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For almost forty years now, textual scholars have been scolding literary critics for their complacent inattention to what would seem the most basic element of literary study: the establishment of the text itself. A long list of howlers, familiar to anyone who has taught a course in critical methodology, has been assembled to shame or, failing that, terrify the young litterateur into taking a lively interest in the complex and often capricious ways that letters get printed on pieces of paper. George Bornstein adds to this list in his introduction to Representing Modernist Texts, but he also notes that textual scholarship has begun to excite more than grudging respect in a number of distinguished literary critics, among them the twelve contributors to this collection. On the other hand, a look at three critical works published at the same time reveals that many literary critics continue to proceed, for good or ill, without paying the slightest attention to the issues raised by Bornstein and his collaborators.
As Bornstein notes, the relevance of textual scholarship to modernism in particular was dramatized by the publication of the manuscript of The Waste Land in 1971. Since then, the squabbles over the text of Ulysses have put textual scholarship literally on the front page. It is likely, for a number of different reasons, that the issues raised by those arguments will remain current and controversial. The works of a number of major modernists, including Yeats and Woolf, have passed or are about to pass into the public domain so that readers will be faced for the first time with competing texts of books, poems, and books of poems. Scholarly projects meant to establish audioritative versions of modernist works continue to create controversy instead, most recendy in the case of the Cambridge Sons and Lovers. The debates thus excited about the very nature of literary authority and literary property have theoretical and practical implications that, at least in the latter case, will be hard to ignore. "We must now learn to live and to interpret in a wilderness of multiple texts," Richard Finneran proclaims in his contribution to the Bornstein volume.
The reports of Finneran on Yeats, Litz and MacGowan on Williams, Mendelson on Auden, and Polk on Faulkner show that in this wilderness of multiple texts the critical edition is no longer the end but merely the beginning of a critic's textual labors. Though these scholars tend to depend on fairly traditional notions of authorial intention, they all confess that choices among incompatible intentions are ultimately arbitrary. Thus there is not only room for, but a positive necessity for, competing editions of the works of an author: the 1976 Collected Poems of Auden, which represented the poet's last wishes, and the new Princeton Complete Works, which will present the [End Page 985] poems as they were first published in book form. In this way, textual scholars surrender the authority of the old-fashioned definitive edition, but at the same time attempt to make textual issues a matter of everyday literary debate.
This collection also contains contributions showing how the concept of authorial intention has been modified and attacked. For Ronald Bush and Vicki Mahaffey authorial intention retains its authority, but only because that intention has been reconceived as "provisional, dynamic and contingent." A proper critical understanding of writers like Joyce and Pound depends on a textual scholarship that mirrors the indecision, mixed motives, and revolutionary intent of the writers themselves. Brenda Silver approaches the more "socialized concept of authorship" offered by Jerome McGann when she argues that feminist editors of the 1970s and 1980s altered...