Global Textual Scholarship: An American View
On March 18, 2015, at a symposium on textual studies in Japan, organized by Kiyoko Myojo and sponsored by Saitama University and Keio University, I gave the following talk. The slides add nothing to the reading text.
Textual scholars everywhere have some common objectives and some common obstacles. SLIDE 2 Our objectives are to understand literature and represent it understandably to interested readers. This means we write introductions and commentary and notes, which we think will increase another person's understanding and appreciation for the beauty or wisdom of literature. It also means that we promote the creation of new copies of the texts of literary works. Anyone who has compared in detail any copy of anything with its original can make a list of differences. There are always differences. Sometimes the differences are important. And so we have two goals for our newly copied texts: first, that they be accurate copies, and second, that we account for the important differences in copies before ours.
Common obstacles to our goals are ignorance, error, and poor judgment. It takes uncommon skills to overcome these obstacles. Sometimes we can only minimize the ill-effects of ignorance, error and poor judgment. We have, however, tools that will help us. We have investigative skills, proofreading skills, and analytical skills. Our objectives and the skills needed to achieve them are shared by textual scholars globally. Unfortunately, the obstacles of ignorance, error and poor judgment are also global.
The good side of textual studies, the side that investigates and exercises care, is not the same everywhere. Textual scholars do not all agree about how to combat ignorance, error, and poor judgment. They do not always agree about how to copy or edit or prepare texts for republication. The methodsof textual scholarship have sometimes been culturally determined, such that textual scholarship, editorial principles, and interpretive criticism seem to have acquired national tendencies. We may therefore think that there is a German way, a French way, and an Anglo-American way to conduct textual criticism. If that is so, why should there not also be a Japanese method?
My aim here is to suggest that the different tendencies associated with different countries are available to us all. That is, I no longer believe that there is a method of textual criticism that is right for German literature and a different method that is right for American literature. I do not think that there is a Western way and an Eastern way or that one is better than the other. They may be different, but there are different things that a new edition can do. We have choices. Instead of associating one goal and method with a country, we can identify a number of different goals for textual scholarship, and associate with each goal a methodology that is suitable to its goal. For that reason, I will be referring to a range of editorial goals, rather than to a range of countries in which one or another method is dominant.SUMMARY 1
First, let me try to dissect textual scholarship in a series of steps. SLIDE 3
1. All textual evidence is documentary. About literature,if one asks, "Where did that come from?" the ultimate answer is ALWAYS, "It came from a document, which may have been copied from another document." When one has reached the earliest surviving document, one has reached the final shred of extant textual evidence. We do not have time machines with which to ask authors in the past questions about what they are writing. The bedrock of our work is facts. SLIDE 4 Our facts are documentary. Our documents are material. Our texts are symbolic. Textual meaning is interpretive. Reading is interpretive. Reading depends on skills for analyzing symbols recorded on material documents. We are in a circle from which we cannot escape. Most readers operate with minimal textual information; textual scholars require all the information. SLIDE 5
2. Therefore, the first task of textual scholarship is to find all the documents and understand the order of their descent from earliest times to now. We begin with ignorance; we use our investigative skills, we collect documents on which are written the texts we wish to examine and edit. We arrive at knowledge of documentary facts. Our enemies are error, fatigue, poor judgment (oh, and lack of money). SUMMARY 2
3. When a textual scholar has found and collected all the surviving documentary evidence, what is to be done with it? We have reached the first point of difference among the world's textual scholars. Instead of asking, "Which is the correct next step?" SLIDE 6 Let us ask, "What are the possibilities?" I think all of the possibilities I am about to list will be attractive to you, but the order of their attractiveness may vary from one person to the next. Probably no editor will want to accomplish all of them--too much work. SLIDE 7
a. Digitize images of all the documents. That will make it possible, from anywhere in the world, to see any document side-by-side with any other document without traveling from Tokyo to Marburg and New York. SLIDE 8
b. Prepare a table of variants to show how all the documentary texts differ from one another. SLIDE 9
c. Write a textual history that explains the relationships among the variant documents and explains why we should care--why it is important to know. SLIDE 10
d. Transcribe at least one of the documents so that the variants list can be more easily used. Or transcribe all the documents so that readers can select and read any one. Transcribing all the documents will also make machine collation possible. SLIDE 11
e. Edit one of the transcriptions to correct obvious errors. This will preserve the text as a historical documentary text but will help readers avoid the distractions caused by scribal or compositorial errors.
