restricted access Two: Authority, Quotation, and English Historiography
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A C opying is an act that can have consequences. It entails a series of complex choices about sources and audience, and enacts a variety of transformations. Copying can be rhetorical, and thus political—a moment of translation, that is, rather than transparent transposition. This chapter turns from the transformative practices of scribes to the comparable compositional practices of the writers of historiography. In particular, it considers history writing as a series of texts in part “copied” from still other texts. Tracing the broad development of history writing in England from its origins in Bede through the great Latin historiographers of the twelfth century and concluding with the thirteenth-century shift to Anglo-Norman and Middle English, this chapter will explore how the writers of history negotiated the cumulative implications of copying, adapting, and translating the texts of their predecessors. History writing became a predominantly intertextual phenomenon, a process entangled in both the increasingly textual nature of history itself and the historical contexts of history’s texts. Insular historiography has a long history, but the primary focus here will be upon history writing’s engagement with itself—how history texts manifest their own textual foundations, and how they attempt to conceptualize and control the implications of their dense intertextuality. Quotation and textual reuse make up the essence of the historiography of medieval England. The politics of copying animate historiographical texts in particular, as textual sources are chosen and repurposed in new contexts. History writing relies 59 Authority, Quotation, and English Historiography T wo 60 • Chapter Two upon compilation and quotation, on the accretion of the past in past texts, for its composition. To write history is to translate linguistically, textually, and temporally. Yet, because it narrates an inaccessible past, history writing must also negotiate the complex boundaries between compilation and composition , between quotation and derivation, and between description and invention. Historiography at once lays claim to the authority derived from its textual antecedents while also standing as a distinct work, staging a contest between the inherent circularity of the self-authorizing text and the dense intertextuality of the historiographical tradition. The source texts of historiography can be thought of as exemplars. That is, beyond providing the “facts” of historical events, they also model historiographical argument, the construction of authority, the structures supplied by narrative, and the intercession by historiography in the present-tense happenings of history. Two activities, textual reuse and methodological adaptation , are central to a particular model of English history writing common after the early thirteenth century. These texts, essentially a subgenre of history writing, deploy what will be called “derivative textuality.” Derivative texts translate or assemble the words of numerous source texts, typically without acknowledging their textual indebtedness.1 These assembled texts are yoked in the service of a distinctive literary and historiographical agenda. As will be discussed at greater length below, derivative texts, unlike compilations or florilegia, are narratively continuous. Derivative textuality obscures the underlying bricolage and presents to the reader a largely seamless surface. History writing is always engaged with the historical moment of its writing . Writing about the past puts pressure on how the present is understood, defined, and articulated. As a genre, history writing can be troubled by the pastness of the past. Michel de Certeau describes the confected break by noting: “Historical discourse . . . presupposes the rupture that changes a tradition into a past object.”2 That rupture can be the revolution de Certeau imagines, but it can also be a more modest divide—the gaps between histories . The source texts of history bear authority, but they also confront historical limitations. Bede’s eighth-century Historia Ecclesiastica was foundational 1. The term is not intended to bear the pejorative implications “derivative” can sometimes carry, and should be thought of as methodologically descriptive (derivative textuality) as against a judgment of literary or textual originality. In stressing the constituent processes over the resulting objects, it hopefully avoids the pitfalls faced by the legal term as used in copyright law. There, the term “derivative work” is interpretatively problematic: derivative works enjoy copyright protection only when the emendations or alterations made to an original are “sufficient,” taken collectively , to constitute “an original work of authorship” (17 United States Code §101). 2. Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. T. Conley (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 45. Authority, Quotation, and Historiography • 61 for the writers of history who followed, but offered only dim methodological precedent when it came to framing the Conquest, the Anarchy, or the...