4.0130 Text, Hypertext, and Errors in Text (2/41)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 25 May 90 17:19:18 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0130. Friday, 25 May 1990.

(1) Date: Fri, 25 May 90 11:07 EDT (12 lines)
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@brandeis.bitnet>
Subject: What is a text?

(2) Date: 22 May 90 21:34:55 EST (29 lines)
From: James O'Donnell <JODONNEL@PENNSAS>
Subject: Error

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 25 May 90 11:07 EDT
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@brandeis.bitnet>
Subject: What is a text?

The notion of hypertext as a form for critical editions of literary
works has recently appeared even in the TLS: Jerome McGann, in the issue
of May 11-17, 1990, comments on its particular value ``for writers who
exhibit not merely an extreme interest in finished forms (unities of
being), but who obsessively rework their texts in an effort to arrive at
their impossible (and changing) dreams''---such as Yeats.

John Lavagnino, Brandeis
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------32----
Date: 22 May 90 21:34:55 EST
From: James O'Donnell <JODONNEL@PENNSAS>
Subject: Error

From: Jim O'Donnell (Penn, Classics)

`Accuracy is a duty, not a virtue' was A.E. Housman's view,
characteristically acerbic, of the responsibility of editors of
classical texts for reporting the readings of medieval manuscripts.
`Zero defects' was the motto of the moment around military engineering
facilities I knew twenty years ago. We panic at the thought that the
risk of cancer may be doubled by ingesting some chemical without asking
what the risk was before it was doubled: if 0.00000001, perhaps not a
*dire* threat, but we seek assurance. We want out investments insured
against all possibility of peculation and natural disaster. And all
this in spite of the undeniable fact that most of us, even HUMANISTs,
were actually born and raised as human beings.

The best advice from the *long* tradition of copying and editing
classical texts is to remember that every attempt to correct an error is
itself a fallible human act. I suppose you could construct a curve to
show the possible improvement in texts through mass proofreading through
the ages, but 0 is only the asymptote, not the goal. Is it time again
for the old legend about the Septuagint Greek translation of the Bible?
How seventy scholars went into separate booths and each translated the
whole of the Hebrew scripture and came out with miraculously identical
and perfect texts (including, unaccountably, some texts for which Hebrew
originals were not forthcoming). An old dream, the infallible, eternal,
impeccable Word.