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There Wil Be Text: A Brief Post on Textual Studies and Textual Privilege

There Wil Be Text: A Brief Post on Textual Studies and Textual Privilege



In class we’ve been talking about textual studies approaches in the digital age.  We’ve addressed questions regarding how we define text, how textualities function, and how modes of textual editing have changed and how they effect our relationship to the object we call a text.  These discussions have been quite useful and the readings have shown that textual studies means different things to different people.  The differences reflect a relationship between the text and textual authorship and a relationship between text as a material object and text as a cultural object.  The readings from Jerome McGann’s Radiant Textuality, Peter Schillingsburg article “Principles for Electronic Archives,” Kenneth M. Price’s “Electronic Scholarly Editions,” and Wesley Raabe’s “Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Case Study in Textual Transmission“ have expanded the conversations regarding textual studies in the digital age and although these arguments are oriented at different aspects of textual studies, two strands of though are in each: material texts are still privileged texts, and rethinking textuality means rethinking the boundaries between the text and the space it privileges.

What these reading suggest is that textual studies in the digital age means rethinking how a text works and how it functions within particular spatial structures whether it be a material object like text on a printed page with pages bound together within a book, or whether structured by hyperlinks within an archive, or restructured through a process of hyperediting and scholarly editions.  It is no longer viable to think of text in the digital age without thinking of how text is constructed by a cultural process of association, collation, and construction.  In her book Writing Machines, Katherine Hayles argues that we should think of texts as an ecology, as a complicated system of interdependence in which texts are not merely what is constructed, but that the materiality that contains texts alters how we access and understanding how that text functions and how it participates in an ecology with other media.  I believe this is the tension that McGann notes in his conversation about the poesis of construction the archive.  For McGann, the tension between construction the archive and theorizing how the text functions, alongside other media, within the archive requires a re-imagining of how textualities are linked by the structures that define them within space.  McGann concludes that the hyperlinked archive will be the best fit since it allows for a de-centralized space for the text.

I think the transition between the text and a textual ecology is one that is still happening now.  McGann’s text was published in 2001, but the arguments put forth in that early work are re-imagined further in more recent studies like those textual scholars like Raabe.  As our relationship towards media changes so will our relationship to the privilege of the text.  One thing remains however, the text is still privileged and that is our failure to change our understanding of the how knowledge can be transferred and stored within other performances than textual performances.  The power of the archive, especially the textual archive, is the power of memory, how we record the ways we produce and maintain knowledge.  A failure to understand how embodied action and cultural performance can and are ways to produce, inscribe, and transmit knowledge means that text will continue to dominate how we construct definitions of authority.


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