Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Textual Criticism

I'm knee deep in editing my manuscripts again. At least until its time to correct them thar papers and finals next week. But anyway, its brought up a question that started pontificating on back in April. Then I segued into modern applications, but now I want to tackle the problem from a different point of view.

I'll use my own work as an example. The Letter to Sigeweard survives in a single manuscript in its entirety. BUT, 3 other manuscripts have texts that seem to be part of the letter. BUT, those "parts" are not letters: that is, while the text overlaps with the text of the letter, and may a) have been adapted from the letter for other purposes or b) may have been material that Aelfric was preparing for sermons and used to fill out the letter written roughly simultaneously with his work on those sermons. In fact, I'm arguing both depending on which of the other manuscripts is being spoken of.

The issue I want to think about and raise here is about those other "parts." It seems that in each case the overlapping material with the letter is material being used as a sermon. In one case, it is highly improbable that Aelfric made this text into a sermon and so a later redactor adapted this letter for sermonic purposes, as he did also for a couple of other Aelfrician epistles. In the other cases it isn't so clear.

Now the traditional treatment of all these parts is to consider them as part of the "Letter to Sigeweard", though none of the other copies have ever been used to create a critical text of those overlapping portions. The closest we come is the Crawford edition of the letter in EETS The Heptateuch, which edits the main mss and one other that contains a large portion of the text, but does so in parallel columns rather than as a critical text.

So my questions are these: 1) isn't creating a critical edition of the Letter in a sense doing violence to the manuscript context of the adapted portions? 2) how best to produce both a "critical" edition and yet at the same time preserve the texts that appear as separate units in other manuscripts--that they be enjoyed, read, and studied not simply as parts of the Letter to Sigeweard but as independent texts, they are both and should be studied as both.

Still thinking about this....

4 comments:

Derek the Ænglican said...

What you're pointing out here is one of the reasons why we need to seriously rethink how we classify and edit OE homilies. Is a pastiche sermon simply a corruption of one or more primary texts? I don't think so...

Looking at how Aefric and others utilize their Latin sources has helped me get a better angle on the issue--the question isn't simply one of sources (as it was historically treated in the field), rather it's about the rhetorical deployment of traditional material. How and why does a preacher use traditional material and how does each new use change its meaning or exploit latent meaning that were always there albeit subdued...those seem to me to be the key questions.

Does Michael Drout talk about this in his book, I wonder? (Our library hasn't acquired it yet...)

Michelle of Heavenfield said...

I looked at Bede's use of the psalms in his homilies as part of my distilled prayer project and after a while it occurred to me that many of the passages the editor footnoted as being from the psalms were awfully loose. I'm really now thinking that a lot of them are just Bede's way of speaking. The psalter was part of his formation and influenced his patterns of speech. It would seem to me that other chunks of prose could function the same way. How many ways can a rector recycle the same story or allusion in different sermons? I'm sure we have all heard our rector/minister recycle phrases , stories and particularly metaphors in many different sermons.

Michelle of heavenfield said...

I would think that every author has a cache of stories, metaphors, favorite bits of tradition. Maybe these chunks should be thought of that way. Cache, wordhoard, treasure chest... ;-)

Derek the Ænglican said...

Well, that's the thing---all the people I know who look at OE homilies are coming from the OE side; I'm the only one I know who's coming from the homiletics side of the equation. Use and re-use of material is one thing if your primary mode of literary production is writing well-index and published articles, and another entirely if you're producing homilies on the same yearly cycle every two weeks. Especially if you're doing catechetical preaching---and a lot of the OE sermons are---then repetition is a *good thing* because you're reinforcing points in the minds of your congregants. I'm not saying that there is or there should be no originality in preaching---far be it from me to say that---rather the dynamics are quite different from the writing aims of most modern professors of English.