- IntroductionWhat is Textual Culture?
It is no easy task to introduce a new intellectual field-"Textual Culture"-at the same time as being wary of defining it too precisely. This collection of essays had its genesis in a conference held at the University of Stirling in July 2005 to mark the inauguration of a new collaborative research group. The idea of Textual Culture originated with Bethan Benwell, Joe Bray, Adrian Hunter, and Stephen Penn as a way of bringing together their diverse research interests and going beyond the usual disciplinary protocols that structure academic departments and research in the UK and US. It was also inspired by a sense of seeing what might emerge, precisely because-as we stated in the conference call for papers-"the future shape of Textual Culture is still unknown".
Nevertheless, a kind of manifesto appears on the Stirling research group's website:
Textual Culture refers to the material processes and ideological formations surrounding the production, transmission, reception, and regulation of texts. It studies the interactions between these processes and formations in order to show how texts get made and how they are understood. It works within and across intellectual history, literary criticism, critical theory, linguistics and critical discourse analysis, history of the book, and publishing-as-process. It does not have an allegiance to a single disciplinary area, and it contests the boundaries and traditions of existing disciplinary categories.1 [End Page 1]
Ambitious in scope, this new enterprise seeks to work with, but also to go beyond, the recent disciplinary shift that has brought together literary criticism and history of the book-for so long opposed (the major landmark is Lerer and Price 2006). We have traveled a long way from 1927 when R. B. McKerrow argued that "[t]he virtue of bibliography [. . .] is its definiteness [. . .] [I]t therefore offers a very pleasant relief from critical investigations of the more 'literary' kind" (1927, 2). For McKerrow, bibliography/textual criticism (the antecedent of "book history" and "history of the book")2 is virtuously "definite"; literary criticism, by implication, is disconcertingly open-ended. But the old distinction between the reassuringly bounded object of "scientific" study, the material "book", and the shifty and idealist literary "text", generating a plethora of readings, is no longer tenable. If it was once the case that, as Leah Price observes, "'book history' has come to stand for a materialist resistance to theory, to idealism, even to ideas", in other words, a resistance to interpretation, book history today does not replace "hermeneutics by pedantry". Rather, it insists "that every aspect of a literary work bears interpretation - even, or especially, those that look most contingent" (Price 2006, 10, 11).
Textual Culture emphatically agrees with Price's statement. But it also recognizes that the literary work is not the only type of text. Its "manifesto" points crucially to textual objects and practices that are not exclusively literary: "linguistics [. . .] critical discourse analysis, [. . .] and publishing-as-process". And Textual Culture is interested in spoken as well as written texts (see Benwell 2005). By including cultural practices, non-literary objects and talk, including talk about texts, Textual Culture engages a broad disciplinary agenda from which it derives its critical edge. Like Donna Haraway's cyborg, Textual Culture is a hybrid creature: a bastard child, unfaithful to its origins, and therefore capable of constituting, in Haraway's words, "an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings" (Haraway 1991, 150). These couplings bear exciting fruit in this issue, which is a mix of papers from the 2005 conference and newly commissioned essays. No single essay in this issue instantiates "Textual Culture". Rather, the essays work cumulatively to put pressure on the categories of both book history and literary criticism, but more importantly to extend the field into new areas, especially those that have been previously thought of as mutually exclusive. [End Page 2]
This extension of the field is central to the first three essays in this issue, which deal with periodization (Kuskin), speech vs. writing (Syme), and cultural value (Frow). In his essay "'The loadstarre of the English language': Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and the Construction of Modernity", William Kuskin...