Redaction in Dramatic Work
Updated: Apr 13
(View the redaction below.)
Redaction is the process of removing information prior to its release. Typically this has been used with classified documents to protect identities and salient details. Conversely, redaction can be used to protect criminal activities. This article will focus on redaction and its use on plays to create a new dramatic work-- specifically, a redaction of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Redaction has been used as a form of artistic practice since the 1960s with Doris Cross’s manipulation of the 1913 version of Webster’s Dictionary. Redaction and erasure have also been widely used in poetry. One of the more famous instances of redaction is Tom Phillips’s, The Humument, which redacted W H Mallock's 1892 novel, A Human Document. Mallock’s anti-Semitic love story is masked by Phillip’s version of a non-anti-Semitic love story between a man and a woman. While redaction has been used in visual art, prose, and poetry, I have not come across its use as a dramatic writing technique. The use of redaction as an artistic practice is a commentary on the statement that all history is revisionist. Every rewrite of an existing document will drop off or leave out some information. The choice to exclude that information will be valued according to the subjective, preconceived notions of the redactor. In addition, once the redacted document achieves widespread dissemination, it has the potential to become the dominant narrative. The Bible is an example of this. Political messages are another timely example of revisionism and reduction; therefore this exercise is done with an awareness of its social relevance.
METHOD The redaction did not start out intentionally, i.e., an in-depth analysis of Miss Julie was not undertaken prior to the beginning of the redaction; neither was a structure written out in the beginning to force a definitive redaction from the start. The strategy was to have chance play a greater role in the creation of the work. As the procedure continued, however, particularly as the last pages were encountered, definitive choices needed to be made in terms of character and plot (in a Naturalism sense) and therefore I went back to the beginning of the story and re-redacted to create a coherent story line. A few more rules were put into place. Names were redacted so that speeches were not confined to the character; parts of words were redacted to give them new meaning. No text was added or amended to the play text in order to adhere to the spirit of a true redaction as much as possible. I chose not to redact in black. In poetry this is akin to erasure, but I am calling it redaction because of the subtlety of redacting in
white. Redacting in white corresponds to a condition of invisibility rather than an overt striking out, a tone I wanted to reinforce in the text.
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS The most obvious question in this process is copyright and ownership of the material. Miss Julie was written in 1888 in Sweden. A search of INNOVA, a searchable database from the Swedish copyright (1) office did not come up with any results (2). Therefore, while a search of U.S. copyright was undertaken, I could not find any copy of Miss Julie dated to 1888 or shortly thereafter. Interestingly, Romulus Linney has a 1991 copyrighted version of Miss Julie due to “new dialogue” (3).
The question is: at what point under the guidelines of copyright does a work become its own separate and distinct work of art? In my experiment, the characters, their setting and social status remains the same. However, the plot has been altered so that Julie is not about to kill herself at the end of the play, but rather she is about to kill her Father for his incestuous abuse. I would argue that this constitutes a separate and distinct work of art. The process of changing the narrative via redaction to tell a different story became an empowering experiment. Questions that came up were: changing the intent of the words; changing the ownership of the words; changing the words themselves; and finally, the process of erasure vs. creation.
The majority of the experiment’s focus rested on what information is being withheld and what is being seen. I not only redacted due to plot considerations, but my plot itself was created from what I wanted to emphasize, or my preconceived notions of what I thought was important. I asked myself why I wanted to tell this story rather than others.
The ownership of the words was the most subversive experience here. I was essentially ‘putting words into people’s mouths’, and while I did this in service of the plot, there was a residual feeling of not telling the truth and the experience of: “Do the ends justify the means?” This was juxtaposed with a feeling that I was redefining a misogynistic text, deleting its misogyny and creating a healthier story from it (again realizing that this is a subjective choice).
1 Swedish Patent and Registration Office, https://www.prv.se/sv/ (October, 2019). 2 If this is in error, I am open to correction. 3United States Copyright Office Public Catalogue, https://cocatalog.loc.gov/cgibin/Pwebrecon.cgi?v1=51&ti=1,51&Search%5FArg=miss%20Julie&Search% 5FCode=ALL&CNT=100&PID=43k01-hqGGtxTfzwxFkbAvko4P9Lc&SEQ=20191009161817&SID=7 (October 2019).
Changing a word by deleting a portion of it was also eye opening. I was surprised at how a little change in a word created a huge ripple in the context of the bigger story. The past can be changed to the present with the manipulation of verb tense; a woman can easily be changed to a man.
The process of erasure vs. creating a story from scratch, or the traditional method of writing down words on a page (from a first draft perspective) gave me a sense that I was doing something illicit. I found myself struggling in regards to my agency in performing the redaction. Upon reflection, I believe this viewpoint was held due to the redaction/erasure I experience in my outside life. In numerous social situations I will be interrupted or talked over by the dominant voice in the room. In addition, I live in the outside world of oligarchic corporatism. The institutions that shape my daily life far outstrip me in terms of their ability to project their voice in society. I feel unempowered as an individual to make change in a world full of institutions that dominate the media landscape and will far outlive me. These initial feelings of non-agency gave way to a sense of empowerment to make this new work my own. I found that I very much wanted to make my mark, and rewrite a text that was previously misogynistic. The process then became cathartic for me.
The subjective nature of the redaction gives one a sense of power that is not commonly felt in public spaces, i.e., being redefined, qualified or ignored after making a statement and in the larger world of giant institutions. I would argue that redaction outside of the words on a page is an experience that has been felt by women and communities of color in narratives that dominate our culture, wherein the stories of these communities are ignored or redefined in terms of the dominant narrative. Redaction as a process within the page is an opportunity to reclaim a voice that has been muted by societal norms.
Hawley, Rachel. The Outline. 07 29, 2019. https://theoutline.com/post/7731/tom-phillips-a-humument- interview?zd=2&zi=j6mx52pt (accessed 10 01, 2019). Libris. http://libris.kb.se/form_extended.jsp?f=imb&language=en (accessed October 2019). Public Catalogue. https://cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi- bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?v1=51&ti=51,51&Search%5FArg=Miss%20Julie&Search%5FCode=TALL&CNT=25 &PID=YOM7M7FLcENBoYxoFCmbIKKHcgfG&SEQ=20191024120253&SID=3 (accessed October 2019). Parks, Stephen. ARTlines Archive. 03 2012. http://artlinesarchive.blogspot.com/2012/03/doris-cross- painted-word.html (accessed 10 10, 2019). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasure_(artform). Xu, Linn. Who is Doris Cross? 04 2014. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2014/04/who-is-doris- cross (accessed 10 01, 2020). redaction text here