Open Book Publishers logo Open Access logo
  • button
  • button
  • button
GO TO...
book cover

6. Exogenetic Digital Editing and Enactive Cognition

Dirk Van Hulle

© Dirk Van Hulle, CC BY 4.0

The theoretical framework of this essay is a current paradigm in cognitive sciences, which may be relevant to the development of scholarly digital editing. In cognitive philosophy, the ‘Extended Mind’ hypothesis, first formulated by Clark and Chalmers, suggests that external features in the environment can become partly constitutive of the mind.1 In other words, the mind is not limited to something inside the skull, but is regarded as being ‘extended’.2 Varieties of this post-Cartesian approach, which is being applied to cognitive narratology, are referred to as ‘enactivism’ and ‘radical enactivism’.3 The latter paradigm suggests that the mind is not just ‘extended’ but also ‘extensive’.4 David D. Hutto and Erik Myin suggest that the mind is constituted in an even-handed way by both the brain and the environment; the brain’s contributions are not prioritised over those of the environment.5 They abbreviate their hypothesis as REC for Radical Enactive (or Embodied) Cognition and suggest that ‘If REC is right, basic cognition is not contentful; basic minds are fundamentally, constitutively already world-involving. They are, as we say, extensive’.6 This view is presented in opposition to the ‘Default Internal Mind assumption’, which ‘takes it for granted that, in their basic state, minds are unextended and brain-bound. If that is the case, then they become extended only when external resources are needed to complete certain cognitive tasks. On that model, what is fundamentally internal occasionally becomes extended’.7 REC inverts this assumption: ‘Basic minds are fundamentally extensive, whereas special kinds of scaffolded practices must be mastered before anything resembling internalised […] mentality appears on the scene’.8 So, according to the REC hypothesis, knowledge and skills can evidently be internalised, but the proposed model of the mind is not ‘internalist’.

In narratology, the ‘internalist’ model of the mind—usually referred to as the ‘inward turn’—is currently regarded as a critical commonplace in the context of evocations of the mind in literary modernism.9 As opposed to this ‘inward turn’, the extensive mind consists of the interplay between intelligent agents and their cultural as well as material circumstances which can be anything. In the case of a writer, for instance, this environment can simply be a piece of paper, a notebook or the margin of a book.10

This essay examines modernist authors’ personal libraries, their reading notes and drafts as aspects of the ‘extended mind’, and investigates to what extent genetic digital editing can be deployed to study this form of enactive cognition. In ‘Narrative and Mind: Directions for Inquiry’, David Herman notes that interdisciplinary research in this area has so far been mainly unidirectional (literary studies ‘borrowing from’ cognitive sciences) and makes a plea for a bidirectional exchange of ideas.11 Genetic digital editing may serve as a useful way of making this interdisciplinary research bidirectional, notably by indicating the markedly intertextual nature of many modernist texts and emphasising the interplay between ‘exogenesis’ and ‘endogenesis’ as a generative nexus in creative cognitive processes. The inclusion of the exogenesis (e.g. in the form of an author’s personal library) in a genetic edition will be studied as a method (1) to visualise this nexus between exo- and endogenesis and (2) to analyse the enactive mind at work. In this way, genetic digital editing might be a way of contributing to the bidirectional exchange of ideas between literary studies and cognitive sciences. The case study to examine this research hypothesis is the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project (

