Presentation for The European Society of Textual Scholarship (Paris, 22-24 November)
What’s On the Page
Objectivity and Subjectivity and the
King’s College London
Three main points
Well, two, most probably
1. The role of interpretation and objectivity
in textual scholarship from a theoretical
point of view
2. Role of objectivity within specific editorial
3. The shapes that interpretations assume in
The search for properly ‘scientific’ method
has been perhaps the dominant thread
running through the history of textual
criticism… Too often, however, rigor of
method has been equated with the
minimization of human judgment: instead
the two must be carefully distinguished.
The red line of aspiration to
objectivity in Textual Scholarship
• Starts from antiquity (Aristarchus of
Alexandria? Politian? Scaliger?)
• In Nineteenth century, in coincidence with the
definition of scientific method, TS acquires a
‘scientific’ method (or two)
• Objectivity is declared a value per se,
ethically superior to interpretation: being a
intellectual discipline of self-denial, is
perceived as morally superior to any other
Why an objective text is better?
• Instrumental value of editorial work
• Text are supposed to be ‘neutral’ agents
so that interpretation can be done by
Is it what we really want? Do we really think
that justification for editing is only to allow
other people’s research?
What is objectivity?
• Daston and Galison, 2007-2010
• A concept invented in the late 18th century
(loads to do with Kant)
• History of objectivity via photographic atlas
• Different epistemic virtues in the
representation of ‘objects’ to be studied
– Objectivity: Mechanical and Structural
– Trained Judgment
• You select the best
specimens from a
species for them to be
• You reproduce it at
your best, conflating
various exemplars so
one stands for all
à In Textual
reproduction of reality
• Better many copies of
than one that
à Facsimile edition,
new philology, Befund
• The mathematical
laws, the logical
members of group or
• Based on systematic
• Raw data is
smoothed by expert
to study it better
• Unsmoothed and
smoothed data are
presented to the
judgment of the user/
à Digital editions
From before 1820
Objectivity as Social Agreement
“If the judgement is valid for everyone,
provided only he is in possession of reason,
its ground is objectively sufficient” (Kant, trad.
“we may conclude that there is such a thing
as objectivity of interpretation: the vast
majority of decisions we make in this realm
are decisions on which all (or most)
competent readers agree or seem likely to
agree” (Huitfeldt, 2006)
Sounds very civilized, but
• How do we assess such an agreement?
• How do we assess competencies?
Objectivity – Subjectivity
A continuity that has no ending nor beginning.
All our activities collocate somewhere in this
continuity (Huitfeldt, 2006)
Does it really matter?
Interpretation is inevitable
Here is where Tanselle and I
part ways: I’d rather say that,
by definition, the purpose of
editing is to analyze and
represent in a meaningful
way texts from the past,
which may or may not
implying correcting them.
But this is another story.
A coherent rationale of approach is properly
a desideratum of textual scholarship, but
any rationale of critical editing that seeks to
limit (rather than to systematize) the role of
judgment is not coherent, since by definition
critical editing exists to draw strengths of
human judgment as a mean of correcting
the defects of documentary texts (Tanselle,
However: Documentary editing
Documentary editing is editing sources
without altering them except for the
compromises entailed in presenting them in
a new physical form (Tanselle, 1995)
• Documentary editing is (has to, is
expected to be) objective
• Has to mimic the source
What’s on the page?
What is this?
How many assumptions are behind
the reading of primary sources?
• That signs are components of a alphabetical
• That they are part of any given language
• That we know the rules of the language
• That the scribe knew them as well
• That such rules are the same
And so on
(Bordalejo 2010; Robinson 2013)
A new definition of documentary
• Edition of primary sources with the aim of
analyzing and representing them for a
• Making them look like the source itself may or
may not be a goal, may or may not be
meaningful for such purpose.
“Representation is always an exercise in
portraiture, albeit not necessarily one in
mimesis” (Daston & Galison)
Objectivity. Recording without interpretation.
They will not occur (Shillingsburg, 2006)
We are The Competent Readers, we are
The Experts: let’s allow ourselves to share
We are worth it.
Pray, what’s wrong with
One’s understanding of texts is worth
[…] if our understanding of texts is worth
sharing in critical essays, it is worth sharing
in our markup of electronic texts. (SperbergMcQueen, 1991)
An in editions, may I add.
What about accountability
• At the base of any rigorous methodology
• I have no problem with an emendatio ope
ingenii if it is well documented and argued
for. Do you?
• Allow readers to verify, reproduce and
improve our work
• Documentation: precise, accurate, detailed.
• In other words, markup: explicit and scholarly.