4.0108 What is Text? (4/123)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 23 May 90 19:25:46 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0108. Wednesday, 23 May 1990.

(1) Date: 22 May 90 16:24:25 MDT (37 lines)
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: What is text?

(2) Date: 22 May 90 16:24:25 MDT (24 lines)
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: What is text, again?

(3) Date: 22 May 90 23:36:00 EDT (35 lines)
From: O.B. Hardison, Jr. <ohar@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: RE: 4.0096 What is Text?

(4) Date: Wed, 23 May 90 11:57 PDT (27 lines)
Subject: Re: 4.0096 What is Text?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 22 May 90 16:24:25 MDT
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: What is text?

John Slatin gives a detailed example of a question about text, but
the question seems pretty easy to me. When I write something and
then revise it, I don't have one text, I have two. I have the
first draft, and a revision. Simple. Your poet, John, has several
versions of her poem. The versions probably reflect various stages
of her artistic life and I would study them in that light. I would
be hard put to imagine any other approach.

The _Ulysses_ debate seems to me to have more to do with the notion
of "authorized edition", an ancient battle between publishers and
writers. Is this really all there is to this debate? Of course
there are different versions to any literary work. There are
different versions to interoffice memos, for pity's sake. This is
scarcely grounds for philosophical arguments in academic journals.
The good historian will collect everything possible and make sense
of it as best she or he can.

I agree with Sperberg-McQueen that a text can include computer
programs and recipies and the like; I have some misgivings over
wiring diagrams. If we allow that, why should we not call the
drawings in an artist's sketchbook "text"? In the Middle Ages
artists worked from highly standardized sketchbooks which they were
expected to use as a kind of template for their own work. They had
more room to make changes than does an electrician, but the
function was pretty much the same. I would stick at words -- a
text has words.

Skip Knox
Microcomputer Coordinator (cum) Medieval Historian
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------32----
Date: 22 May 90 16:24:25 MDT
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: What is text, again?

Humph. I asked folks to explain the debate over textuality without
referring me to books and Robin Cover pulls a fast one and refers
me to articles instead. No fair! And, in the abstract of the
first article, I'm informed that "text is best represented as an
ordered hierarchy of content object[s]. . . ." Huh? An ordered
hierarchy as distinguished from one the lacks order, I suppose.

Why can't anyone involved in this subject speak in layman's terms?
The issue seems to have something to do with how we draw
conclusions from what we read - a subject of some interest to a
historian - but I'll be blasted if I can puzzle out the jargon.

Still waiting and hoping . . .

Skip Knox
Microcomputer Coordinator (cum) Medieval Historian
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------46----
Date: 22 May 90 23:36:00 EDT
From: O.B. Hardison, Jr. <ohar@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: RE: 4.0096 What is Text? (103)

I recall a lively paper on just this subject by Jim Thorpe in PMLA a
couple of decades ago. It was a modestly witty reply to those textual
critics, especially followers of Fredson Bowers, who claimed to have
reduced textual criticism to exact (or almost exact) science. As I
recall, Thorpe was discussing the problems of editing Emily Dickinson
and pointed out that often the variants in the text of a single poem
were so great that it was ludicrous to try to establish a single
definitive "text." This problem is exactly the one that led to the
celebrated recent controversy about the true "text of KING LEAR and
resulted in the decision of the Oxford editors that there are really two
plays and any attempt to conflate them falsifies both.

But before leaving this topic, I'd like to add that a "text" is also
something that is supposed to have - and to be able to accomplish - its
cultural mission. I am haunted by the history of classical texts
between the late 15th century - when the object was to produce texts
that could be used by what you might think of as the "general reading
public" (whatever that phrase or its equivalent might have meant in the
15th century) because "reading the classics" was considered by humanists
to be culturally beneficial - and the style of textual editing of the
17th and later centuries, when ancient authors were all but walled off
behind barriers of complex apparatus. Point is, a text that has been so
"edited" that people are put off by it is maybe quite different from the
text that the author might have wanted to produce. I don't mean to be
anti-intellectual, merely to point out that the ifdea of "text" includes
the idea of what the text is to be used for, how it is to be read and by
whom, etc. Having written this, I wonder if the problems of producing
"texts" of older authors aren't analogous to the problems of translation
- what is one really after?

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------243---
Date: Wed, 23 May 90 11:57 PDT
Subject: Re: 4.0096 What is Text? (103)

Offhand, off the top of the hand, so to say, one might opine that all
the versions are of course texts by Miss Moore. What each version IS,
is another question. In #1 the poet says one thing; in another the poet
says another. None of them constitute THE poem. It is significant
that she herself kept refashioning her text for THE POEM. If you
look at a lithograph by Picasso or Matisse that has several stages of
redoing, or better yet his successive linocuts, to change the image by
substracting surfaces and colors, you get an image, or "poem," as it
were, that is different because the form that constitutes it is
materially altered. All artists who work in materials have usually a
pleothora of versions of a particular image. We who work in words
tend, perhaps, to work as if the texct is an ocon that represents an
ideal image or idea, in the mind of BEING itself...? As for the
versions of ULYSSES, it is erhaps not Random House to look at,
casuistically and marxistly, but the conditions under which it was
produced in France. FINNEGANS W. is a hairier case, because fo the
constant rewritings and scrfawling of the almost sandblind JAJ. Taken
loosely, all the printed versions of a poem are poems, each different.
Events that occur differently, though they may have common reference in
the title. Since poetry is so slippery a godling, perhaps that is what
troubled M Moore herself. Or did she simply decide that new versions
vere superior foul papers, a most cynically subversive thought, no? I
take it back, just kidding. Kessler at UCLA