Journal #2: Pious exercise, editorial insertion, or desecration?

An interesting point of discussion in “Fiatflux” for me was the exploration, on pp 7-8, of George Ryley and the differences between his careful and faithful presentation of Herbert’s work, and a 1681 “anonymous poem-by-poem reworking of Herbert’s Temple”. Cloud points out that, as the 1681 version, and others, take significant liberties with presentation and content, it’s worth considering that these “could not have been seen in their time as desecrations of Herbert’s art, as we may incline to view them, but rather, I suppose, as pious exercises, inspired by the Revered Mr. George Herbert.” To me, this raises interesting questions about how our standards are not universal, in that editors, scribes, compilers, even authors at different points in time have had very different viewpoints about how certain texts should be presented, what their meaning might be, and so on. (In this regard, I’m thinking about what we discussed previously in class, the idea that, in early manuscripts, there was no spacing between words, and often little evidence to suggest the division between one text and another. We take for granted now, as modern readers, that texts (and words) should be presented individually, yet this is in fact an editorial decision, albeit one that scholars agree on almost universally.

Our current version of the Bible, for example, with its titles for individual books (since the Bible is in fact a compendium or “anthology” of sixty-six books, most of which appear unnamed in manuscripts), and its divisions into chapters and verses, and even (in the case of the Old Testament) the use of vowels and punctuation, seems to illustrate the idea Random Cloud is discussing here–the fact that what seems “correct”, or even “normal” in a text, will vary from one time to another, and therefore result in further editorial decisions being made, ones that reflect specific cultural biases and ones that, because of those biases, are often invisible (appearing non-existent) to the reader. Again here, I’m thinking of a version of the Bible I once came across in which, in the middle of the book of Ecclesiastes, the original author (translated, of course, into English) lists numerous complaints about women, but it’s only later when the author states that life is meaningless that this version’s editor felt the need to add a comment about God’s truth vs. a world-weary author. So, interestingly, misogyny doesn’t merit an in-text correction from the editor, but a comment on life’s value does. In thinking on this, it’s worth considering Cloud’s point about how what seems to one reader to be a “pious exercise” must inevitably seem to another, in another place and time, as a re-invention and desecration of the text.

In terms of what the right balance might be, it’s clear that modern editors need to make the decisions to separate words, for example, or (as with medieval texts) make the decision as to where one text ends and another begins. The problem, as I’ve explored here, comes in the more detailed decisions about how the work is presented, and with a text such as Herbert’s, those problems become exponentially greater, as they involve lay-out and pagination. For me, especially in relation to medieval texts, the issue becomes about how to allow modern readers access to a text (such as by eliminating letters that are no longer used in English) without altering the author’s original intent.

My goal for this week, like everyone else, is to really start diving into to the more practical, technical elements. As per our discussion last week, I’m selecting a section from the Proverbs of Alfred for us to input, and I’m really interested now in doing some basic hands-on work in things that, for now at least, remain a jumble of acronyms.


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