The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors

Although Canadian Poetry does not normally publish responses to reviews, an exception has been made in the case of the following, a response by Robert Lecker and Jack David and a reply by D.G. Lochhead concerning Professor Lochhead's "A Select Checklist in Progress" in Canadian Poetry, 9 (Fall/Winter, 1981), 100-103.

The last issue of Canadian Poetry contained a review by D.G. Lochhead of The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors (ABCMA), Volumes One and Two.  Lochhead damns the two books and raises questions about the validity of the ABCMA series as a whole.  He asks, "Does this series come to grips with our real needs?"  and concludes that "The answer is, unhappily, in the negative."  But only if we support Lochhead's bibliographic and scholarly assumptions about "our real needs" will the answer be "in the negative."

     What are these assumptions?  First, Lochhead argues that "The most pressing need in English Canadian literature is for an enumerative bibliography supported by more specialized descriptive bibliographies of authors whose work is complete."  Second, Lochhead maintains that "a major bibliographical effort" (which "would be devoid of annotations") is needed "to produce a detailed and comprehensive record of primary and secondary sources over the whole range of English Canadian literature from 1628 to the present."   Third, Lochhead suggests that it might have been better if the editors of ABCMA had included "100 to 150 authors who had died before 1960."

     For Lochhead, a bibliography of an individual author must be primarily a descriptive bibliography if it's really worth its salt.   It should deal with an author who is dead.  And it must have no critical annotations.  The fact that ABCMA was not designed to meet these criteria so upsets Lochhead that he is unable to get past the title and concept of the series.   He purports to review Volumes One and Two, yet he says nothing about the ten individual bibliographies.  He complains about "uneven annotations" ("of course") but offers no evidence to support his claim.  He inaccurately argues, from what reasoning it is unclear, that "it is apparent that the compilers have approached scholars who are working on biographies."  On what basis does he conclude that this "apparent" approach applies to the series at large?  No basis for this conclusion is offered anywhere in ABCMA for the simple reason that the conclusion is false.  He complains that "doctoral students" and "more experienced scholars" have expressed little need for ABCMA and then argues that the bibliography not only responds to "the current trend of Ph.D. research," but that it also makes this response a "basis for selection."   He speculates on "How many bibliographies of 'major' authors have been commissioned for the series" and concludes:  "Very few it would seem."   Why it would "seem" this way is difficult to understand.  The fact is that all of the bibliographies have been commissioned.  Lochhead wonders about the projected cost of the series ("likely to be in the neighbourhood of $300.00") but never asks whether the projected Canadian version of CBEL he so strongly endorses would not be comparable in price.  "How many individuals will be prepared to invest that amount of money. . . .?" Surely Professor Lochhead knows that multi-volume reference series are sold primarily to libraries.  How many individuals own CREL?  The expense, for the paperbound version of ABCMA, would be approximately $200.00; furthermore, each author bibliography is also published as a fascicle, so that Professor Lochhead could acquire a complete set of bibliographies on dead authors for less than $100.00.

     One might claim that the argumentative issues raised above really have little to do with the actual books that Lochhead has reviewed.  But these issues reveal the tactics and assumptions Lochhead has used to judge ABCMA.  On the simplest level, many of Lochhead's statements about the scope and intention of the project are pure speculation.  The examples he uses to support his claims are often factually incorrect.  It is not true, for example, that the bibliography of "Scott" — be it F.R. Scott or D.C. Scott (both are included) — is being compiled by the person writing his biography. (The person writing the F.R. Scott biography is Sandra Djwa; the person compiling the ABCMA F.R. Scott bibliography is Robert Still.  The person most closely associated with D.C. Scott's biography is Robert McDougall; the person compiling the D.C. Scott bibliography for ABCMA is Laura Groening.)  It is not true that the ABCMA selection of authors is based "on doctoral dissertations known by the editors to have been recently completed or in progress."

     Lochhead's standards bear scrutiny because they represent one side of a bibliographic rift that is developing in Canada.  It may be that the appearance of ABCMA as a large-scale, ongoing series has provoked the first open expression of this rift.  But the debate we are caught in has been growing since the late 1960's.  The problem is this:  on the one hand, we have a group of scholars committed to the art and science of bibliography.  These scholars share Lochhead's belief that the function of bibliography is primarily descriptive and, moreover, that literary bibliographies should focus on writers who are dead.  On the other hand, we have a group of scholars committed to producing enumerative bibliographies designed for use by critics, students, and librarians.  When these critics turn to Canadian literature, they are faced with a dearth of bibliographies.  Many would undoubtedly be pleased to have descriptive bibliographies of Canadian writers whose work is "complete."  But the question must be asked:  how many dead Canadian writers do we actually read and study?  Why have there been more articles published on Margaret Atwood than on all the "Confederation Poets" combined?   How much serious criticism has been devoted to the works of James De Mille?   Not enough, perhaps.  But the lack of criticism is not a result of the absence of reliable descriptive bibliographies.  It is due to the fact that twentieth-century Canadian writers command most of our critical attention.  In short, a large proportion of Canadian criticism tends to be devoted to authors who are not dead, and to many figures who are still in the middle of prolific careers.

