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 frequently thought of an project initial to literary feedback: many folks think that the activity 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 variations and correcting what seem to be textual blunders, necessarily routines severe judgment and displays a specific standpoint towards the character of literature. And the literary critic, in examining the which means of a piece or passage, should be (though hardly ever is) severe of the make-up of each textual content of it, together with these produced through scholarly editors.

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It becomes necessary, then, to decide in each instance which kind of edition has the greater claim to one's time and to a publisher's resources. Taking these considerations together, one could argue that the relevant distinction is that between, on the one side, writings of the kind usually intended for private purposes (such as letters, journals, memoranda, and drafts of essays, novels, or poems) and, on the other side, writings of the kind normally intended for public distribution (such as apparently completed novels, poems, plays, and works of nonfiction prose in all fields).

Melville likened the creation of art to Jacob's wrestling with an angel. The texts of documents preserve a partial record of that struggle, and the effort to make this record more widely known is a noble service, contributing to the knowledge we have of what it means to be human.

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.

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