tanselle takes stock

If you don’t know anything about the field of textual criticism, the Tanselle essay linked below is not a bad place to start. It’s accessible (in that no subscription is required to read this particular journal), and it’s also accessible (in that no great degree of specialized knowledge is needed to understand it).

Tanselle, G. Thomas. “Textual Criticism at the Millennium.” Studies in Bibliography 54 (2001): 2-81.

During the last part of the twentieth century…a focus on texts as social products came to characterize the bulk of the discussion of textual theory, if not editions themselves. For the first time, the majority of writings on textual matters expressed a lack of interest in, and often active disapproval of, approaching texts as the products of individual creators; and it promoted instead the forms of texts that emerged from the social process leading to public distribution, forms that were therefore accessible to readers.

This dramatic shift has produced some benefits, but it has not been an unmixed blessing. Both the turn away from the author and the emphasis on textual instability reflect trends in literary and cultural criticism and thus are evidence of the growing interconnections between fields that for too long had little influence on each other….These welcome developments, however, came at a price. One is that the prose of many textual critics has been infiltrated with the fashionable buzz-words of literary theory and with a style of writing that often substitutes complexity of expression for careful thought. Another is the notion that recognizing the importance of socially produced texts involves rejecting the study of authorial intentions…Still another problem is that the emphasis on documentary texts has led to a considerable amount of unfounded criticism of the activity of critical editing and the “mediation” practiced by scholarly editors…

Three of the recurring themes during [the second half of the 1990s] were

  • the application of textual criticism to nonverbal works,
  • the editorial traditions of non-English-speaking countries,
  • and the role of the computer in editing.

I shall take up each of these before turning to some of the more general studies of textual issues…

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2 thoughts on “tanselle takes stock

  1. Damn. I guess I have to wait another five years to learn what he thinks of my 2002 TEXT article. Then again that might be a good thing, career-wise.

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