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Reviewed by:
  • The Pleasures of Contamination: Evidence, Text, and Voice in Textual Studies
  • Michael Epp
The Pleasures of Contamination: Evidence, Text, and Voice in Textual Studies. By David Greetham. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. 402 pp. $27.95.

This collection of almost entirely previously published work is a window to the state of the field of textual studies in the 1990s. Greetham's wide-ranging collection engages multiple problems for textual studies, including its generally low status relative to other work carried on in literature departments, its fraught relationship to copyright law, and its capacity to shed new light on philosophical problems related to epistemology and the historical development of textual communication. Most of the essays provide a light and informed survey of a debate in the field and then make a gentle push in one direction or the other through historical analysis and multiple, often hilarious, examples (for instance, discussions of the Barbie Liberation Movement and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers). The small amount of new material in the book attempts to draw a thread through all of the essays, observing that all of the chapters are concerned with what Greetham calls "contamination." The term is loosely defined, quite deliberately, and generally signifies as both a technical textual studies term meaning a "confluence whereby an external or precedent text invades the composition (consciously or unconsciously) of the current text" (10) and as a more philosophical term meaning a conflict arising from the invasive mixing of different texts (21, 95), "where one mode of discourse (political, religious, musical, philosophical, and so on) leaks into or infects another, so that we experience both at the same time" (1). Although the book identifies multiple aims, for the most part Greetham's explicit goal is to embrace contamination and "celebrate" its pleasures (8). Greetham makes a heroic effort to argue for the significance of this thread, and for the status of the book as more-than-collection, but at the end of the day, The Pleasures of Contamination is little more than a collection of essays you can find elsewhere [End Page 109] (probably for free if you are affiliated with a university library), and, moreover, a collection that, as a whole, will only be of interest to graduate students who want to learn about what mattered to textual studies in the 1990s.

There are some wonderful essays in the book, as one would expect from a distinguished scholar and accomplished writer such as Greetham. Probably the best is "Textual Forensics," which plays off double meanings for text as authority (textus) and as tissue (textile) and for forensics as argument (rhetoric) and as empirical study of evidence (science) (59). The contradictions or conflicts between these terms "contaminate" each other, revealing problems and potentials for the way we think about text, knowledge, and evidence. Also interesting is "The Telephone and Dr. Seuss: Scholarly Editing after Feist v. Rural Telephone." In the famous 1991 copyright case Feist, Greetham explains, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that a telephone book's white pages were not protected under copyright law because they "did not manifest a genuinely 'creative' or 'original' contribution to human knowledge" (284). Greetham extrapolates that old-fashioned editing practices that seek ideal editions with invisible editing are threatened by this decision, and that, in fact, more complex and editor-centered methodologies will become more common under conditions where the editors must show creativity and originality in order to make any money and to avoid being ripped off. While Greetham appears a bit naïve at times—assuming that scholarly editors in general might change their firmly held ethical relationship to their methodology in order to line their pockets—the argument is clever and insightful and plays to Greetham's strength, which is to bring disparate practices and discourses together, not in order to tie a nice clean bow but to see what kind of mess they make.

If the book is taken as a record of the field of textual studies in the 1990s, then the robust, open-minded approach to "postmodernism" that informs many of the essays is valuable indeed, for Greetham's thoughts on this are an important response to a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-4238
Print ISSN
1054-7479
Pages
pp. 109-111
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-30
Open Access
No
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