4.0120 Texts and E-Texts (3/81)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 24 May 90 16:01:52 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0120. Thursday, 24 May 1990.

(1) Date: 24 May 1990, 07:01:46 EDT (31 lines)
Subject: What is text?

(2) Date: Thu, 24 May 90 09:05:37 EDT (25 lines)
From: pdk@iris.brown.edu (Paul D. Kahn)
Subject: Re: 4.0101 Errors and CD-ROMs

(3) Date: Thursday, 24 May 1990 9:28am CST (25 lines)
Subject: 4.0108 What is Text?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 24 May 1990, 07:01:46 EDT
Subject: What is text?

O.B. Hardison brings up a difficult but interesting point that Humanist
has touched on in the past: when should an editor translate an old or
difficult text into modern English and when should he or she leave it in
its original form? Even seventeenth-century spelling, pointing, italics
can be confusing to a modern reader, but a poet like George Herbert, in
a poem like "Easter Wings," meant something by phonetic spelling, by the
varying degrees of pauses indicated by the different marks of
punctuation and not only by italicised words or phrases but also by the
shape of the poem on the page. So what does a modern editor do with
that? The text in this case might be a printed version as compared with
the manuscript prepared from the author's by a careful and devoted
scribe. Shouldn't the editor of Herbert, basing his or her decisions on
a careful study of all of the printed and manuscript versions of the
text, arrange the versions in a chronological tree and then select the
text that seems to represent the author's final intentions (or in some
rare cases his best intentions?)? In the case of the versions of _King
Lear_ with something like equal authority, both texts might be published
together. For a scholar, and especially for the scholar who uses
electronic texts, the more authoritative or even "bad quarto" texts, the
better. To come back to the question above, should we modernize, say,
Wyatt, and not modernize Spenser, because Spenser's spelling seems to be
more important to his phonetic system and hence the sound and meaning of
his poems? And should we modernize Shakespeare because if we don't
modern American students might not read him? We obviously need to
translate Chaucer for someone who cannot bother to learn the English of
London in 1400, but we realize there is a loss in that translation.
Comments? Roy Flannagan
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------34----
Date: Thu, 24 May 90 09:05:37 EDT
From: pdk@iris.brown.edu (Paul D. Kahn)
Subject: Re: 4.0101 Errors and CD-ROMs

In response to both John Slatin's comments on variations in Marianne
Moore's poetry and Ken Steele's comments in errors in electronic texts:

There are several ways in which the current model of electronic text is
impoverished when compared to printed text. One important one is that
there is no agreement about conveying variations or critical apparatus
as part of the text. Obviously it can be done, and I would argue that
it can be done more effectively in electronic form than it is currently
done on the printed page. But it is missing from most of what I see

Likewise, we have no way currently to update and correct electronic texts
in a timely manner. Once again, it can be done, but it will take some
infrastructure. One example from the sciences that comes to mind is the
Online Mandelian Inheritance of Man (OMIM), a catalog of genetic mapping
produced by a professor at Johns Hopkins Univ. This is published as a
book once a year, but it is also maintained as an online database that
can be accessed over various networks. The professor in charge takes
corrections and amendations via e-mail and updates the database on a
weekly basis. The result is a very useful resource to the participating
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------32----
Date: Thursday, 24 May 1990 9:28am CST
Subject: 4.0108 What is Text? (4/123)

A quick reply to Skip Knox: Of course you're right when you say that
there are umpteen versions of Moore's poem "Poetry," as well as several
versions of Joyce's _Ulysses_. And you're right, too, in pointing out
that much of the problem has to do with "authorized editions" and what
*text* they include. But this isn't such a simple matter, at least not
when we're talking about print. The "Definitive Edition" of Moore's
_Complete Poems_, for instance, includes only the three-line (1967) text
of "Poetry" and the "Longer Version" that appears in the notes; there's
no reference at all to the 13-line version of 1925. A variorum edition
could of course handle this problem; so could a hypertext or other
on-line version. As for _Ulysses_, things get a bit more complex: the
"reading text" published by Random House after Gabler's massive project
is very odd: every word in it was at some point written by Joyce during
the preparation of _Ulysses_, and yet the text published by Random House
had never existed before-- it cannot be traced back to any single extant
text of _Ulysses_. So what is the text of _Ulysses_?

And if a text is something that "has words," what becomes of Blake-- to
say nothing of more recent forms like interactive fiction?

John Slatin