One of the reasons I buy used versions of books when I can, even when new versions are available for a better price, is the element of surprise in terms of the previous owners’ comments, markings, and doodles. This semester, in preparation for teaching Joyce Carol Oates’s 1966 story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I ordered from an indie bookstore a copy of an edition (Rutgers University Press, 1994) of the story and critical essays edited by Elaine Showalter. Although it’s marked-up throughout in red pen, one section caught my attention: an essay by Gretchen Schulz and R. J. R. Rockwood which originally appeared, in 1980, in Literature and Pychology. It’s an interesting essay that uses Freudian literary analysis (in the way that Freudian literary analysis was often used in the 70s and 80s, a bit heavy on Oedipus) but the anonymous earlier owner of the book obviously took exception, in delightfully “mad” ways, to the essay. I’ve scanned some images and include them, below.
A few speculations:
1. This was someone working on a dissertation, I think, because a few of this essays are marked “dis” or “dis.”–as if the person was thinking about using “x” essay in his/her dissertation.
2. Speaking of his/her: I think the person who marked up the book was XX not XY, based solely on my completely unforensic hunch about the nature of the handwriting. Am I alone, or when you look at handwriting–actual handwriting–do you associate it with a gender? And if so, on what basis?
3. What really haunts about marked-up books is the weird, blurred sense of audience. These notes seem to be private, for the person who made them, glosses for a later reading. And yet, isn’t there also an implied “other” audience? As if the person (whomever you are!) thought, even in the furthest back corners of her mind, that someday someone else (you, or me) would come across this book, and read the markings, and wonder. The beautiful, and sort of sad, thing is: I can never communicate back with the person who left these red notes.
4. I kept thinking of Judith Fetterly’s notion of “the resisting reader” during this.
5. Which is to say, if I could: I love you for your red comments, whoever you are, wherever you are. (And a while ago, at The Oxford American, something similar, from long, long ago . . .)