Wednesday, November 05, 2014


Alphabet Soup

The University of California Press is in the process of publishing The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan. Robert Bringhurst, "Alphabet Soup: Robert Duncan, bad Greek and the University of California Press," Times Literary Supplement (October 17, 2014), p. 14, discusses two of the volumes (The Collected Early Poems and Plays and The Collected Later Poems and Plays) and points out:
There are, if I've counted correctly, just over 200 words of Greek scattered through the two volumes, and in those words alone I count 130 typographic errors. The errors are new and original, not copied from Duncan's manuscripts or from previous editions of work. They are also persistently inventive. When a Greek word or phrase is repeated in the text or the editor's notes, it is misspelled differently each time. The errors stand out in books that are otherwise handsomely printed (typographic errors outside the Greek are mercifully rare). This beats by a huge margin everything else in Duncan's own error-infested publication history. Even the famously error-prone New Directions editions of Pound's Cantos come nowhere close. The Greek passages in The Cantos average a mere twenty errors per hundred words. There are over sixty per hundred in the Duncan.
What is worse, there is no excuse for the errors, since Bringhurst himself provided the editor (Peter Quartermain) with a clean digital copy of the Greek quotations:
I was unaware until recently that when Quartermain presented his vast manuscript to the Press and offered them the corrected digital Greek, they turned him down, offering to handle the work themselves.

Most of the errors in the books could only have been made by someone altogether innocent of Greek. Letters that can only be used at the beginnings or ends of Greek words are placed in the middle, letters with similar shapes are confused with one another, and the diacritics that abound in classical Greek are freely interchanged or replaced with diacritics borrowed from Latin or Cyrillic.
Two volumes of The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan, including The Collected Later Poems and Plays, won the Poetry Foundation's Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. Bringhurst asks:
This leaves me wondering if the Poetry Foundation — heir to the critical intelligence of Harriet Monroe and Ezra Pound — is in the same predicament as the University of California Press. Can no one at that illustrious institution distinguish Greek from gobbledegook (or even from Cyrillic)?

I corrected a couple of Greek misprints in another publication from the University of California Press here.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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