It always strikes me as funny to write here in this blog, funny peculiar, I mean, because I feel as if I’m talking to myself, and I suppose I am, for the most part. It’s difficult to imagine an audience, and why on earth my audience should want to read my ramblings. Anyway, there it is – I’m writing, and presumably somebody, somewhere, is reading. Who though, is my audience, (if I may presume to have one), and isn’t this one of the great difficulties facing all writers and editors?
I’ve been doing some reading on the subject of editorial theory of late, and it seems clear that one of the most important things to establish before beginning a revision of a text, or a digital edition of some great work, is to consider who you believe will want to read the text, and what the reader will expect from your edition/revision.
George Bornstein, in his book Palimpsest warns us that ‘ We may never hope through textual scholarship to recover an ideal text like a well-wrought urn, but only to increase the self-awareness of the choices that we make in constituting the monument for our own time’. In this way, we, the editors, need to decide what is important in a text, and what may be omitted – not, I presume, due to a shortage of space as would be the case in a printed version, but because ultimately, it would be impractical to include everything. So, do we include the doodles in the margin of an original text where the author was struck by an idea for a character for the next book, or the ‘note to self’ written because the author was unhapy about the phrasing of a certain paragraph which he wanted to later revisit? How does the editor decide what’s really relevant? Given that there is no ‘ideal’ text, no ‘best’ version, how are we to present our new edition? This idea of multiple versions of a single text, as Bornstein, (as above), says ‘shifts our conception of the artwork from product to process’, and so we should begin to consider texts not as static, lifeless things, but as living works that continue to evolve.
An interesting example of this occurs in a poem by Edgar Allan Poe entitled ‘To One in Paradise’ which I used as an example in learning to create an XML file (I know-me? XML? really?).The poem was originally published in 1833 without a title as part of a short story called ‘The Visionary’. From there it evolved into ‘To Ianthe in Heaven’, and afterwards ‘To One Beloved’, before finally becoming ‘To One in Paradise’ in 1843 (see here). Should we look upon these revisions as distinct ‘versions’ simply because the title has been altered? We need to ask ourselves what it is that constitutes a ‘version’ of a text. The Collins Online Dictionary gives this definition, and if we follow this thinking, it means that this text here is itself a version, because it started out as something else altogether (and had a different title). I know this because I wrote it.
As you’ve come this far, it might be fun to take a look at this post, where I attempt to create an XML file from the Edgar Allan Poe poem I mentioned.