A Rationale of Textual Criticism by G. Thomas Tanselle

By G. Thomas Tanselle

Textual criticism—the conventional time period for the duty of comparing the authority of the phrases and punctuation of a text—is usually thought of an venture initial to literary feedback: many of us think that the task of textual critics is to supply trustworthy texts for literary critics to investigate. G. Thomas Tanselle argues, to the contrary, that the 2 actions can't be separated.The textual critic, in settling on between textual versions and correcting what seem to be textual mistakes, unavoidably workouts serious judgment and displays a specific viewpoint towards the character of literature. And the literary critic, in examining the which means of a piece or passage, has to be (though hardly is) serious of the make-up of each textual content of it, together with these produced by means of scholarly editors.

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But many textual critics, no less than literary critics, have been led into muddy thinking by a failure at the outset to recognize the basic distinction between texts of works and texts of documents. The process of reading (and thus of criticism) therefore begins with the decision whether or not to be concerned with history. 46 page_36 < previous page page_36 next page > Page 36 read them; that language can refer to nothing outside itself, serving (like everything else) only as material for the mind to play with.

The strange content of these vessels is not to be had for the asking but requires a thinking recipient who determines what is being conveyed through an analysis of all the evidence they presentevidence viewed in the light of what seems to be known of the language and the lives of those who brought the document into existence. Such analysis involves understanding the ways in which the production of a document affected the particular sequence of letterforms present in it and recognizing the alterations wrought in a document by the ravages of time.

But the details recorded there are not necessarily the truth; they, like all other evidence, must be scrutinized with a critical eye and interpreted with informed judgment. 51 page_57 < previous page page_57 next page > Page 57 archives provide only secondary evidence: the archives say something about the books, but if the books survive they can speak for themselves. If a printer's records suggest that a book was imposed for ordinary octavo but copies of the book show that it was gathered in half-sheets, the first-hand testimony from copies of the book takes precedence over the second-hand testimony from the archives.

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