So far no controversies. SLIDE 12 I have described what Historical/Critical editions accomplish. It is also what Anglo-American editors do before they start editing the work. Some editors think that this is the point at which Anglo-American editors start ruining their work. We will discuss that in a minute. What we have so far: digital images, transcriptions, lists of variants, and the textual scholar's explanation of the textual history, the relationships among the documents, and an indication of why all of that is important. That is basic work. Every textual scholar should do it. SUMMARY 3
But there are more possibilities. SLIDE 13 The truth is that what we have done so far replicates and explains the past. It does not do anything about it. Our scholarship shows who did well and who did poorly, but so far we have worked only with documents. We have not addressed the question, how do literary documents become literary works. Most readers who love literature, who love to read, who are very good readers, do not care about documents. They care about works. Documents are not works. They are the evidence for works. A literary document becomes a work when a reader reads it, performs it. A document is a material object; a work is a mind object--like mathematical abstractions, or unicorns, or thoughts. Readers create mind objects from the evidence found in documents. When the whole history of documents is flawed in the normal ways that copies are flawed, the editor replicates the flaws and the reader has to read through them or around them. Perhaps the editor can do something to make a new document that is better evidence of the literary work than are any of the historical documents. That idea is the basis for Anglo-American editing. SLIDE 14 This gives textual scholars a new additional possible task: Do something with the facts.
f. Use analytical skills to identify the author's work and the work of those whose help was compatible with the author's purposes. Then, edit an eclectic text that reflects those selected aspects of texts found in various documents. For example, eliminate the homogenizing work of standardization and or eliminate censorship and compositors' mis-readings that marred the historical documentary texts. Always provide a list of your emendations. SLIDE 15
g. Avoid editing altogether and, instead, write analytical essays about the creative development of texts from the way author's used their source and the way they revised from the earliest drafts though the most revised printed text. And write about the interpretive consequences of variant texts in process.
I have tried to list these possibilities in a progressive order. SLIDE 16 With the exception of A (digitization of images),goals B, C, and D (variants lists, textual histories, and transcriptions) seem necessary to finish before the other goals can be attempted. The reason I put A (digitization) first is that, now in the digital age, it seems to me that it SHOULD be first. (If you ask me, I'll tell you why later.) In this progressive list of possibilities, I have avoided the question, "Which is the right way to conduct textual scholarship?" Instead, the list supports a wish: "Yes, if there were time and money, we would like to see all of them." There are two reason why there IS in fact both time and money. That has not always been the case. Editors have had to choose among these goals because editors have not had the time or the money to accomplish all of them,and because the print medium has placed upon editors certain requirements and limitation. One resulting tendency is that editors have often defended their own choice of goals and methods as the best solution for all editors. SUMMARY 5
The result has been that Historical/Critical editing, often associated with Germany, but seen often in other European textual traditions, has focused on B, C, and E--making B (a textual apparatus of variants), C (textual histories), and D or E(a transcribed text, possibly with errors corrected) the end-point for scholarly editing. There are many reasons to stop there, though most of these reasons have to do with print technology and no longer hold true in the digital age. For many Historical/Critical editors, the scholarly edition produces a one-stop, printed source of historical information that can be used as the basis for other purposes, such as editing student editions or conducting genetic studies.
Anglo-American editorial traditions, on the other hand, tended to focus attention on F (extracting an eclectic text that reflects the author's purposes better than did any historical text). Anglo-American editors did all the work of B, C, and E, but they never thought they had the money to print and publish these steps in the process. What the American granting agencies tended to fund were editions that fulfilled, as best that scholarly analytical skill could determine, the full fruition of Anglo-American authorship. That required eclectic texts.
Neither of these objectives of textual scholarship exhaust what students of literature want to know about documents and texts. Critique génétique reflects investigative urges that are not fulfilled by collections of historical documentary facts and are not content with anyone else's notion of what the text should have been. Instead, geneticists want to investigate the processes of textual development. These include the processes of creativity, of selection, of corruption, of intervention, and of critical consumption. To conduct such studies items B, C, D, and E are helpful, but in themselves areincomplete. To a geneticist, F (the eclectic edition) was too narrowly focused on one way to distinguish right from wrong texts; geneticists were interested in all texts.SUMMARY 6
Eclectic editions flourished in America more than elsewhere. I will argue that, when the eclectic edition has been properly understood, it will be seen to have a legitimate place in the range of textual scholarship. We might even all wish to seeeclectic editions supported. Textual scholarship is so complex and diverse thatwe might think there is enough work to do to establish the historical record and not enough time to try to fix the errors of history. We say we do not have enough time or money. But that is no longer true for two reasons. SLIDE 17
The first reason is that in the digital age the work of one editor or small group of editors can serve as the foundation for another or many other editors. This was not true in the print world. Print projects had to be defined from beginning to end and completed before publication. Once published in print, a new project that wished to build on the accomplishments of the previous project had to begin production processes from the ground up. Not so with digital projects. If one starts a digital project by creating digital images of all the documents, one has a resource that will serve all subsequent textual projects. That is true even if a new textual scholar finds a reason to go see the originals themselves. I hope there will always be reasons and means to see original documents. As substitutes for originals, however, digital images are as close as can be produced. The next steps--transcriptions and collations and the preparations of textual histories--focus on the documentary record. These steps establish the facts of the material and symbolic evidence. Of course, transcribing texts is only as good as the proofreading; collation tables are only as good as the design of the apparatus that displays them; and textual histories are only as good as the analytical skills of the textual historian. But in all these tasks, it is the record of facts that counts. Placed in a virtual archive--that is, a digital archive--this part of textual scholarship offers a valuable resource for further work in the ultimate task of understanding literature and representing it understandably to readers.
