Tanselle 1992

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Tanselle, Thomas. A Rationale of Textual Criticism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

The Nature of Texts

Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" -- contemplating where time and art lie and how they endure

"do we ever know where a poem is? Can the artifacts that constitute our evidence for the existence of a poem provide us -- as the urn does -- with a means for ordering the randomness of life?" (12)
"do not manuscripts and printed books possess the same apssivity as othe rinanimate objects, and may not their texts -- however unfinished or incorrect their producers might consider them -- offer the same satisfying remoteness that works of visual art do? If so, what is the relation between the reading of the various documentary texts of a poem and the experiencing of the work, or are they all separate works? Such questions, like the cold pastoral of the urn itself, tease us out of thought, for they reflect the insoluble enigmas of aesthetics. And they raise issues that textual critics must not fail to confront." (13)
"Literature poses particularly perplexing aesthetic questions, for the corporeal reality of literary works has been, and remains, a matter of dispute." (13)

if we see a literary work as a "communication from the past," then "its location in space and time is the most basic of considerations: one must be able to distinguish the work itself from attempts to reproduce it." (13)

"Equating a reproduction with the work it aims to copy is incoherent, for an interest in works is a historical interest, and copies are the products of later historical moments. A reproduction may of course be regarded as a work in its own right, but the historical focus has then shifted. Artifacts can be viewed both as works in themselves and as evidence for reconstructing other works, but this dual possibility in no way lessens the conceptual gap between the two historical approaches to artifacts." (14)

medium of literature is word; "Although the communication of literary works requires such vehicles as sound waves or the combination of ink and paper, the works do not depend on those vehicles for their existence: it has often been pointed out that a literary work is not lost through the destruction of every handwritten, printed, and recorded copy of it, so long as the text remains in someone's memory." (17)

"literary works do not exist on paper or in sounds. Whatever concept of authorship one subscribes to, the act of reading or listening to receive a message from the past entails the effor to discover, through the text (or texts) one is presented with, the work that lies behind." (18)
"Because a literary work can be transmitted only indirectly, by processes that may alter it, no responsible description, interpretation, or evalutaiton of a literary work as a product of a past moment can avoid considering the relative reliability of the available texts and the nature of the connections among them." (18)

in altering texts, "the issue ... is whether historical reconstruction or curretn effectiveness of operation should take precedence, when the two do not seem to coincide" (19)

"all artifacts -- all tangible things that we have inherited from the human past, whether regarded as debris or as testimony to the human spirit -- present us with the alternatives of preservation or alteration (which includes destruction, and thus with textual problems. Textual criticism -- the textual way of thinking -- adjudicates between the competing claims of a basic dilemma: the feeling, on the one hand, that all artifacts, by their survival, deserve our respect, either because they put us in touch with what has gone before or because we feel a social obligation to pass along intact what we have received; and, on the other, the realization that they may fail to represent, for a variety of reasons, what their producers intended or what we feel we need, and that without correction or repair they may be misleading guides to the past, and without innovative change they may seem unsatisfying." (21)

works that survive in artifacts vs works that survive in instructions for performance

"Any work -- whether tangible, like a painting, or intangible, like a poem -- will produce somewhat different responses whenever we encounter it, for in each interval between encounters the unruly forces of time will have altered the work (or its physical embodiment), the present context of the work, and our own attitudes." (25)

alter a painting, and you alter the work; alter paper with poem on it, and you haven't change the work, just the document

one can take ahistorical approach of choosing to ignore historical dimension of work that comes to us from the past, but "we are still binding ourselves to history by equating the work with that one form of it, which is necessarily a past form. We can be liberated from history in our aesthetic experience -- if that is our desire -- only if we feel as free to alter works of the past as to create new works of our own." (31)

"Paradoxically, those who are most extreme in regarding works of literature as 'verbal icons' or 'linguistic moments' -- those most likely, that is, to think that they have freed themselves of historical constraints -- are in fact tying themselves most tightly to the accidents of history as embedded in artifacts. Conversely, those most emphatic in holding that the meaning of literature emerges from a knowledge of its historical context -- those most likely, that is, to believe themselves scrupulous in the use of historical evidence -- are in fact hindering their progress toward their goal if they do not recognize that artifacts may be less reliable witnesses to the past than their own imaginative reconstructions." (34)
"It is often said that textual criticism is a fundamental branch of scholarship because the textual critic must provide an accurate text before the literary critic can profitably begin to analyze it. But any text that a textual critic produces is itself the product of literary criticism, reflecting a particular aesthetic position and thus a particular approach to what textual 'correctness' consists of." (35)
"Anyone accepting a text uncritically -- without making such decisions -- is focusing not on a work but only on the text of a document." (35)
"The process of reading (and thus of criticism) therefore begins with the decision whether or not to be concerned with history." (35)
"despite the usefulness of the reproduction and transcription of the texts of documents, the attempt to reconstruct the texts of works is a more profound historical activity." (38)

blossoms (works) and stems (documents) analogy

Reproducing the Texts of Documents

texts convey verbal messages -- container may have some meaning but is not the meaning itself

"the crystal goblet of typography and calligraphy conveys a cargo that is abstract: letterforms provide the codes whereby we can attempt to recreate messages. The efficiency of a document -- written or printed -- in performing its utilitarian task is measured (or would be, if such a measurement were possible) by the degree to which the work that we think the document is telling us to create matches the one that its producer had in mind." (40-41)

through analysis of material form, "one moves in the direction of recovering what the producer of a document intended" (41)

