McGann 1991

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Text and Textualities

human culture as “network of symbolic exchanges” – which are material negotiations; entering into these exchanges is “the textual condition”

c.f. to sexual event – to e human is to be involved with many other humans

“We make love and we make texts, and we make both in a seemingly endless series of imaginative variations.” (4)

“Today, texts are largely imagined as scenes of reading rather than scenes of writing.” – readerly view embedded in hermeneutical tradition; don’t make but interpret texts

“textuality cannot be understood except as a phenomenal event, and that reading itself can only be understood when it has assumed specific material constitutions” (4-5)

textual idealists: • De Man – “labored to show the illusions involved in any project that believed it could close, even for a moment the hermeneutic circle” (6) o close reading: “pursuit of meaning involves an activity of ceaseless metaphoric production” (6) • “These metaphoric constructs are the reader’s ‘insights’ into the meaning he desires. For the traditional interpreter, the constructs re-present a version or vision of the Truth, one that is more or less adequate, more or less exemplary. For the deconstructive reader, the visions are, with respect to the ideal of Truth, simply different styles of failure. The ‘truth’ they reveal is the special form of blidnness to which a particular reader is prone.” (6) • Tanselle’s quote – all writing is corruption of truth in originally intended message

against this idealism is a model that says reading is always historically situated in material, social conditions • “In this world, time, space, and physicality are not the emblems of a fall from grace, but the bounding conditions which turn gracefulness abounding.” (9)

“The textual condition’s only immutable law is the law of change.” (9)

“Every text enters the world under dterminate sociohistorical conditions, and while these conditions may and should be variously defined and imagined, they establish the horizon within which the life histories of different texts can play themselves out. The law of change declares that these histories will exhibit a ceaseless process of textual development and mutuation – a process which can only be arrested if all the textual transformations of a particular work fall into nonexistence. To study texts and textualities, then, we have to study these complex (and open-ended) histories of textual change and variance.” (9)

readers have difference experiences of texts not only because they bring their own histories to the text, but also because of the text itself – happens on both sides of textual transmission

“Every text has variants of itself sscreaming to get out” (10)

“Various readers and audiences are hidden in our texts, and the traces of their multiple presence are scripted at the most material levels.” (10)

poetry takes the complex event of text as its “special subject”; distinct from informational texts

“Literary works do not know themselves and cannot be known, apart from their specific material modes of existence/resistance. They are not channels of transmission, they are particular forms of transmissive interaction.” (11)

textual studies “under the spell of romantic hermeneutics”; break the spell “by socializing the study of texts at the most radical levels” (12) • 1. must see textual condition “as an interactive locus of complex feedback operations” • 2. must “also demonstrate the semiotics of the text as that has been the subject of attention of bibliographers, sociologists, economists, and tradespersons of various kinds”

Genette, “Paratexts” – good start, but “not strong enough”; McGann instead is “calling attention to the text as a laced network of linguistic and bibliographical codes” (13)

redundancy and excess in texts; would be seen as “noise” in communication theory, but are “positive features in the perspective I am taking” bc “they draw our attention to that quality of self-embodiment that is so central to the nature of texts” (14)

“Poets understand texts better than most information technologists.” (14)

poems do not merely transmit meaning

“This book attempts to sketch a materialist hermeneutics. In so doing, it considers texts as autopoietic mechanisms operating as self-generating feedback systems that cannot be separated from those who manipulate and use them. Their autopoiesis functions through a pair of interrelated textual embodiments we can study as systems of lingustic and bibliographical codings.” (15)

no “theory of textuality,” at best an “anti-theory” • “What is textually possible cannot be theoretically established. What can be done is to sketch, through close and highly particular case studies, the general framework within which textuality is constrained to exhibit its transformations.” (16)

“double helix of a work’s reception history and its production history” (16)

