When chance first presented me with an opportunity to study the documents of a writer’s composition, I was embarrassed by a terminological difficulty. The French language gave me a choice between two words to designate these documents: le manuscrit [the manuscript], quite literally the sheets of paper covered with signs traced by the hand of the writer, and les brouillons [the rough drafts], that is, the materializations of an unfinished, prospective discourse, sometimes rejected but more often transformed through a process of development. The first word posed few problems; one could easily restrict its meaning to the tangible media of the writing process, those objects destined to be preserved by the generosity of authors and the admiration of lovers of belles-lettres. One could use the second term, it seemed to me, to qualify what was written on the manuscripts. Rough drafts would then include the following: 1) everything that had ever played a part in the composition of a work but had not attained publishable status: the preliminary dossier, the worksheets, and the portfolio of accessory notes; (2) the drafts properly so called, that is, the first draft and its metamorphoses (additions, corrections, erasures, and substitutions) up to the final state of first publication. This last state could again be transformed by print modifications, called “variants” [variantes]. [However, when I] considered the semantic and historical weight of of those two words “rough draft”–the ways they were historically and ideologically charged–it caused me to coin the term “avant-texte” as a substitute.

Contributed by Wout. View changelog.