BC Editions Manifesto

our series

BC Editions (previously known as 'Beyond Criticism') discovers new forms for new thinking about literature; a literary criticism that is itself literary, speaking to anyone who thinks that reading matters.

Our previous wave of publications (as 'Beyond Criticism') was a declaration of intent, suggesting the range of work we hope to foster, written by some of the liveliest minds in the business - cue: the discursive verse-essay in The Winnowing Fan; collaborative critical fiction in Macbeth Macbeth; radical life-writing in Desire: a memoir; poetic meditation in Ceaseless Music; critique as comic fragment in Character as Form; and graphic-poetic narrative in Orpheus and Eurydice.

our context 

Many of the greatest works of literature have also been great acts of reading: Homer’s Iliad is rewritten in Virgil’s Aeneid, his Odyssey in Joyce’s Ulysses. Milton’s Paradise Lost extends the Book of Genesis, and is itself refashioned in works as varied as Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Richardson’s Clarissa, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Pullman’s Dark Materials. Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear are in part responses to earlier plays of the same name, themselves of course rewritten or adapted in countless artistic forms – each such re-imagining itself being a work of criticism. Keats composed his visions less from the outside world than from poems, old and new, that he loved.

Historically many of the most important works of theory and philosophy have taken literary forms.  The pre-Socratic Parmenides is known only through a single fragmentary poem; Plato wrote in imaginative dialogues; More’s Utopia, Campanella’s City of the Sun, and Bacon’s New Atlantis offer political philosophy in narrative fiction; Leibniz’s Theodicy is encapsulated in a dizzying fable that is itself parodied in Voltaire’s satiric philosophic fiction, Candide; Kierkegaard’s vision is expressed through ironic surrogate personae, and Nietzsche’s through poetic or polemical aphorism. More recent theorists such as Barthes, Irigaray, and Kristeva have continued to stretch the formal boundaries of criticism.

Oscar Wilde knew that criticism is always an act of fancy, wishfulness, imaginative larceny. Virginia Woolf read her characters’ minds like she read the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth. The tradition continues. Recent or contemporary writers such as David Foster Wallace, Anne Carson, Susan Howe, Colm Toibin, and Ben Lerner frequently collapse the supposed binary of critical and creative writing. Various kinds of hybrid writing are increasingly popular, blurring divisions between art criticism, gender theory, and memoir (Maggie Nelson) or literary criticism and poetry (Max Porter).

our mission

BC Editions builds on these traditions. In particular, it seeks to revivify such work within the academy – where so much of the most exciting, exploratory, groundbreaking thinking is still taking place – and in doing so to reach out to communities of readers beyond the cloister.  We want to break down false divisions between scholarship and imagination, accountability and adventure. To think critically is to think creatively; to think creatively is to think critically.

Crucial here is the written form that our thinking takes. Our mission is a positive one, designed to inspire new writers and new readers, new readings and new writings. We are not interested in pouring thoughts into standard templates. We want to liberate critical thinking and writing from obedience to dominant models – depending upon the work, this might be at the level of sentence, syntax, argument, vocabulary, mood, mode, technology, medium, and so on. We ask that our writers discover the form that best embodies their ideas, and that best communicates the life in reading – which also means the life in the works they are reading.

BC Editions offers a challenge to mainstream publishing to build bridges between academic and trade markets. There is a hunger among wider reading publics for ideas, argument, experiment, for fearless thinking and theorising that does not simplify or condescend. In both practice and spirit, the division between academic and non-academic humanities is a fiction. We communicate as teachers; we wish also to communicate as writers to worlds outside the academy.

our previous books

Macbeth, Macbeth is that rare thing, a truly collaborative fiction, written by two of the world’s leading Shakespeare scholars, Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie. The authors enter the wounds of Shakespeare’s dark work, recovering life from Shakespeare’s ‘strange images of death’, at once continuing and reliving Macbeth’s original terrors. In doing so they create a whole new world from its embers - and speak to the play as never before.

Desire: a memoir is the radical autobiography of Jonathan Dollimore, probably the most important and controversial writer on literature, sex, and masculinity of the last thirty years. Here he explores the darkness and dangers of his own past, dominated by the twin sirens of sexual transgression and death. The book is remarkable for its candour, unguardedness, and tenderness, a true act of critical self-accounting. Desire explores what it might be, what it might take, to construct an ethics, to make or to unmake a life, truly faithful to the implications of sexual desire.

Orpheus and Eurydice (OE), by artist Tom de Freston and award-winning poet and novelist Kiran Millwood-Hargreave, is another unique collaboration, creating another uniquely hybrid work. This is no ordinary graphic fiction, in which a story is told through generic cartoons and simple narrative stubs. De Freston’s dizzying, multiform pictures refract the story of Orpheus’s search through the underworld for his beloved Eurydice, spoken through the discovered traces of Millwood-Hargreave’s plaintive, sensuous poems. OE is as much a quest between artforms as it is a quest of love.

Character as Form is an extended meditation on fictional lives by the Californian poet, critic and aphorist Aaron Kunin. His questions go right to the heart of modern living. He explores what it means to be a character, and whether individuality as commonly understood is possible or even desirable. This is criticism as a sustained act of comedy – not simply because the writing is witty but because it is radically ironic, offered as possible thoughts to which Kunin does not require or even expect assent. Kunin posits things way beyond our culture’s unthinking conformities and pieties. Perhaps the most startling thought of all is that literature, with its devotion to types rather than individuals as the model of the human, might just be true.

The Winnowing Fan is what happens when the eminent philosopher Christopher Norris takes to thinking in verse, and indeed in rhyme.   Here then is a series of verse-essays on a host of canonical philosophical concerns: truth, death, desire, symmetry, love, beauty, and on and on.  Along the way we meet or pass a host of giants from European poetic history - from Homer through the work of French symbolists such as Mallarmé to moderns such as Yeats, Benjamin, Heaney, Larkin, and Barthes.  And then there are the philosophers, about whom, with whom, and indeed to whom, Norris writes: Hume, Leibniz, Heidegger, Althusser, Derrida, de Man, Rorty, Deleuze, Badiou and Agamben.  Both thought and criticism here finally return to the strange ways of verse.

Ceaseless Music summons into presence the five-part version of The Prelude left incomplete when Wordsworth died.  For acclaimed poet-critic Steven Matthews, confronting this ‘shadow’ Prelude involves retracing the unfinished lives we ourselves once led, but have left behind. In a series of original poems interspersed with prose meditations, Ceaseless Music shows what happens when vivid encounters with literature erupt into real life, and vice versa. If revisiting The Prelude involves listening intently for the ‘ceaseless music’ of the River Derwent which ran behind Wordsworth’s childhood home in Cockermouth, it also means revisiting a working-class boy’s memories of gunmen in the woods near his Colchester home during the Irish troubles. In this tender and disturbing book, poetry stands for death withheld - for now.

our upcoming books

For information on our forthcoming new series, The Type Set, see the main BC Editions page here.