Theory, Literary Pragmatics, and the Editorial Horizon

"one overriding fact grew upon me as I worked to produce the edition of Byron: that texts are produced and reproduced under specific social and institutional conditions, and hence that eery text, including those that may appear to be purely private, is a social text. This view entails a corollary understanding, that a 'text' is not a 'material thing' but a material event or set of events, a point in time (or a moment in space) where certain communicative interchanges are being practiced." (21)
"the editorial horizon forces one to reimagine the theory of texts -- and, ultimately, the theory of literature -- as a specific set of social operations" (21)

example of Rosetti -- why edit him? bc "an edition of Ressetti, in short, can be imagined and carried out as a theoretical act of special importance at this critical moment in the history of textual studies" (24)

New Oxford Book of Verse of the Romantic Period -- 1785-1832 "is marked by many more differentials than the rubric 'romantic poetry' -- however variously that term is understood -- will be able to comprehend." new edition honors those differentials (39)

  • "The broadening of the poetic franchise seems to me an imperative scholarly task, particularly at this time when certain narrow and even imperial concepts of writing and culture are once again seeking to define the limits of what is best and culturally possible." (39)

weakness of eclectic editing: "The weakness of the theory is that it largely ignores the transmissive or communicative aspects of linguistic events. "Copy-text," in modern editorial theory, is always a linguistic text. Traditioanl textual criticism, with its concentration on the linguistic text, is thus happily married to traditional hermeneutics, which elucidates meaning -- which locates meaning -- entirely in linguistic symbologies." (57)

"As the process of textual transmission expands, whether vertically (i.e., over time), or horizontally (in institutional space), the signifying processes of the work become increasingly collaborative and socialized." (58)

no way to determine finally "authorial intention" -- first intentions or last, e.g.?

one new editorial activity "imagines itself to be a kind of nonactivity functioning only to remove certain earlier interventions in the text. But of course this is a mystification, for the scholar's text radically alters the original textual situation." (65)

"The scholar's text is a positive construction in its own right, a new stage of collaboration with the (now dead) author and his or her earlier collaborators. Every new edition, including every critical edition, is an act of reimagining and redefining a text's audience(s) and its ways of interacting with those audience(s)." (65-6)
"The point is that author's intentions are always operating along with nonautorial intentions, that each presupposes the other, and that no text ever came into being, or could come into being, without interactions between the two. The theoretical effort to erase this fundamentally interactive process -- to imagine writing and the production of texts as a solitary activity -- is not so much mistaken as it is a highly specialized way of imagining the nature of texts. It becomes a mistaken theory only when it represents itselfa s catholic and comprehensive -- when, for example, it imagines 'final intentions' to be the ultimate and determining criterion of copy-text." (66)

scholar's edition also changes bibliographical form

The Socialization of Texts

"The vaunted immortality sought after by the poetic impulse will be achieved, if it is achieved at all, in the continuous socialization of the texts." (83)

The Textual Condition

"readers and editors may be seen as well, even as they are readers and editors, as authors and writers. And it also seems to me that authors and writers may be seen as well, even as they are authors and writers, as readers and editors. I am not 'free' with respect to this text I am writing. Even as I write it I am reading it as if I were in another time and place -- as if I were here and now, in fact -- and my text, my 'textualite,' is constrained and determined by a future which at all points impinges upon my present text. This is to be in the textual condition." (95)

How to Read a Book

3 forms of reading: linear, spatial, and radial

"Radial reading involves decoding one or more of the contexts that interpenetrate the scripted and physical text." (119)

absorbed reading, like in Harlequin romances, at the other end of the spectrum to radial reading, which constantly cycles out of and back into the text

"This is a process by which the entire sociohistory of the work -- from its originary moments of production through all its subsequent reproductive adventures -- is postulated as the ultimate goal of critical self-consciousness. That the goal is i nfact an unreachable one is clear." (120)
"In this respect the critical edition is a kind of analogue computer designed to reconstitute past texts and versions in forms which make them usable in the present and for the future." (121) -- critical edition is most"sociohistorically self-conscious of texts" (121)


"Variation, in other words, is the invariant rule of the textual condition. Interpretive differentials (or the freedom of the reader) are not the origin or cause of the variation, they are only its most manifest set of symptoms." (185)