Edwards – Question 2
2To what extent do previous representations (such as editions) of the archives with which you work – or the lack thereof – affect new representations of them?
A. S. G. Edwards
Professor of Medieval Manuscripts, School of English – University of Kent
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Any “new representations,” if these constitute “new editions,” will potentially differ from “previous representations,” since any new edition ought to present some new hypothesis, whether about the transmission and relative authority of the surviving materials, the status of particular readings, or the nature of the intended audience. For example, is an edition intended to be critical, hence designed for a scholarly audience, and therefore contains an elaborate textual apparatus and commentary? Or is it intended for an undergraduate audience, and thus may involve (for example) degrees of regularization of spelling for an audience unfamiliar with Middle English or Elizabethan orthography? Or does it aim, for whatever reasons, to straddle these possible poles of perceived audience? These are all obvious issues that must be considered before one turns to others factors that might affect “new representations” such as the identification of hitherto unidentified or unexamined forms of a relevant witness.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 On the other hand, if the notion of “new representations” includes, or is intended to signify, digital representation as either the form or as part of an edition, then the issues become less clear. Various attempts to combine the digital with the editorial, as with ongoing electronic editions of Piers Plowman and the Canterbury Tales,1 seem to operate on the assumption that making digital images and accurate transcripts serves some useful editorial function. What this function is may be less apparent. But it seems to be shaped by the implication that making materials available will allow any user to potentially become his/her own editor, to make their own decisions about particular readings derived from these materials. If this is the controlling assumption, then it is not clear what is supposed to happen next. It seems to involve the possibility of the creation not of editions, but of forms of the text shaped by individual idiosyncrasy or predisposition, and by assumptions that may not be fully articulated or inherently valid. This may also be true of print editions, of course. But electronic forms of archive assemblage have the potential to generate a bewildering variety of forms of edited text (however one defines the term “edited”). And how such editions might be deployed in scholarly terms (or, indeed, whether they should be deployed) is not easy to envisage. Indeed, the possibility of manipulating textual data electronically is a form of playful eclecticism that insists on the openness of the text to multiple hypotheses through an underlying assumption that it is somehow “open”—that different forms of it, or combinations of readings from such different forms, may produce texts that can be legitimately presented. It is not easy to understand what such “uncritical” editions might achieve, except confusion.