An intertextual ecosystem

A few years ago, Mark Nixon and I received permission from the Beckett Estate to work in Beckett’s apartment for ten days to examine the marginalia in Beckett’s books, and Anne Atik allowed us to do the same in the books Beckett gave to her husband, the visual artist Avigdor Arikha, who was a very good friend of Beckett’s. We soon discovered that looking at the marginalia was not enough. Sometimes a book in his personal library was heavily marked, and yet Beckett eventually used an unmarked passage for his own writing. To denote such passages that are not marked, Axel Gellhaus coined the term ‘non-marginalia’.12 This category applies to Beckett’s copy of Petrarch’s Sonnets, which Beckett first read in 1926.13 The first volume bears no reading traces, whereas the second is heavily annotated. The first sonnets are marked with their rhyme schemes. Next to Sonnet XXI (2.36), opening with ‘L’alma mia fiamma’, Beckett has penciled ‘Merde’, and three pages further, next to Sonnet XXIV and especially the penultimate line ‘Secca è la vena dell’usato ingegno’, he has written: ‘Macchè!’ [not in the least, of course not].14 But, strangely enough, Beckett’s favourite line from Petrarch is not marked: ‘chi può dir com’egli arde, è ’n picciol foco’—which Beckett translated as ‘He who knows he is burning is burning in a small fire’. Beckett quoted it on several occasions, but it is unmarked in his copy of Petrarch’s works.

My hypothesis is that he did not encounter it here, but in a quite different book, namely in Montaigne’s essays. Beckett would not even have needed to read all of Montaigne’s essays to encounter it, because it already features in the second essay of Book I: ‘De la tristesse’. Corroborative evidence supporting this hypothesis can be found in the ‘Sam Francis’ Notebook (kept at the University of Reading, UoR MS2926, 19v) where the same line is quoted in isolation, followed by a reference to the name of the author in French (‘Pétrarque’). In the 1777 translation by John Nott, the line (‘chi può dir com’egli arde, è ’n picciol foco’, in a literal translation: ‘who can say how he burns is in little fire’) reads as follows: ‘Faint is the flame that language can express’.15 Montaigne quotes this line as the expression of ardent lovers’ unbearable passion,16 but Beckett clearly interpreted the line in a more general sense, closer to his favourite line from King Lear: ‘The worst is not, So long as one can say, “this is the worst”’, jotted down in his ‘Sottisier’ Notebook (UoR MS2901, 14v).

All these allusions become a small intertextual ecosystem17 in another notebook from the late period, the ‘Super Conquérant’ Notebook (UoR MS2934, 01r). Here, Beckett noted Seneca’s line ‘Curae leves loquuntur, ingentes stupent’ [Light sorrows speak, deeper ones are silent] (from Hyppolytus Act 2, scene 3, line 607)—which is also quoted by Montaigne in the same essay ‘De la tristesse’ (61).18 This intertextual network spans a period of more than fifty years, ranging from 1926 (when Beckett first read Petrarch) to 1983. Beckett’s experience with the workings of his own extensive mind, not just in terms of space, but also combined with the factor ‘time’ is relevant to cognitive narratology, both on the level of the writer’s mind (the production of the storyworld), and on the level of the evocation of his characters’ minds.

The most obvious example is Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape. The intertextuality works (a) first of all in the most basic sense of allusions, but also (b) in a more complex way, involving intertextual cognition as a form of the extensive mind at work.

(a) In terms of cultural allusions, one recognises Petrarch’s line ‘He who knows he is burning is burning in a small fire’ in the words ‘burning’ and ‘fire’ in Krapp’s recorded speech on the tape, when he first talks about his dying mother, in the house on the canal, while he’s sitting on a bench outside, ‘wishing she were gone’ (emphasis added), and a few lines further on, while he is sitting on a bench in the park, ‘wishing’ he himself were gone. Only in the fourth typescript did Beckett change ‘wishing’ into ‘burning’. This ‘burning’ to die is contrasted with the ‘fire’ in the young Krapp, when he is talking about ‘his vision’, his aesthetic revelation, ‘the fire that set it alight’ (emphasis added) and especially ‘the fire in me now’ (emphasis added) at the very end of the play. In the fourth typescript, this last line reads: ‘the fire burning in me now’ (HRC MS SB 4/2/4, 7r). Beckett eventually deleted the burning, but in a letter to Patrick Magee, he explicitly asked the actor to emphasise the word ‘burning’ in the earlier passage (‘burning to be gone’) ‘in order that “fire” at the end may carry all its ambiguity’ (TCD MS 11313/1–2). So ‘the fire that set it alight’ in Krapp’s Last Tape, the aesthetic vision or revelation, is at the same time the fire that consumes him, and the old Krapp is all too well aware of this ambiguity. While he knows this, he also realises that it must be a small fire since he can still say (‘può dir’) that he is burning.

