place Augustine holds in the Puritan vision of reality as well as Paradise Lost on the whole. I would likewise recommend these books to colleagues, students, and general readers alike, as I would the life and work of Augustine.
My foray into Pomponius Mela is related to an earlier study concerning Macrobius and Pseudo-Dionysius (see below) in elements of Dante’s political theology, a study which seamed effortlessly into a summer seminar with Milton that was the beginning of many things. I have yet to come across a method by which to weigh the theories concerning the existence of the planet beyond Creation and Apocalypse on one hand, and Eternality and Indestructability on the other, than by undertaking analyses of geographical theories throughout millennia. What can Pomponius Mela tell us? Perhaps, along with Democritus and Heidegger, that there is no ontological progress, but only technological unfolding masquerading as such.
In my work, the dual shadow of Pseudo-Dionysius and Marsilio Ficino cloak Renaissance Rome. I have also been accused of advocating a fusion of Ficino’s and Hegel’s system(s), an accusation I have less denied than built upon, having considered it at length.
Joseph Wittreich’s Latest Donation
Part of the joy of working in the archives is the element of spontaneity that waits in the wings of silent concentration. Most often, this spontaneity is interior, and intertextual; but it can unfold in other ways, too, as in the case of this most recent donation from Joseph Wittreich. It is really miraculous in its own way that of all the Miltonists whose work I have read, I should be present for interactions with one whose books influence my own work so much. Wittreich’s work and kindness as a person have had an enormous influence on me as both a writer and a mortal. I’ll let this gem from his collection speak for itself, dropped off the day before my most recent session at the archives.
Moving forward, I’ll have plenty of textual analyses, translations, and comments on things happening at the archives. For now, I thought it best to just provide an overview before potentially getting too heady. Enjoy!
Est vera secta ? te, Magister, consulo. rectamne servamus fidem ? an viperina non cavemus dogmata, et nescientes labimur ? artam salutis vix viam discernere est inter reflexas semitas.
For the academic year 2022-2023 I have decided to switch things up and keep a weekly blog on my work at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. This shall be not only a chronicle of life in the archives, examining Milton’s Roman typologies and the essence of their sources, but a matter of medievalism, Philadelphia, and whatever else comes up along the way. I understand that this sounds less like an epiphany than something obvious to do. But for one has kept distance from digitality for all of his adult life, it is an undertaking, or exercise, in lifting the hermetic seal for a time, offering audiences both general and specialized a look into the world of manuscripts, medievalism, and early modern literature.
While the work therein shall be primarily for my unfolding dissertation, I am also collecting items for another book I’ve been developing scaffolded chapters on, which we call “The Second Book.” The idea is for this book to be completed after the primary dissertational work is complete. “The Second Book” is a study of Nietzsche’s 125th aphorism in the Gay Science in conjunction with John Milton’s Samson Agonistes. I have been profoundly moved by Giuseppe Fornari’s two-volume Dionysus, Christ, and the Death of God, a work that helped develop this idea, in addition to experiences at Fordham University, Columbia University, Temple University, UCLA, and the Mutter Museum, among others, which have all conjoined in the thrownness of things. The analysis concerns many things: typology, theology, mimesis, Rene Girard, Attic drama, disability, phenomenology, early modern documents, analyses of the Samson legend as well as the history of the concept of the death of God, in addition to Heidegger, Michel Henry, the history of dogmas, Mircea Eliade, and Ioan Couliano.
Thus, for the reader potentially uninterested in medieval manuscripts and Milton’s Roman typologies, the series promises to have various undercurrents interwoven throughout its pictorial and textual odyssey. Rather than seasonal briefings on books, I hope to at last have something on this very site that persons can read with regularity.
I will have more on this soon, as well as the unearthing of my first sci-fi novel (think Olaf Stapledon, J.G. Ballard, Pierre Guyotat, Philip K. Dick). I am in the process of finding an illustrator for the book, and shall again keep the updates coming.
Polk Street is now available for purchase in a limited, privately printed run.
Sonnets is available in a limited, preliminary leatherbound printing, through Phenomenology of Spirit.
This summer I am Kenneth Karmiole Doctoral Fellow at UCLA, engaged in dissertational research.
Fall 2022 through Spring 2023 I will be working at, with, the University of Pennsylvania, as Schoenberg Doctoral Fellow, on similar aspects of dissertational research.
Given the nature and primacy of this and other work, there has been little time to work on Syllogistic, my novel written entirely in syllogisms about a character attempting to decipher the history of syllogistic in chronological research explicated in the form of his own philosophical novel. That said, I have had free spans of weeks here and there, and I am elated to report that the work, Syllogistic, is now about halfway through. It is doubtful that it shall receive anything more than isolated spats of days and weeks for the next couple of years. Still, within these spats, the work has been unfolding well. I am thinking that it could be finished in one to two years at this point, but this hypothesis is predicated on occasional schedule gaps, or an actual (rather than theoretical) break in my predominant scholarly work.
I believe that is all for now. Part of me would like to see Polk Street and [the] Sonnets, but such yearning is not near the top of one’s severest prerogatives.
My advice for aspiring penmen is more or less mollified calumniation. See also Empedocles, Sextus Empiricus, Jerome, Robert Copland, Nicolaus Lyranus, and The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1652).
There is a proposed exegesis in the works … though that too must come later (or at least remain secret).
Blue cloth, gold lettering, color William Blake illustration.
Limited to 25 copies altogether, of which ten remain.
Latinized edition: Josephus Nicolellus.
Email me directly if you, your gallery, library, &c. would like a copy (personally inscribed).
Written in 2009, Polk Street has circulated in various editions ever since. Often close to landing at one publishing house or another, I was each time asked to alter the nihilistic cadence, something I was – obviously – unwilling to do. It is a narrative destruction of all political parties, war against idols, something of a Kierkegaardian take on the Dostoyevskian Underground Man, transpiring on one street, in one day: Polk Street, San Francisco, from Market to Beach/Fisherman’s Wharf.
Sonnets forthcoming in an equally limited edition, black cloth w. gold, William Blake illustration, 107 sonnets informed by the architectural systems and lives of the medieval cathedral builders.
At the end of 2019 some friends and I set out to launch a new literary journal. Photographs, artworks, and a long interview with myself were set up as a call for material was detailed. Yet the journal never came to be. However, the interview shall be published here in a relatively near future, regarding a variety of controversial, orthodox, banal, political, religious, aesthetic, and scholarly matters.
At the same time, the draft of a new type of book is nearing the end of its initial stages. This book is called Syllogistic – for now – and is a novel written completely in syllogisms concerning an author struggling to write the definitive history of syllogistic.
Below is artwork completed in twelve seconds, that will surely not be the actual cover of the book. However, a bird informed me that a handful of meager sentences might appear cryptic, and thus I have attached the not-cover for a book that does itself exist, or shall, here in the lifeworld.