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Wednesday, February 13, 2008 3:44 pm
“counting the humps”
Posted by: Keir Graff

…and other ways that documentary editors use to determine authors’ intent. On Slate, more on the Robert Frost problem (“The Impossible Art of Deciphering Manuscripts,” by Megan Marshall):

One such reference seems to have tripped up Robert Faggen. A passage in which Frost alluded to fifth-century Mediterranean voyager Hanno the Carthaginian came out as “Hannof the Carlingian.” Context is all. That same sentence mentioned the “coast of West Africa.” Carthage, at least, should have popped to mind. In another passage, in which Frost compared a poet’s early drafts to a baseball player’s trial swings before stepping up to the plate, Faggen offered the phrase “picktie exhibition.” Yes, “public” was hard to read – but even a “pickle” exhibition would have made more sense. When you’re reduced to “counting humps,” as documentary editors refer to those moments of despair when they find themselves decoding words letter by letter, you know you’re in trouble. And, as always, the more complete read-throughs, the better. Faggen actually corrected himself on Hanno farther down on the same page, and got the annotation right. But the first mistaken reference remained for critics to pounce on.

Be sure to watch the slide show. It’ll curl your hair.

 


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