(b) But what is perhaps more important is the way in which Beckett works not just with the allusion to Petrarch, but with the entire network of intertextuality in which it is entangled. My suggestion is that Beckett (and many modernists and late modernists) intuited and prefigured much of what cognitive philosophers and scientists are only now recognising to its full extent. Beckett found Petrarch in an essay by Montaigne. Montaigne published multiple versions of his Essays, and he kept adding marginalia to his own work, because he recognised that he (or ‘his self’) was constantly changing. What Beckett realised—to a large extent through the workings of intertextuality—was not just that the self consists of a succession of selves, but that these selves and the human mind are the result of constant storytelling, or what Daniel C. Dennett calls ‘our narrative selfhood’, for which the web of intertextuality is perhaps an adequate metaphor.19 Dennett suggests that ‘our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition is not spinning webs or building dams, but telling stories, and more particularly concocting and controlling the story we tell others—and ourselves—about who we are. […] Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us. Our human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is their product, not their source’.20 But Dennett also adds that ‘Unlike a spider, an individual human doesn’t just exude its web; more like a beaver, it works hard to gather the materials out of which it builds its protective fortress’.21 Or to refer to an older comparison, the fable of the spider and the bee in Swift’s Battle of the Books: the bee is the one that draws the spider’s attention to the fact that it is an illusion to think that you spin your web out of your own entrails. The spider may have wanted to build its own web ‘with [its] own hands, and the materials extracted altogether out of [its] own person’, as Swift puts it, but the Ancients point out that the spider also feeds on insects and the ‘vermin of its age’, otherwise it would not be able to make its web.22 In this way, the methods of the bee and the spider are perhaps not as irreconcilable as Swift’s fable suggests.

Without making reference to Swift, but building on Dennett, Andy Clark continues to develop the metaphor: ‘The spider’s web appears as a proper part of the spider’s extended phenotype’, which he compares to the extended mind. ‘This perspective […] is not compulsory, nor can it be simply proved (or disproved) by experiment. Its virtues lie rather in the ways of seeing familiar phenomena that it may breed, in that flip of perspective that invites us to view the larger organism-environment system in new and illuminating ways’.23

At first sight, intertextuality may seem anything but part of the Dennettian ‘narrative selfhood’ if one sees intertextuality as mere allusions to other people’s writings, that is, not one’s own writings. But if one sees consciousness in terms of the extensive mind, which is ‘constitutively […] world-involving’ (cf. supra) then intertextuality is a natural component of this narrative selfhood.24 Since modernists and late modernists are famous for their attempts to evoke the workings of the human mind, it is not a coincidence that intertextuality plays such an important role in their writings. Even though Beckett tried to work in a completely different way from Joyce’s method, there is something fundamental about intertextuality that he did learn from Joyce. When they evoke the workings of the human mind, they do not represent it. Beckett’s texts are not a representation of the experience of life; they are that experience itself. This aspect of his work accords with Joyce’s ‘Work in Progress’, about which Beckett famously wrote: ‘Here form is content, content is form. […] His writing is not about something; it is that something itself’.25 The same applies to Beckett’s texts, to a large extent because of their subdued intertextuality: the intertext is not about a cognitive process, it ‘is’ that cognitive process itself.

Exogenetic digital editing and the extensive mind

What digital scholarly editing can contribute to this combination of cognitive narratology and Genetic Criticism is the means to show how intertextuality functions as a model of the extensive mind. This requires an approach to scholarly digital editing that integrates the author’s personal library. An integrated library—which could be seen as a step towards what Peter Shillingsburg called a ‘knowledge site’—can contain both the author’s extant library (the books that are still preserved, possibly featuring marginalia) and the reconstructed library (the books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets that are no longer physically extant, but which we know the author read, thanks to notes he or she made in notebooks).

