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Margins of the text.

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. viii, [1], 383, [1], pp.; $49.50 U.S. (cloth). ISBN 0-472-10667-8.

The Margins of the Text is a collection of essays deliberately gathered together by D.C. Greetham for publication in George Bornstein's well-established series `Editorial Theory and Literary Criticism.' The book originated in a 1992 MLA session Greetham organized on `Race, Class and Gender in Scholarly Editing.' The editor's own introductory essay, its title a nod at Paul De Man's famous `resistance to theory,' sets the scene by considering the problems of philology as positivistic science (a.k.a. traditional textual editing). `Is it any wonder,' he asks, `that the non-critical chickens have come home to roost and that what was once an epistemological virtue has now become an institutional liability?' (p.15). A brief review can't do justice to Greetham's thoughtful analysis of issues which clearly cause him much anxiety, a lot of it parental: young people who do our kind of work are not getting jobs or being promoted. And the theoretical transformations of recent years have placed us not back in the camp of the positivists (the grammarians, as he would call them), nor among the rhetoricians (editorial work is by definition a rhetorical act), but in the uncomfortable interstitial position of arbiter between the text and the phenomenal world.

As the nucleus of the book in essays about race, class and gender would suggest, the `margins' of the book's title are -- notwithstanding this plea -- generally construed under the Foucauldian rubric of `power/authority.' Social-text theorists have rightly persuaded editors to think more carefully about the cultural constructions which their decisions about text imply. However, anyone reading this volume needs to keep in mind that the assumption that all margins contain oppressed forces is itself a cultural construction, one that readers of Victor Turner might well approach in a more integrative spirit. That being said, the three essays by Gerald MacLean (`What's Class Got to Do with It?'), William L.Andrews (`Editing "Minority" Texts'), and Brenda R. Silver (`Whose Room of Orlando's Own'), all have extremely useful things to say about issues which have been almost totally ignored by bibliographers, and to this I would add Ann Thompson's reflections on the options of a feminist co-editing a historic Shakespeare series (the third Arden edition).

But a central flaw in the cultural construction shared by many of the authors rapidly becomes evident: if the margin is seen as the space of the victim, then simple justice surely requires that we tear down all such barriers to full and honest expression. Interested as I am in political readings of scholarly practice, at this point I begin to balk. The scholar in me asserts herself to ask not only the prehermeneutic question `what is the evidence?' but the post-poststructuralist one `what alternative readings of it are possible?' This might suggest that I had gone over to the opposition, infatuated with the `control' the editor presumably lusts to exercise over the text being edited. The word is Evelyn Tribble's (see her essay ` "Like a Looking Glas in the Frame": From the Marginal Note to the Footnote'), but the attitude underlies several other contributions. It would have been refreshing to include an essay which argued the case for editing as the creative and, one hopes, scrupulous exercise of a benign human faculty, that of judgement. Instead we have Jonathan Goldberg (`Under the Covers with Caliban') in an otherwise thought-provoking essay spinning a thin thread out of a misreading of Tempest 2.2. It is Stephano who constructs the idea that Trinculo and Caliban are making the beast with two backs. Trinculo may indeed be attempting this, but Goldberg's observation that Caliban is `represented as anally receptive and as anally productive' (p.117) seems dead wrong, since Caliban protests vigorously at whatever he has to endure under the gaberdine, an action which presages his possible educability. Somehow I don't think this is what Goldberg means by productivity.

Four other essays provoke specific comment. There is a solidly argued bibliographical contribution to post-colonial theory by William W.E. Slights, `The Cosmopolitics of Reading: Navigating the Margins of John Dee's General and Rare Memorials.' Michael Camille contributes `Glossing the Flesh: Scopophilia and the Margins of the Medieval Book,' which examines the images of bodily penetration which he sees everywhere in the marginal decorations of the period and employs to theorize the relationship between margin and text. Hardly an example is used to which I could not think of an exception; this is `in your face' work by a bibliographical Versace. The longest (53 pages, including the notes) and most frustrating essay, by Mary Keeler and Christian Kloesel, is about a real bibliographical challenge: the editing of the immense, fragmentary and still chiefly unpublished mass of manuscripts left by the great American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914). Three-quarters of the essay, which is called `Communication, Semiotic Continuity, and the Margins of the Peircean Text,' constitutes an introduction to Peirce's thought which I would recommend heartily to any questioning student of philosophy, American culture, or literary theory. But except in its allusions to the generic diversity of the extant materials, it has no editorial focus whatsoever. The last quarter, which finally addresses the issue of what to do with this fascinating material, displays the untethered Utopianism of the new age of the computer, a move perhaps explained by the omission of any detailed evidence about the material fabric of the manuscripts themselves. Readers of Geoffrey Nunberg's recent The Future of the Book (large parts of which were written by the specialists Keeler and Kloesel invoke) will know what reservations even the people in the know have about the computerization of absolutely everything, and in fact enthusiasts of the unimpeded flow of `text' made possible by the micro-chip generally confess that material evidence cannot be handled by computers in any satisfactory way at all. Speed Hill gets the final word, and this sagacious editor of Hooker provides what so many of the other essays have lacked: thirty years of experience on a demanding project, plus the capacity to reflect ironically but constructively on the changing parameters of his task as that experience has accrued.

Where, then, is editing at this moment of `the non inguistic turn'? Greetham's solution is to accept that textual editing is never pre-hermeneutic, and that a shift in species identification--from grammarian to rhetorician--is ahead for the textual editor. There are even legal arguments for this; a recent American Supreme Court decision suggests that `the more an edition ... promotes its historical definitiveness, the more it pretends to be prehermeneutic, the less protectable it becomes' (p.19). That is to say, in a world in which Princess Diana is about to become a trademark, the Princesse de Cleves is left without a defender. This irony may in the end provide a cultural transformation greater than many readers -- let alone editors -- are prepared to cope with.


University of Toronto
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Publication:Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1998
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