     What are the "real needs" of critics who are concerned with the living as well as the dead?  Are these critics involved in a bibliographic, or a critical exchange of ideas?  Both.  We tend to forget that fifteen years ago it was difficult to determine who was writing criticism about what.   And even today, we face basic informational problems that must be solved before the criticism of Canadian literature can become a bona fide scholarly pursuit:   what are the primary sources and what is their chronology of publication?   What are the secondary sources?  Where and when were items published?   The bibliographer who attempts to answer these questions must make a choice:   he must decide whether he will concentrate on producing a descriptive bibliography of a dead author, or whether he will produce enumerative bibliographies on dead and living authors designed to meet the needs of current criticism.  Whatever choice he makes involves a sacrifice.  If he chooses to be descriptive he must, by Lochhead's criteria, ignore writers who are still living.  Yet in Canada, the works of many of the authors who most concern critics are not "complete."  If the bibliographer chooses the enumerative / critical route, he runs the risk of omitting information that could more effectively be gathered over time; and he opens himself to the charge that he has defined a particular author in one way while posterity might define him in another.

     As the editors of ABCMA we have chosen the enumerative / critical route.  Does this mean that we have ignored basic bibliographic principles?  Lochhead suggests repeatedly that we have.  Does it mean that no serious, extended research informs the entries in ABCMA?   Lochhead finds evidence of "haste and rapid decision."  But has he really considered what ABCMA has to offer or how it works?

     These questions can be answered, in part, by examining any of the individual bibliographies in Volume One or Two. The bibliography on Mordecai Richier, for example, lists seventeen books in seventy-seven editions, and provides details about pagination, translation, and reprinting.  In primary works comprised of several essays or stories, the title of each essay or story is listed, and followed by a cross reference to the citation indicating initial publication data.   That citation, in turn, indicates where and when the item in question was reprinted, revised, retitled, excerpted, or translated.  This information, while not "descriptive" in the pure sense of the term, is certainly more extensive than the "brief catalogue notations" Lochhead claims to find.  And he makes no mention of the research involved in preparing the chronological list of each author's contributions to periodicals and books.  The Margaret Atwood (poetry) bibliography alone, Lochhead neglects to note, traces the publishing history of three hundred individual poems.  And it lists over 125 secondary sources devoted to Atwood's poetry.  There are undoubtedly ommissions.  As Professor Lochhead points out, David Jackel has taken the time to find some of them.  But there are also significant descriptive features offered by this bibliography that have been offered by no bibliography in Canada before.

     We may argue about whether Margaret Atwood or Hugh MacLennan is "major."  But while we are arguing, critics will be using ABCMA to find out what has been written on these authors and to locate, for the first time, information about what these authors published from the beginning of their careers.  Would the interests of critics working on Atwood really have been served better if we had chosen "to delay her 'majority' until a later volume"?  Or do we need information about her works now, even if this information is in process?   The descriptive bibliographer would say "Wait."  But the critic who is trying to trace Atwood's appearance in little magazines since 1954 would wish, we think, to have a starting point.

     The various agencies (each with its own "expert" assessors) that have funded our project apparently agree that this starting point is essential.  Lochhead does these agencies and their assessors a disservice when he suggests that the funding of ABCMA is questionable.  It seems more reasonable to suggest that Lochhead cannot approve the judgement of quality implicit in this extensive funding because he cannot transcend his own biases in favour of descriptive bibliography.  And if Lochhead is correct in his belief that it is chiefly "undergraduate essay writers" who will be interested in the more than two thousand detailed primary entries in these two volumes alone, we have seriously misjudged our audience.