This integration of the library in an edition works best in an edition that is not limited to a single work, but encompasses the author’s entire oeuvre. The advantage is that it allows researchers to map intertextual patterns and reconstruct the way one particular passage from one particular source recurs in several works; or, the other way round: how a particular passage in one of the author’s works is the result of a complex combination of intertexts, including references to other texts within his or her own oeuvre.

Most genetic editions focus on what Raymonde Debray Genette called the ‘endogenesis’, ‘la réécriture des documents’ or the writing and revision process. A state-of-the-art example of the way in which this process can be visualised is Julie André and Elena Pierazzo’s prototype for a genetic edition of Marcel Proust’s manuscripts.26 This prototype also illustrates the current focus on a document-oriented approach to genetic editing, linked to the materiality of the document (e.g. proceeding page by page in the case of a notebook or ‘cahier’). This endogenetic aspect of digital genetic editing can be relevant to cognitive scientists as it maps the author’s interaction with the direct environment, not just the writing surface, but also the text produced so far.

In addition to this focus on endogenesis, however, a genetic edition may also be expected to map the relationships between the endogenetic and the exogenetic dimensions of the writing process. The inclusion of this exogenetic dimension opens up another aspect of the writer’s environment, presenting intertextuality as a form of ‘enactivism’ at work. Next to the document-oriented approach, this integration of exogenesis also requires a textual orientation that is flexible enough to also include an intertext-oriented approach, enabling readers to compare textual versions of any passage, including the (often elliptic) early versions of marginalia or reading notes.

Inevitably, the integration of a writer’s library in an edition raises several questions. A writer’s library is part of what S. E. Gontarski dubbed the ‘grey canon’.27 If the published works are the ‘black’ canon (e.g. printed in books, black on white), the grey canon consists of related items (e.g. manuscripts, letters, biographical information, interviews, productions notes, marginalia, reading notes etc.). One of the characteristics of many writers’ libraries is that some of the extant books have clearly been used for the writing of a particular work, whereas others may simply have been sitting on the author’s shelves without ever having been read (Thomas Mann’s library, for instance, features a copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, but only a few pages have been cut). The presence or absence of a book in the extant library is usually less meaningful for literary research than the traceable engagement with the source text and its functional incorporation in the endogenesis.

Writers’ libraries and the canon’s shades of grey

To some degree, it is possible to measure this intensity and develop a scale to indicate this measure. At the Centre for Manuscript Genetics at the University of Antwerp, we work with a ‘grey scale’ for writers’ libraries, adding various shades to the notion of the ‘grey canon’. This grey scale is adaptable to different projects, depending on the degree to which the digital scholarly edition is set up to incorporate the author’s library. If the editor decides to include it only to a very limited extent, this library can for instance be reduced to the darkest shades in the grey scale, i.e. only those books that (1) are still extant in the author’s personal library, (2) contain marginalia and/or have demonstrably been read by the author (e.g. because his or her reading notes are preserved in a notebook) and (3) have been used or are being alluded to in one of his or her works (this category can be further subdivided into smaller categories such as ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’ references, resulting in a more refined grey scale with extra shades).

An example that would qualify for inclusion in such a limited version of Samuel Beckett’s library is his copy of Immanuel Kants Werke, the complete works of Kant, edited with an essay (in the last volume) by Ernst Cassirer. In this essay, Cassirer explains that the motto of the Critique of Pure Reason, ‘De nobis ipsis silemus’ [We do not talk about ourselves], was taken from Francis Bacon: ‘Das Wort “De nobis ipsis silemus”, das er aus Bacon entnimmt, um es der “Kritik der reinen Vernunft” als Motto voranzusetzen, tritt nun mehr und mehr in Kraft’ [The phrase ‘De nobis ipsis silemus’, which he takes from Bacon as the epigraph to the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, is becoming increasingly apt].28

