In the Margins of Myself (Marginalia 5)

Marginalists are a naturally subversive sort. This is their game. It suits them, therefore, to work alongside, underneath or top of other people’s work. This is their usual playing field. Here they truly thrive.

Writers like to subvert the words and meaning of other writers. We know this. What we also know, however, is that many writers like to subvert the words and meaning of themselves. So many writers are, in fact, revisers. Nothing is ever written that cannot be rewritten, added to: subverted.

It is not a great surprise, then, to find writers appearing in the margins of their own texts. Novelists and critics alike have long developed a habit of defacing their own books. Take Johannes Speyer for instance. I own his copy of Riding the Crest of Culture, left to me after his death. Once published, Speyer often returned to this book, filling the margins with possible revisions, from the extreme to the middling. This applied not only to the original text itself, but to the margins also; which is to say that the margins had margins. He was incapable of leaving anything be. Everytime he returned he returned with a different colour pen. The end result, as you can imagine, is a veritable rainbow of revisions – a multi-coloured web of wilful comments.

‘A book is never finished’, Speyer once wrote (in an unpublished essay). This text proves that he was as good as his words. Being published was simply part of the process of re-writing. It was never an end in itself. The work itself went on, albeit in the margins.

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