Tanselle 1998

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Tanselle, G. Thomas. Literature and Artifacts. Charlottesville: The bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1998.

Reproductions and Scholarship (1989) (59-88)

for scholars, cheap photocopying "has transformed -- for the better -- their manner of working" -- but "the advent of cheap photocopying is not an unmixed blessing" (59)

  • Vidal implies it "has enabled scholars increasingly to pack away endless bits of information without digesting it" (59)
"But there have always been scholars who do not know how to make constructive use of their accumulated data and others who clearly do know how: the ubiquity of copying machines does not change that. In any case, the disturbing aspect of Xerox-land that I wish to address is quite different, but equally fundamental: the total lack of understanding of the nature of documentary evidence that is exhibited by most scholars in their use of photocopies." (59-60)

problems with microfilm/facsimiles

  • silent erasures and "cleaning" introduces confusion / inaccuracies (66-7)

misleading nature of microfilm/facsimiles

  • ink/pencil and bleed-through is evidence lost in reproductions
  • made from only one copy, which may differ in certain respects from all other copies (69)
"Accidents do happen, and reproductions do mislead. Everyone knows that; and everyone knows (though many people act as if they do not) that every form of reproduction can lie, by providing a range of possibilities for interpretation that is different from the one offered by the original. What is less well understood is that even if the production of copies were always accurately handled and every if the reproductions themselves were never distorted or misleading in their representation of the originals, they would still be unsatisfactory. the reciting of examples is actually irrelevant, because even if no one had ever found any problem in any previous reproduction, there would still be no reason to trust reproductions or to let them serve as substitutes for originals. The essential fact one must come back to is that every reproduction is a new document, with characteristics of its own, and no artifact can be a substitute for another artifact." (70)
"There is no way that reproductions -- regardless of what technology is developed in the future -- can ever be the equal of originals as documentary evidence, for there is no way of getting around the fact that they are one step (at least) removed from those originals. And there is no way that the existence of reproductions, however high their quality, can justify the destruction of originals. No one seems to have trouble understanding why a reproduction of a vase ca not replace the original for any serious study; but many people apparently fail to see that a paper with written or printed words on it is also an artifact, containing an unreproducible assemblage of clues to its own genesis." (76)
"The study of the past requires artifacts from the past; reproductions are the products of a different time from that of the originals they attempt to duplicate, and they therefore transport us to a different time." (77)

save everything -- do not assume reproductions have stored the "information" of the text, and that the physical form can be discarded, "for there is no product of the past that is not useful in studying the past" (85)