April 11, 2013
A rare look at the handbook to the Harry Ransom archives.
by Dustin Kurtz
News came out of Austin on Monday that the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, among the world’s great storehouses of literary archives and ephemera, would be getting a new director in the person of Stephen Enniss, the current head librarian of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Stepping down as Director after 25 years is Thomas F. Staley, under whose watch the Ransom center has become a powerhouse of literary acquisition, particularly for the papers of contemporary authors like Don DeLillo and J.M. Coetzee.
The center holds 42 million manuscripts in total, making the job of the director part archivist, part negotiator, part ship’s pilot on a treacherous sea of tattered wood pulp. The single most important book in the archive, however, is not the Byron, not the Whitman, not the Joyce or Pound or Lessing. It is rumored that each director of the Harry Ransom Center is given a handbook, full of notes by their predecessors, a key to the entire babel of literary history enclosed in the vast cement halls of the place. Even the existence of the book hasn’t been confirmed for sure, and certainly not by the center’s archivists, but supposed scraps have made their way onto the internet. We’ve gathered what we can here.
…Tuesday, you’ll be wearing the Waugh hairpiece, but only while the Fowles is being refluffed. Wednesday, of course, you’ll want to adjust the hairpieces so as not to unduly stress the arms of the Whitman spectacles you’ll be wearing on the front of your head, nor the Pound spectacles you’ll be wearing on the back of your head. Needless to say, Wednesdays you’ll want to wiggle your head very little, so please refrain from playing with the Leary Nintendo glove on these days.
… is to not act furtive about it. One barbecue sauce stain looks much like another on these manuscripts, I assure you. I’ve lost track of my own at this point. You’ll want to let it dry out before you rearchive the page, of course. If you’re lucky, you’ll have dripped onto the someone who deserves it like, say, the Celine. [Scribbled in the margins: The I.B. Singer socks serve as a fine napkin in a pinch. Be careful though, (illegible) dissert. (illegible) pork drippings, might be asking questions.]
… but the 37th page of that manuscript was used to replace pp 78-79 of The Reivers third MS, which was mistakenly switched out for those same pages in the Vineland MS. The Vineland pages, in turn, are filling the place of those pages from the draft copy of Alcoholism in Brooklyn Heights. As for the original Mailer draft pages, I believe we used those for coasters. That does not, however, explain the missing 131st page of that same draft, which, rumor has it, was once used to fix that annoying wobble in your desk chair. I don’t know myself, as I always preferred to sit in a nest of shredded Millicent Dillon papers.
…work and no play makes Tom a dull Librarian. All work and no play makes Tom a dull librarian. All work and no play makes Tom a dull librarian. All work and no play makes Tom a dull librarian. All work and no play makes Tom a dull librarian. All work and no …
… manuscript pages which, when squinted at under the flickering bulb in the Northeast corner of Sub-basement D, kind of look like a picture of Tennesse Williams punching a Bear:
Rogers, Patrick Paul. Prisoners and Prisons, page 45;
Beavers, Louise. Made for Each Other. What Price Hollywood? Page 13;
Llewewllyn, Richard. How Green Was My Valley, 2nd draft, page 183, bottom half only;
… due to eventual exsanguination. Test subject Delta, however, held up long enough for us to determine that in fact Scotch tape is inferior at stemming arterial papercuts when compared to a thick mixture of white-out, cobweb, and a few drops of that flat coca-cola from the seventh Cummings box.
… is to be fed a live mouse on alternating Mondays. And let me reiterate how sorry I am that …
…and that is why I murdered Don DeLillo. Part of your duties are now to wear the Don Mask you’ll find in box 12D, Section C in the East wing of …
We wish Mr. Enniss the best of luck in his new post.
Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.