The fifteen essays collected here form a series of variations on a theme, exploring the interconnections between verbal works and the physical objects (primarily manuscripts and printed books) that transmit them. The position underlying each essay is that these connections are of vital importance to everyone who reads, regardless of the varying approaches that different people take to the process of reading and interpreting verbal works. And the point is shown to apply to all kinds of reading matter, not just those usually thought of as imaginative writing or belles lettres.
The essays are arranged in five groups, each emphasizing a different aspect of the subject. First are three general essays about the artifactual approach to books; then come sections showing how this approach has a bearing on the reproducing of books, on the recording and listing of books, and on the editing of texts; and a final gathering of three pieces deals in the same terms with the nature of intellectual discussion and historical study. Together these essays provide an introduction to basic issues in several interrelated pursuits, such as bibliography, scholarly editing, book collecting, librarianship, literary criticism, and the writing of history.
Any emphasis on the importance of the physical features of the objects that transmit verbal works carries with it a view of the secondary status of reproductions, whether produced by xerography, microfilming, electronic scanning, or any other means. From a practical point of view, the subject of reproductions is perhaps the central one taken up here, since the fallacious notion that reproductions can replace the objects on which they are based is threatening the survival of the great assemblages of books in libraries. Many people behave as if reproductions were the equals of the originals from which they were copied and assume that the preservation of the originals is generally not important after more conveniently accessible reproductions are made available.
But, as Tanselle points out, all reproductions are new documents, lacking most of the features that defined the originals as physical objects; and those features play an essential role in understanding how a verbal work came to be constituted as it is in a given object and how it was interpreted by those who encountered the object. Sometimes people who express a delight in the "sense of the past" conveyed by the shape and feel of old books and manuscripts are dismissed as sentimentalists; but, stated in less emotional terms, what they have perceived is the importance of primary evidence. Verbal works may be intangible, but they generally come to us tied to objects; and the study of such works therefore cannot be separated from the study of artifacts. The aim of this book is to examine the theory that underlies this observation and the practical implications that follow from it.
"Libraries, Museums, and Reading"
"Bibliographers and the Library"
"The History of Books as a Field of Study"
"Reproductions and Scholarship"
"'The Latest Forms of Book-Burning"
"The Future of Primary Records"
"A Description of Descriptive Bibliography"
"The Recording of American Books and the British Bibliographical Tradition"
"Enumerative Bibliography and the Physical Book"
"Textual Criticism and Deconstruction"
"Editing without a Copy-Text"
"Critical Editions, Hypertexts, and Genetic Criticism"
"Books, Canons, and the Nature of Dispute"
"Analytical Bibliography and Printing History"
"Printing History and Other History"
G. Thomas Tanselle is Vice President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Adjunct Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He has written and lectured extensively on scholarly editing and on matters relating to the study of books as physical objects. Among his publications on these subjects are A Rationale of Textual Criticism (1989) and Textual Criticism and Scholarly Editing (1990).