Beckett was not only a ‘marginalist’, but also what Daniel Ferrer has termed an ‘extractor’:29 in addition to marking this passage in the margin, he jotted it down in his ‘Whoroscope’ Notebook (UoR MS 300, 44r) towards the end of the 1930s. Then, after the war, he wrote it again on the inside of the back cover of the notebook containing the first draft of L’Innommable: ‘De nobis ipsis silemus (Bacon, Intro. Novum Organon)’ (HRC MS SB 3/10, inside back cover). This note can be seen as the pivot between exo- and endogenesis in this particular case, for Beckett subsequently incorporated it in the draft itself, on page 44v of the same notebook: ‘De nobis ipsis silemus, décidément cela aurait dû être ma devise’ [De nobis ipsis silemus, decidedly that should have been my motto] (HRC MS SB 3/10, 44v)—which is of course very ironic, since the Unnamable (the narrator/narrated) is constantly talking about the self. In addition to incorporating digital facsimiles of Kants Werke—or at least the relevant pages—in a scholarly edition (a document-oriented approach), one could consider including paralipomena such as the note ‘De nobis ipsis silemus (Bacon, Intro. Novum Organon)’ in a synoptic survey of all the versions (a text-oriented approach). Although the word paralipomenon is derived from the Greek ‘para-leipen’, meaning ‘what is left out’, the Samuel Beckett Digital Manuscript Project does include it in the ‘compare sentences’ option (which enables readers to view all the versions of any sentence synoptically) to enrich the document- and text-oriented approaches with an intertextual dimension (Fig. 6.1).

Fig. 6.1 Screenshot of the ‘compare versions’ option in the Samuel Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, module 2 (BDMP2), Samuel Beckett’s L’Innommable/The Unnamable: A Digital Genetic Edition, ed. by Dirk Van Hulle, Shane Weller and Vincent Neyt (2013;

From a cognitive perspective, the relevance of including these paralipomena in spite of the etymological suggestion to leave them out of a scholarly edition is that precisely these notes, marginalia and paralipomena (fragments of text that relate to, but are not strictly speaking part of, any version of the work) have the potential to visualise the ‘extensive mind’ at work. Excluding intertextual paralipomena from an edition is the equivalent of what Hutto and Myin call the ‘Senior Partner Principle’ (in the context of cognitive philosophy):

To suppose that what is constitutive of mentality must reside in organisms or their brains alone is to endorse a Senior Partner Principle holding that, although a partnership with environmental factors may be causally necessary for cognition, the organism’s or system’s brain ‘wears the trousers’ in the relationship; only brains bring mentality to the party. In the place of this, we promote the more even-handed Equal Partner Principle as the right way to understand basic mental activity. Accordingly, contributions of the brain are not prioritized over those of the environment.30

Similarly, genetic editing has a tendency to focus on what is supposed (allegedly) to derive directly from the author’s ‘brain’: the endogenesis. What a document-oriented, page-by-page mapping of the manuscript shows is that even this limited environment plays a role in the interaction that constitutes the extensive mind. Combining this with a text- and intertext-oriented approach can broaden the scope of this environmental interaction, and thus draw attention to the extensiveness of the creative mind at work. In conclusion, incorporating the exogenesis (e.g. by means of the writer’s library) in a digital scholarly edition could be a way of including (at least some of) the ‘environmental factors’ that helped shape his or her work, thus promoting what Hutto and Myin call an ‘Equal Partner Principle’, in which endogenesis is not prioritised over exogenetic contributions from the author’s cultural environment.31

1 Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers, ‘The Extended Mind’, Analysis, 58 (1998), 10–23 (p. 12).

2 Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extention (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Andy Clark, ‘Embodied, Embedded, and Extended Cognition’, in The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Science, ed. by Keith Frankish and William M. Ramsey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 275–91; Richard Menary, ‘Introduction’, in The Extended Mind, ed. by Richard Menary (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), pp. 1–25; Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science, ed. by John Steward, Olivier Gapenne and Ezequiel A. Di Paolo (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011).

