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  • Seeing James Joyce's Ulysses into the Digital AgeForty Years of Steering an Edition Through Turbulences of Scholarship and Reception
  • Hans Walter Gabler (bio)

the edition


A post-doctoral fellowship from the Harkness Foundation in New York enabled me from the autumn of 1968 to early spring 1970 to learn the ropes of textual criticism and bibliography in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Anglo-American way. On its own terms, the discipline's name was pleonastic in those days: Textual criticism was bibliography; bibliography was textual criticism. Textual criticism as a foundational discipline in the humanities had over centuries developed procedures to explore the transmissions of texts through and across documents. On the age-old assumption that transmission must inevitably disintegrate texts and produce error, different document texts were compared: they were collated. They would vary, sometimes less, sometimes more, in their readings. By patterns of error, the less disintegrative—less "corrupt"—document text was singled out to provide the basis for a given edition.

In the twentieth century, bibliography brought further refinement to the identification of errors in transmission. Bibliography used to be understood as a set of techniques to explore the history of books as artifacts. It was now harnessed to analyze the typesetting and printing of text contents of books. Still predicated on the concept of error, bibliographical analysis encouraged inferences about what types of errors the printing-house workmen were prone to make and therefore, how reliably or unreliably they could be assumed to have transmitted specific readings in a specific document text. Where changes between one document text and [End Page 3] the next could not be discredited as errors, they were critically decreed to be revisions attributable to redactors or authors themselves. The assessments informed the selection of the so-called "copy-text." An edition text was established by grafting onto the copy-text readings from outside it—correct readings from other text instantiations for what were deemed errors in the copy-text; or authors' revisions from later-than-copy-text editions for first-version readings in the copy-text itself. Just how to proceed in modifying a copy-text into an edited text was specifically governed, moreover, by a methodology under one overriding axiom: namely, in an edition text to fulfil, by evidence or inference, the author's intention. The editions so established were "critically eclectic editions."1

Or so they were hailed within Anglo-American textual scholarship. From the vantage point of textual criticism and editing outside the Anglo-American province, they were seen, and rejected, as contaminated editions. It was unsound, so it was held against them, in an edited text to mix readings from historically distinct document texts, let alone from distinct authorial versions. Rather, an edition text, while by definition edited, should still essentially represent one historically identifiable document text, purged only of irrefutable errors of transmission (scribal slips, typos, and such). In terms of nomenclature, and in contrast to "critically eclectic editions," German textual criticism and editing yielded "historical-critical editions," true to the historical moment of, say, a given document text's first publication, or its later revised edition—perhaps "at the author's last hand" ("Ausgaben letzter Hand" as they were called in German).2

"Historical" was the buzzword for German textual criticism and editing from its emergence in the nineteenth century onward. The historical perspective on transmissions carried the germ of a genetic awareness. By about the middle of the twentieth century, manuscript editions—"Handschrifteneditionen"—began to establish themselves as a distinct sub-genre of scholarly editions. Interest developed in writer's workshop materials, and solutions were sought to capture from them, and editorially to present, texts in progress. These advances were as yet experimental and, to begin with, without a critical, let alone a theoretical, grasp of the implications of textual variation.

It fell to French critique genetique in the final decades of the twentieth century to establish a critical discourse and a framework of theory by which to engage with writing in its temporal dimension. The genetic approach to texts assumes a priori that it is in the nature of texts to be [End Page 4] variant. The materialization of text takes place...


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