14.0105 on commentaries

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Mon Jul 10 2000 - 06:16:00 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 105.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 06:55:40 +0100
             From: jod@ccat.sas.upenn.edu (James J. O'Donnell)
             Subject: Re: 14.0101 on commentaries

    willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> wrote:
    > Date: Fri, 07 Jul 2000 10:16:57 +0100
    > From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
    > >

    A well-chosen subject line for a message that eventually comes to dwell on
    *ejaculatory* prayer . . .

    > Slowly, I am saddened that a distinguished scholar of Augustine would
    > rehash orality/literacy dichotomies in order to argue in a
    > technologically deterministic fashion that certain material
    > practices entrench hierarchies.

    People wield the trenching tool, not practices (the practices are
    themselves tools), but it is hardly determinism to say that different
    kinds of things have different kinds of qualities. What is remarkable in
    this discussion is that "commentary" is accepted as a generic descriptor
    of a wide variety of cultural practices, some of which involve only the
    spoken word, some both spoken and written, some written only (and
    "written" ranging from handwritten MS to xml text, shortly to be expanded
    by reintroducing oral and no doubt visual commentary material). My
    purpose in writing was to suggest some of the distinctions that obtain
    between what, e.g., a fourth century bishop does in his pulpit, what a
    thirteenth century monk does in his cell, and what a 20th century scholar
    does on his laptop at 40,000 feet. In doing so, I did not mean to efface
    the discourse of resemblance that links those things, but only to
    supplement that with observation of disresemblance and to encourage us to
    catalogue the latter thoughtfully.

    In doing so, I take it to be fundamental that commentary brings two texts
    in contact with each other: the commentary and its object. And I further
    observe that the relationship between those texts varies sharply in
    response to a variety of factors. *Pale Fire* and Robert Grudin's
    wonderful *Book: A Novel* offer extreme cases where the *apparent*
    hierarchy is subverted.

    But a 13th century scholastic or 20th century academic commentary on an
    authoritative text will offer (to my mind) a subtler form of subversion.
    Aquinas on Aristotle: which is the *authority*? We can argue. But
    Aristotle's text *persists* in that commentary, for reasons that are at
    least in part mechanical. As Lachance points out (preserved below) the
    e-text is one that *can* (and therefore often will) readily lose the
    text-commented-upon as the commentary survives. The decline of same-page
    commentary printing has anticipated this in print for fifty years.

    The only other thing I will say for now is that both Lachance and Siemens
    (quotation also preserved below, as object of commentary) are devotees of
    the commentary form, seeking its preservation in cybertext. Moi aussi.
    But I *surmise* that we are among the few, the proud, and the brave in
    this regard, and that the cultural momentum of new forms will not
    emphasize commentary-relations. We can dream of the scholarly journal as
    talmud-on-talmud (you write article with footnotes, I add some footnotes,
    you add some footnotes to mine, somebody else adds some more footnotes),
    but that will represent that extreme elaboration of an old form by a few
    devotees. I would expect new media in the main to accelerate and
    reinforce more popular tendencies in the culture, tendencies whereby the
    new text effaces and replaces and forgets the old. I could be wrong.

    Jim O'Donnell
    Classics, U. of Penn

    > http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-11/footnote/fn20.htm
    > And this is a prime example of how pointing mechanisms designed for a
    > bound volume do need a bit of adaptation to make the hyperlinks work. The
    > URL cited above lists footnotes to the eleventh volume of the second
    > series of the writings of the Post-Nicene church fathers. There is no link
    > back to the commented text. A link not easy to reconstruct for the
    > non-expert given the table of contents:
    > http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-11/TOC.htm#TopOfPage
    > A bit of robot-like repetive searching (built on the assumption that
    > the web version encodes a printed version with cross-reference
    > builty on a consecutive numbering system) yields the commented source
    > as the second book of Cassian's Institutes of Coenobia which deals with
    > the canonical system of nocturanl prayers and psalms:
    > http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-11/Npnf2-11-36.htm#P1990_872506
    > Sometimes awake at night, I harbour the suspicion that short prayers like
    > short commentaries are designed to deprive the receipient of sleep and
    > thus induce an altered state. There are textual communities that seek to
    > avoid such states and those that enhance them and there are textual nomads
    > that find delight in conversing cross-communally. Suffice it to state that
    > the rapidly jotted text when revisited slowly with a religious
    > regularity can lead to rapture (or is it the rapture that transforms the
    > experience of time?).
    > --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------
    > Date: Fri, 07 Jul 2000 10:18:12 +0100
    > From: "R.G. Siemens" <RaySiemens@home.com>
    > Subject: Re: 14.0096 on commentaries
    > Dear Willard and fellow-HUMANISTs,
    > For the past few days, I've followed with interest the discussion on
    > commentaries, and I am nagged by concern related to this discussion and
    > very associated with a current project of mine. (Apologies in advance if
    > this is too self-indulgent.)
    > Though existing in relation to another text, it has been noted that many of
    > us feel that commentary -- or, perhaps better-stated, specific
    > historically-significant commentary -- comprises significant text in its
    > own right.
    > If so, I ask, how is such commentary ideally (and yet pragamatically)
    > represented in an electronic scholarly edition?
    > By way of example, I'm at work on a slow-moving project which will
    > ultimately see the production of an electronic edition of Shakespeare's
    > Sonnets that borrows from several available models of such editions. As
    > with the works of many authors from traditions other and much earlier than
    > that of vernacular English, cumulative commentary far outstrips initial
    > text and its various states.
    > Wishing to preserve the tradition of commentary surrounding such a text, in
    > a way that honours that tradition as much as it honours the text itself,
    > more than seems to be an overwhelming task: it is, for a popular text, a
    > near impossibility.
    > Is there an answer to be found, as has been suggested of several recent
    > print editions of the work I'm considering, in abandoning all hope of
    > treating even very significant commentary in a manner equivalent to that of
    > its 'originating' text?
    > Or is there an answer to be found, as was suggested a decade ago of
    > Shakespeare editions in general, through cooperative ventures that see,
    > over time, the availability of commentary in the form of electronic
    > editions in their own right (or, more likely, as part of individual
    > editions that the commentary serves) -- such that the commentary can, at
    > some point in an ideal future, be given an equivalent treatment?
    > Or are there more useful approaches?
    > Ray Siemens
    > ___________
    > R.G. Siemens
    > English, Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, Canada. V9R 5S5.
    > Office: 340/131. Phone: (250) 753-3245, x2126. Fax: (250) 741-2667.
    > RaySiemens@home.com http://purl.oclc.org/NET/R_G_Siemens.htm
    > siemensr@mala.bc.ca

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