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  • Confessions of an Anthology Editor
  • Alan D. Schrift (bio)

Edit: verb, from Latin edit-us, past participle of edere, to put forth, from e, out + dàre, to put, give

Oxford English Dictionary

Let me begin at the outset with a confession: I like to edit anthologies. I find it interesting, even exciting. I’ve edited quite a few: four have been published to date and I’m presently working on a fifth—possibly a multi-volume work (an issue to which I will return shortly). Each has been a different sort of collection. Some have been entirely my creation; others have been co-edited with a colleague. Some have been entirely under my editorial control; others have been made to fit constraints imposed by a publisher concerned with “marketability” issues. Most have been motivated by what I’d call “pedagogical” concerns, although all have been informed by “intellectual” or “scholarly” concerns in a way that I hope problematizes the overly simplistic “pedagogy/scholarship” binary. In the following pages, I’d like to recount my intentions with each of the anthologies I’ve edited, as well as some of the questions I’m wrestling with concerning my current, and biggest, anthology project. In so doing, I hope to expose some of the functions that an anthology might serve and some of the factors that a good anthologizer must consider. I hope also to show what I might venture to call the attributes of “editorial intelligence,” attributes that to some degree overlap but in other respects do and should differ from what might be called “authorial intelligence.”

A Tale of Four Anthologies

My “first” anthology eventually emerged as two, and therein lies a tale. The story begins when I was in graduate school in the early 80s, completing a dissertation in philosophy at Purdue University on Nietzsche and hermeneutics. Gayle L. Ormiston, a fellow graduate [End Page 164] student, and I began talking about how the battle lines that had been drawn between recent French theory and the hermeneutic tradition missed the many affinities we saw between the two traditions. Our plan, and it seemed simple enough, was to compile a collection of readings to be titled “Hermeneutics and Post-Modern Theories of Interpretation” that did three things: chronicle the early hermeneutic tradition in German philosophy; survey the developments of that tradition in the middle years of the twentieth century; and collect what we regarded as recent interventions in that tradition that came from or were informed by contemporary French philosophy. Our goals were also simple enough: first, put together a collection of readings that chronicled the past two centuries in hermeneutic theory which could serve as a basic text in a graduate or advanced undergraduate course in philosophical or literary hermeneutics; and second, intervene in the hermeneutic tradition by demonstrating that once one turned toward contemporary French philosophical theory, one did not need to leave this hermeneutic tradition behind.

Putting the table of contents together was easy, and fun. Nothing like this collection existed at the time, and setting the contents for the first two sections was straightforward: the first section, with a working title “Texts/Contexts: The Hermeneutic Legend,” would include the first English translation of selections from Friedrich Ast’s work, well-known but not easily accessible selections from Schleiermacher and Dilthey, and the relevant sections from Heidegger’s Being and Time. The second part, “Fusions/Confusions: Dialogue, Ideology, Methodology,” would focus on Hans-Georg Gadamer’s work and the controversies that surrounded it, with selections—again some translated for the first time and others either hard to find or part of larger works—by Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Emilio Betti, and Paul Ricoeur. The last section, “Textuality and the Transformation of Reading,” involved more challenging decisions about who and what to include, and we ended up with a selection of essays that included the first translation of Foucault’s essay “Nietzsche, Freud, Marx,” a complete version of a Derrida essay on Heidegger and representation that had only appeared in part in a journal, a new translation of a short book by Jean-Luc Nancy on hermeneutics in Plato and Heidegger, newly translated essays by Werner Hamacher and...

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