     ABCMA does not claim to be definitive or exhaustive.  As the Introduction states:  "The editors recognize that the comprehensiveness of ABCMA may only be determined after a considerable period of time; they also acknowledge the fact that bibliographies on living authors must be subject to constant scrutiny and revision."  This process of scrutiny and revision is aided by reviewers who, like David Jackel, are willing to demonstrate, by reference to specific items, how our verification process can be improved.  Professor Lochhead, on the other hand, builds many of his arguments on speculation and chooses to ignore five hundred pages of bibliographic entries comprising two books.  Astonishing as it may seem, "from a simple reading of the title" alone Lochhead evolves "a growing suspicion of the volumes' reliability as works of scholarship."   Paradoxically, he condemns the series for treating authors whose work is not complete'' while at the same time recognizing that ''all the authors who have appeared and who are to appear in ABCMA are important and prominent in Canada's literary culture."  While he wishes that we had dealt with authors "who had died before 1960," he is ready to encourage the production of a bibliography which "covers" the "range of English Canadian literature from 1628 to the present" (emphasis added).  Despite the inherent contradictions in these statements, one is led to wonder when such a bibliography will be complete.  A decade?  Twenty years?  And would it then be "complete," or would it also be "out of date" the moment it was published?  All bibliographies which list secondary material are, by definition, dated at their publication.  A Canadian CBEL will be no different.  But it will be enormously useful, as is ABCMA.  Professor Lochhead cannot see this usefulness because he is preoccupied with "the value judgements made by the editors in such a work" and because he cannot ignore what he sees as "the inevitable unevenness of annotations."  Nevertheless, many people have found the annotations well written and objective; if they strike a reader as "uneven," he or she can simply pass them over.  Certainly the mere fact of annotation does not throw doubt on the bibliographic citations themselves, for these are presented, without comment, in standard bibliographic form.

     ABCMA has minor shortcomings we hope to correct.  But the basic format will remain the same, as will our intention to provide a reliable, comprehensive list of primary and secondary material that will be useful to scholars and students actively involved in the study of Canadian literature.  Mr. Lochhead is certainly entitled to his own value judgements.  We would have hoped, however, that in the interest of bibliography in Canada he had offered not vague speculation and unsubstantiated criticism, but rather the kind of mature guidance and detailed knowledge upon which his reputation is based.

Robert Lecker and Jack David, Editors,
The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors

Dear Mr. Editor,

Thank you for the opportunity to reply to Messrs.  Lecker and David's somewhat hysterical response to my review.  Public argument and discussion on bibliographical matters are rare enough in Canada and I would be remiss on several counts if I did not accept your invitation to join in.

     I stand by my review article and the positive suggestions it contains as to what I believe are the most pressing bibliographical needs in English Canadian literature.  If I may repeat, these are a comprehensive enumerative bibliography (including living authors) of primary and secondary sources along with descriptive bibliographies (with a strong historical element) of authors whose work is complete.   Recognition of these is not original with me for they are views shared by many literary scholars in this country.  But such bibliographical necessities, indeed priorities, evidently come as a shock to 'the selectors', Messrs.  Lecker and David.   They feel their foundation monies should be spent their way.  I happen to believe they should have taken another course and I have said so.

     Then I am accused, amongst other things, of not having examined the text, but rather to have dwelt on the title at the expense of the contents.  This is simply not true.  After reading the first two volumes of ABCMA it became apparent to me that what I must do was to ask questions about the whole concept, approach and ultimate use of the ten-volume series.

     Because the introductory comments in the two volumes do not contain, for example, the criteria upon which the forty-nine 'major' authors were selected, and other information, it was necessary to speculate as to what they might be and why.  What, indeed is the rationale for such a highly selective checklist in ten volumes?  Pure speculation was imperative and, if Messrs. Lecker and David's response may be considered as evidence, then the speculative approach does appear to have had some value.  The tone of the responses discloses more than the ABCMA editors are aware but it also provides some facts about compilers and commissions which should have been in their introduction.  Now we know a little more.

     Then there is the 'bibliographic rift' which, according to the writers of the 'Response', has been 'growing since the late 1960's'.  To say that 'scholars committed to the art and science of bibliography' believe that bibliography is primarily 'descriptive' is sheer nonsense.  Committed scholars believe in all kinds of biliographical endeavour and indulge in them in a variety of ways according to the material at hand and to the form.   I am accused of 'bias' because I state that our real need is for something along the lines of CBEL (enumerative) followed by descriptive bibliographies.   Despite this I am labelled, somewhat narrowly, as 'descriptive' and pointed at as someone who prefers dead authors, of all things.

     One could go on but the strident way my review article has been greeted by Messrs.   Lecker and David only confirms my earlier observations about their whole enterprise.  Their bibliography has, to use the editors' words, 'minor shortcomings'.   I believe it has major ones in scope, methodology, and scholarly worth. In an effort to provide 'guidance' I suggested another route; in an effort to explain why, I was forced to indulge in speculation.

     Yes, there may well a rift after all.  If there is, it has been around for a long time, and it is based on a lack of understanding, by some, of the many definitions and dimensions of bibliography and how the best to abide by and to work within them at the right time.

     Yours faithfully,

       D.G. Lochead.