The second reason that we now have sufficient time and money do conduct all the work of textual scholarship is dependent on the first. Whereas in the print era, a project need to be planned and completed before publication, in the digital age, a project does not need to be planned from beginning to end and completed before being "published"--or rather before being launched on the Internet. If we start with the foundation of a virtual archive, then a generation or more of other textual scholars can use the images, transcriptions, collations, and textual histories in order to generate additional scholarship and criticism. The last time I was in Japan I talked about HRIT (Humanities Research Infrastructure and Tools) as one environment designed to host a virtual archive and to encourage and host scholarly contributions to the textual scholarship needed to transform an archive into representations of literature for interested readers. There are other platforms that are now even more advanced than the one I envisioned. The most interesting of them to me is AUST-ESE developed in Australia, originally for Australian Electronic Scholarly Editing, but available for use with other literatures--at least other literature using the Roman alphabet.SUMMARY 7
Time and money need no longer be measured by how much time or money an individualeditor or a single project has available in the foreseeable future. Time and money now extends beyond our vision for virtual archives that serve as a the basis for further editions, textual scholarship, and interpretive criticism. Eventually, our project will become their project and may, someday be finished. SLIDE 18
It will have images of all the historical documents.
Transcriptions of all the historical documents.
A collation of variants among the historical documents.
An explanation of the transmission of texts from document to document.
An explanation of the nature of textual variation: who made the changes? why they made the changes? which changes were accidental and which were on purpose?
Commentary and notes on the text. SUMMARY 8
I'll end with a short accountof why I believe in the value of eclectic editions. I was trained to believe that eclectic editions could be definitive and stand on their own to represent both the history and the achievement of textual art. They are NOT definitive. But they can be valuable.I understand eclectic editions now as contributions to the overall achievement of textual scholarship.
The English author, William Makepeace Thackeray, worked for ten years as a journalist and writer of travel books before his first great novel, Vanity Fair, was published in 1847-1848. During that time he worked with many publishers and proofread his work as typeset by many compositors. Thackeray knew the printing and publishing trades because he was friends with his publishers and familiar with the printing offices. That is one part of Thackeray.
Thackeray was also a smooth stylist, a perfect speller, and a rapid writer, whose punctuation is barely adequate for publication. Anyone looking at Thackeray's manuscripts knows they cannot be published as written with any hope that readers will think well of the printer. But Thackeray did punctuate his manuscripts according to the rules he learned in school. These rules were rhetorical, designed to help readers by suggesting pauses of different lengths as one reads aloud. The problem is that Thackeray did not always put all the quotation marks in, sometimes his periods look like dashes, and sometimes his ear for the sound of the sentence did not match what was conventionally expected. Hence, his manuscript punctuation needed some fixing up.
Compositors in England at the mid-19th-century were paid by the amount of type that they set. They were required to correct errors for no pay at all. And they were given Thackeray's manuscripts exactly as he wrote them. Compositors were skilled workmen. They worked as fast as they could. They fixed Thackeray's punctuation by following their own rules. Those rules were grammatical rules designed to help readers by indicating the grammatical structure of sentences. The quotation marks and periods are in place. But the pauses of different lengths which Thackeray had indicatedwere mostly changed to grammatical indications of sentence structure. The result was that the printed texts have far more punctuation than was needed. SLIDE 19
The eclectic text I wanted had Thackeray's manuscript punctuation, cleaned up somewhat, but not to the extent imposed by compositors. It also had the revisions that Thackeray made in proofs and which showed up only in the printed texts. The eclectic text does not substitute for, nor replace, the historical documents. Instead it does something that what no historical document does, which is to representThackeray's writing as it would have been had the compositors been less hurried and more in tune with Thackeray's ear for style.
As textual scholars, we share many tasks, we share many standards. But we do not all want to accomplish the same goal in editing. And no matter how you edit, there is always something your edition cannot do. So, define your goal and explain your method. If your work is accurate and your method is clear, then you have a right to do what you did. But please do not pretend that you have had the last word. All the editions that went before you, and all the editions that will come after you, have some appeal that yours does not have. And yours will have an appeal that the others do not have--if you are accurate and clear.SUMMARY 9