3 David Herman, ‘Re-minding Modernism’, in the Emergence of Mind: Representations of consciousness in Narrative Discourse in English, ed. by David Herman (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), pp. 243–71; David Herman, ‘Narrative and Mind: Directions for Inquiry’, in Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative, ed. by Lars Bernaerts, Dirk De Geest, Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), pp. 199–209.

4 Daniel D. Hutto and Erik Myin, Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), p. 135.

5 Ibid., p. 137.

6 Ibid., pp. xii, 137.

7 Ibid., pp. 137–38.

8 Ibid., p. 138.

9 Erich von Kahler, The Inward Turn of Narrative, trans. by Richard and Clara Winston (Princeton: Princeton University Press); Herman, ‘Re-Minding Modernism’.

10 I have explored the relationship between manuscripts and the extended/extensive minds in Modern Manuscripts: The Extended Mind and Creative Undoing from Darwin to Beckett and Beyond (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

11 Herman, ‘Narrative and the Mind’.

12 Axel Gellhaus, ‘Marginalia: Paul Celan as a Reader’, in Variants: The Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship, 2–3 (2004), pp. 207–19 (pp. 218–19).

13 For more details about Beckett’s reading and marginalia, see Dirk Van Hulle and Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s Library (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). For the January 1926 Hilary Term Junior Sophister Examinations, Petrarch’s poems and Dante’s Inferno were among the set texts ― see John Pilling, A Samuel Beckett Chronology (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 11 ― and Beckett’s library still contains several of the ‘Prescribed Books’. The two-volume set of Le Rime di Messer Francesco Petrarca (from the Classica biblioteca italiana antica e moderna series, Milan: Nicolò Bettoni, 1824), which Beckett later gave to Avigdor Arikha and Anne Atik, was probably purchased in preparation for this examination. The library in Beckett’s apartment contains a few other books by and on Petrarch, dating from after the war: Le Rime (with a preface by Luigi Baldacci, 1962) and Morris Bishop’s Petrarch and his World (1964).

14 XXIV: ‘Secca è la vena dell’usato ingegno’ [dry is the vein of my old genius] (2.39; 2006).

15 The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch, with a Life of the Poet by Thomas Campbell (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1859), p. 160.

16 Michel de Montaigne, Essais I (Paris: Gallimard Folio Classique, 1965), p. 60.

17 For a discussion of this intertextual ecosystem’s relevance to Beckett’s works, see Dirk Van Hulle, The Making of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape/La Dernière Bande (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 177–80.

18 Michel de Montaigne, Essais I, p. 61.

19 Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (London: Penguin, 1991), p. 418.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., p. 416.

22 Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub and Other Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 112.

23 Andy Clark, ‘Embodied’, p. 287.

24 Hutto and Myin, Radicalizing Enactivism, p. 137.

25 Samuel Beckett, Disjecta (New York: Grove Press, 1984), p. 27 (emphasis in the original).

26 Julie André and Elena Pierazzo, ‘Le Codage en TEI des Brouillons de Proust: Vers L’Edition Numérique’, Genesis, 36 (2013), 155–61.

27 S. E. Gontarski, ‘Greying the Canon: Beckett in Performance’, in Beckett After Beckett, ed. by S. E. Gontarski and Anthony Uhlman (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006), pp. 141–57.

28 Ernst Cassirer, ‘Kants Leben und Lehre’ in: Immanuel Kants Werke, I–XI, ed. by Ernst Cassirer (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1921–1922), XI, pp. 1–385 (p. 5).

29 Daniel Ferrer, ‘Towards a Marginalist Economy of Textual Genesis’, Variants: The Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship, 2–3 (2004), pp. 7–8 (7–18).

30 Hutto and Myin, Radicalizing Enactivism, p. 137.

31 The research leading to these results has received funding from the Leverhulme Trust (Visiting Professorship at the University of Kent’s School of European Culture and Languages) and from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 313609.