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G. Thomas Tanselle

Teoksen A Rationale of Textual Criticism tekijä

30+ teosta 311 jäsentä 6 arvostelua

Tietoja tekijästä

Image credit: G. Thomas Tanselle on right. Photograph by Petrina Jackson

Tekijän teokset

A Rationale of Textual Criticism (1989) 51 kappaletta
Literature and Artifacts (1998) 13 kappaletta
Books in my life (2021) 8 kappaletta

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I'm not sure why this appendix to Tanselle's new Descriptive Bibliography has been issued separately, but here we are. Fine enough as it goes, but I sort of wish that if it were intended as a standalone complement to the larger text, that cross-references to the earlier material (not present here) had been worked into the text so that it could in fact stand separately.
½
 
Merkitty asiattomaksi
JBD1 | Jun 1, 2020 |
It doesn't matter how much you "rationalize" a straw man. You're still left grasping straws.

The purpose of this book is to justify textual criticism -- but what it really calls for is not textual criticism; it's burying the world in endless piles of wastepaper, because you can't ever throw anything out!

Let me explain by talking about Shakespeare's King Lear, since it often comes up in discussions of this type. At some time, Shakespeare wrote a manuscript of that play. (Possibly more than one, but there was presumably one final draft.) We don't have the manuscript. This original text was probably modified somewhat by the theatre company as they prepared to present it; these changes would have been represented by the prompt-book used by the staff of the company. We don't have the prompt book. There may have been other versions made available to people outside the company. We don't have those versions.

What we have is two printed editions, one in quarto, one in the First Folio. These do not agree. Some of this is the natural vagaries of typesetting; compositors make mistakes. But the differences between quarto and folio Lear are far too great to be explained by that means. Some quartos of Shakespeare's plays differ from the folio because they were reconstructed from memory, inaccurately. These are the "bad quartos." But quarto and folio Lear are both too good to be bad editions. They're just different.

So what's the original Lear?

Well, for starters, you have to decide what "original" means. Is it Shakespeare's autograph manuscript? The prompt book? Something else? In any case, we don't have it; what we have is the quarto and the folio. So then what?

That's where textual criticism comes in: Its goal is to reconstruct some ancestral state of a writing, working from whatever copies and prints still exist. This can be a Very Big Deal -- there are no original copies of the New Testament, for instance, and the several thousand manuscripts of it don't agree at all, and all of them are somewhat corrupt, and the majority of them (mostly late) agree in having many more corruptions than are found in a small minority of (mostly but not entirely) early manuscripts. If you want to know what the New Testament said, you have to start with textual criticism (and you have to do it impartially, without deciding in advance what you want the New Testament to say!).

But Tanselle isn't really interested in that. He is interested in every phase along the way -- in all the various states of King Lear, or Hamlet, or Paradise Lost. (He doesn't really talk about the New Testament, or indeed any ancient literature; he clearly is neither interested in nor knowledgeable about that sort of textual criticism.) And his conclusion seems to boil down to, "Never throw anything out; it might be useful."

There is some truth in that. Since there were corrections made in the printed quartos and folios of Lear, every copy we have has the potential to give us information. This is even more true of New Testament manuscripts, where different manuscripts trace back to the original in different ways, so that any manuscript might contain at least a little information not contained in any other.

But we really don't need to retain every one of the 100,000 copies of the latest romance novel; those were all printed from the same original plates, and we probably have the author's original manuscript anyway. (Unless the publishers themselves gagged on it and threw it out.) Three copies of that edition would be all we would need. Tanselle never addresses this. And he never addresses how we reconstruct a text. He handwaves at what a text is. (Some of this is actually rather interesting -- because an author himself might have mis-copied what is in his head. Is the original what the author wrote, or what the author meant? But this can't be determined by textual criticism, which works only with real objects; maybe a psychic could do better.) So I came away from this book feeling completely unsatisfied. What does Tanselle want? It certainly isn't what I want a textual critic to do, which is to give me a good text. (And, since I'm a textual critic myself, to also tell me how that text was decided and what materials went into it.) The result feels like an ambitious program to reconstruct everything. And, by reconstructing everything, we reconstruct nothing, because we can never know what it is we've reconstructed.

The whole book is like that: It's never specific. There are very few concrete examples -- but textual criticism is about as concrete as a subject can be; it's an assessment of the various readings found in various sources. If this book had been called "A Rationale of Critical Bibliography," it would be much easier to justify its existence. I really do not consider it a book about textual criticism.
… (lisätietoja)
½
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Merkitty asiattomaksi
waltzmn | Jul 31, 2017 |
From the title and author I expected a lot. Certainly it's not a bad book and in most ways it's a good book, but... The title is misleading: it consists of a straight reprint of three loosely connected essays from Studies in Bibliography -- which are available for free online. Well, at least I came across it cheap. But there's no index! I suppose I could go to the online version of each article and run word searches for Thomas Nashe, Gabriel Egan, etc. But...
 
Merkitty asiattomaksi
Crypto-Willobie | Dec 19, 2015 |
Tanselle's 1991 Engelhard Lecture at the Library of Congress' Center for the Book, describing the development of the field of descriptive bibliography as well as some of the reactions to it from bibliographers who preferred the older model of bibliographical description (to which Tanselle in turn reacts). Perhaps not the most basic introduction to the field, but one which can be read productively by anyone with an interest in the field. Beware, though: Tanselle's footnotes are quite likely to send you scurrying off to find copies of things he mentions there ...… (lisätietoja)
 
Merkitty asiattomaksi
JBD1 | Jun 27, 2015 |

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