I’m not quite all the way through this week’s reading, but I have to be honest and admit that I’ve had a difficult time finding a foothold in the reading to use for a response post. So I’m making the decision to settle on the problem of errors. Or rather, the problem of exactly what an error means. Or is.
Especially in Chapter 7 of the Greetham text, but in a lot of the other textual scholarship stuff we’ve read so far where the focus is on transcription, the multiplicity of editions of texts, etc., it seems like the problem of errors is assumed to be sort of the central problem. What I find interesting about that is it seems that one of the goals of this intense kind of textual scholarship is to ‘denaturalize’ (as we’ve been calling it) the text, to sort of undermine the possibility of thinking there is this one final object that is ‘the text.’ Textual scholarship accomplishes this through its various methods of analyzing the physical characteristics of various editions of texts, by creating and engaging with knowledge about historical developments of the book and the varied practices of book manufacture and creation, among other things. All of this so, when we sit down to read Hamlet, we don’t think of this book we have sitting in front of us as the absolute Hamlet, but we’re forced to recognize it instead as a contingent incarnation of Hamlet. But then when we have the physical things we call errors. Possible mistakes in copying texts. Differences between a quarto and a folio text. Aspects of the text that appear to be there due to printing constraints. I don’t know of a better word for these things, but it seems to me that by calling them ‘errors,’ this still forces an implicit acknowledgment that there is, in some sense, a proper original error-free version that all the contingent incarnations of a text are merely reflections of. It’s a very Platonic notion, really.
Which isn’t to say I think that idea is wrong, exactly. When we think about a text, and when we think about a physical book as something that bears a relation to a text, the ‘text’ we’re thinking about necessarily must be an immaterial thing, something that exists as a real thing above and beyond any specific physical instance of that text. But what I find problematic about the idea of errors is that it implies the physical instances are poor reflections of the text, when it would seem like, we should more properly think of the text as a reflection of its physical incarnations. Or perhaps even better, we should think of the two as mutually constitutive of each other. There is in fact a real immaterial thing that is Hamlet, a real immaterial Hamlet that is not exhausted by any of its contingent incarnations, that in some way supersedes any and all specific printed (or performed or memorized or even composed) versions. But the immaterial Hamlet is not a Platonic, error-free thing. It might not be made up of any specific individual instance, but even as it undoubtedly exerts a certain influence over the relative importance of its different versions it is constituted by all of its specific individual instances: it exists because of and according to the various instances of its printing. The fact that there is a different version of the ‘To Be or Not To Be’ speech is interesting and problematic. But it would seem like the hunt for errors is teleologically concerned with finding the Platonic original in order to free our perception of it from errors—each discovery of an error alerts us to an aspect of the text that we must view skeptically in order to reduce its distortion of our perception of the real text. But in the case of the ‘To Be or Not To Be’ speech, we have to acknowledge that if, for example, we were to discover that the more famous version of the speech was more due to error than the other version, we would not then have arrived at a purer perception of an error-free Hamlet. Something about what we understand as Hamlet would be fundamentally different, but to say that we now are able to perceive Hamlet more clearly seems like an absurd assessment of the situation.
I wonder, would it be possible for textual scholarship to frame its discoveries in a positive as opposed to a negative way (or maybe I mean additive as opposed to subtractive)? Could the search be for new additions to the text, rather than to make errors visible so they can be weeded out?