"We have no choice but to begin with the physical details before our eyes; but if we stop there, we cannot pretend to have tried to see what these documents, as utilitarian vessels, contain." (42)

as scholars, we want everything from the past -- but even everything wouldn't be enough, we would also want versions in the author's mind, etc. (43)

"since every copy of an edition is a separate physical object, there is no way to be sure what a given copy is like without examining it. The point is very simple, but it has profound implications." (52)

all books contain valuable historical evidence

"A reproduction, whether produced photographically, xerographically, or in some other way, can no more be a substitute for the thing reproduced than another printed copy from the same press run can be." (54)
"All readers -- that is, all of them who turn to manuscripts and printed books for texts from the past -- should therefore approach these artifacts with two axiomatic points deeply embedded in their way of thinking: first, that every text has been affected in one way or another by the physical means of transmission; and second, that every copy of a text is a separate piece of documentary evidence." (55)
"no edition of the text of a document can be a substitute for the original and that every new edition complicates the life history of the text by releasing to the world a series of new documents" (58) -- but editions are "worth producing anyway"

editions of private writings (letters, etc.) would seem to be best in editions that don't transform the text; editions of public documents should offer a text of the work

"Choosing to reproduce the texts of documents is a recognition of the human drama enshrined in all artifacts. What every artifact displays is the residue of an unequal contest: the effort of a human being to transcend the human, an effort constantly thwarted by physical realities." (64)
"When one tries to create a work of verbal art, one aims for perfection, for the objectivity of an indepndent entity, expelled from the mind to exist in a space where (one hopes) other receptive minds can find it. But the vehicles required, from neural pathways to pens and inks, are uncooperative." (65)
"One may, from time to time, wish to regard a verbal document as a work of visual art, seeing it as if in an exhibition case or a frame on a wall; all the flaws in its verbal text then become parts of the composition, the blots and erasure and misprints contributing their share to the visual impact of the whole. The document, whatever state its verbal text is in, is a human intrusion into the realm of the nonhuman and can (in Eliot's words) provide 'the still point of the turning world', can be like th echinese jar moving 'perpetually in its stillness,' serving to organize our perceptions. But even though a document, like any other artifact, possesses this calming and nourishing stasis, we must also recognize, if we are interested in the verbal message it bears, that it reflects the pulsing and tortuous underside of stasis, freezing into inanimate solidity one moment in the history of the attempt to transmit a work made of words." (65-6)

Reconstructing the Texts of Works

"Every verbal text, whether spoken or written down, is an attempt to convey a work." (68) -- preserving these documents is "a vital cultural activity" but "does not preserve works but only evidences of works" (68-9)
"If, as readers, we are interested in the verbal works that their producers intended, we must constantly entertain the possibility of altering the texts we have inherited. Those texts, being reports of works, must always be suspect; and, no matter how many of them we have, we never have enough information to enable us to know with certainty what the works consist of. " (69)
"Because the medium of literature is abstract and because literary works therefore cannot exist in physical form, any attempt to apprehend such works entails the questioning of surviving texts." (69)
"Persons not interested in taking any of the historical approaches to literature need not search for the work represented by the text, but they should realize that what they are doing is equating the text of the document before them with the text of a work -- just as if the object before them were a painting." (70)
"Once we understand that the texts of verbal documents are not the texts of works, and once we decide that we do wish to concern ourselves with works, we are then faced with the question of how to alter the texts of the surviving documents, with the task of determining what standard to aim for in making emendations." (70)
"The basic question for every reader interested in history -- and perforce every scholarly editor -- is to decide whose intended wording, and at what time, is to be extracted from the clues provided by the documentary text (or texts)." (71)

texts are "a tissue of uncertainties -- and will remain so regarldess of the plenitude of relevant documents that may turn up" (73)

"The way one threads a path through these uncertainties -- to arrive at a defensible reconstruction of the text of a work of literature -- depends on the position one takes regarding two questions: what agency is responsible for the production of a work, and what point is the most significant in its history." (73)

relativistic approach -- no one way of editing is correct; "what makes one position defensible, and another not, is the coherence of the argument supporting it, the way the argument fashions a whole out of what seem the fragmented facts. There is thus no one valid line: the acceptable answers are limited only by human ingenuity, even while the unacceptable ones measure hte breadth of the mind's inadequacies." (74)

distinctions re authorial intention (78)

"Those editors who maintain that they cannot take readings from different editions because they do not wish to mix versions together -- and there are such editors -- have failed to understand how the texts of documents are different from the texts of works." (80)

scholarly editing often focuses on authorial intention "not because collaborative texts are necessarily considered inappropriate but because they can frequently be represented by the texts of existing documents, whereas texts reflecting authors' intentions are more likely to be ill represented by any surviving documentary texts and to demand reconstruction" (88)

"Of all the historical activities of textual study, the effort to reconstruct the texts of works as intended by their creators takes us deepest into the thinking of interesting minds that preceded us." (92)
"Verbal works, being immaterial, cannot be damaged as a painting or a sculpture can; but we shall never know with certainty what their undamaged forms consist of, for in their passage to us they are subjected to the hazards of the physical. Even though our reconstructions become the texts of new documents that will have to be evaluated and altered in their turn by succeeding generations, we have reason to persist in the effort to define the flowerings of previous human thought, which in their inhuman tranquillity have overcome the torture of their birth. Textual criticism cannot enable us to construct final answers to textual questions, but it can teach us how to ask the questions in a way that does justice to the capabilities of mind." (93)