Date of this Version
Documentary Editing, Volume 14, Number 3, September 1992
ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)
In what ways does literary theory, as filtered through textual criticism, enter into editorial practice? That is the central question addressed in this stimulating collection of essays by editors, textual critics, and literary theorists. The critical discourse is diverse. Several contributors, sounding like philosophers or semioticians, mull over the "ontology" of the work; others explore the rhetorics of different sorts of edition. Some promote sociological, new historical, or German hermeneutical approaches to "text-construction," while others refine the more traditional conception of the eclectic text based on an author's final intentions. Almost all share Hans Walter Gabler's belief that there is a "crisis" in Anglo-American textual criticism and that editors ought to be more resourceful in using critical theory. A recursive structure, in which three of the eleven contributions begin as "responses," provides a measure of coherence.
The general editor, Philip Cohen, asserts a common theoretical ground for textual criticism and editing: "Textual criticism is a theoretical activity. Moreover, since different editorial approaches are based on different theoretical assumptions that are probably not susceptible to logical or empirical proof, no single method of text-constitution will satisfy all of the different factions in this our contentious age" (xiv). This torturous sentence blends the old-fashioned and newfangled. Though chiding editors for neglecting theory, Cohen believes that theory aims at "logical or empirical proof." Yet most theorists in Devils and Angels not only deny a sharp separation between theory and logic or evidence but also agree with Peter Shillingsburg in substituting "coherence" for "truth" as the goal of scholarly editions (24). Theoretical assumptions persuade by their plausibility, which stems from their bringing into prominence certain literary "facts." As Jerome McGann says in the first essay, "All editing is an act of interpretation" (7).