Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Critical Editions, Hypertexts, and Genetic Criticism

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Critical Editions, Hypertexts, and Genetic Criticism

Article excerpt

During the past two decades or so, a stereotype has arisen--among some of the writers on textual matters--in which an Anglo-American approach, characterized by the production of a single "critical" text for each work, is contrasted with a continental approach that emphasizes the multiple stages in the textual evolution of works.(1) The former is supposedly associated with a focus on authors' final intentions, the latter with a concentration on textual instability and the totality of textual variation. Like many stereotypes, this one greatly oversimplifies a complex set of issues and, indeed, offers an obstacle to dear thinking on the subject. Although it is not true, I believe, that scholarly editors in the English-speaking world have neglected genetic approaches to texts, many literary critics have undoubtedly paid insufficient attention to textual variants; and a movement like critique genetique, emphasizing the critical significance of textual development, is therefore particularly welcome. My concern here, however, is not to define national trends but to examine the inseparability of the two allegedly conflicting editorial emphases--the one that results in critical reconstructions of intended texts and the other that produces literal transcriptions of documentary texts.

A bit of history may be in order first, since it can also serve to introduce the basic issues. One can regard the key event in the formation of the stereotypical view of the Anglo-American presentation of texts to be the establishment by the Modern Language Association of America in 1963 of the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA). Because Fredson Bowers had championed the approach set forth in W. W. Greg's 1949 address "The Rationale of Copy-Text" (which was aimed at establishing authorially intended texts of Renaissance English plays) and had effectively argued its appropriateness for all post-medieval literature, that approach was incorporated into the CEAA's guidelines. Thus it came to be that a point of view emerging from an English tradition for editing Shakespeare and his contemporaries was given institutional sanction in the United States for a concerted effort to edit writings by nineteenth-century American authors. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the CEAA's position were (and by now they have been thoroughly discussed), it seems clear that the CEAA's very existence and the editorial principles it promulgated combined to play a dominant role in fostering the myth of a monolithic Anglo-American insistence on a single editorial procedure and goal.(2)

This notion was a myth because, in the first place, the CEAA position aroused considerable controversy among British and American scholars from the beginning, and even those who supported it recognized that it was not the only responsible way to produce a scholarly text.(3) Furthermore, the CEAA dealt primarily with published texts; but many texts of unpublished writings, such as drafts, journals, and letters, were simultaneously being made available in detailed transcriptions, often in "genetic" (or inclusive) form with cancellations, insertions, and other revisions displayed within the main texts. (For reasons that will become clear, I prefer the term "inclusive" for a text that incorporates the apparatus of variants(4) into the body of the text.) Indeed, the post-World War II movement to edit American authors bore its first significant fruit in the form of transcriptions of manuscripts. In 1955 Fredson Bowers published (in Whitman's Manuscripts) transcriptions of the final manuscript drafts of the new poems in the third edition (1860) of Leaves of Grass, with the manuscript alterations recorded in footnotes. Then in 1960 both an edition of Melville's letters (edited by Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman) and the first volume of Emerson's journals (edited by Gilman and others) appeared, and in 1962 came Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor (edited by Harrison Hayford and Merton M. …

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