Editing Versions

John Bryant
2022 Textual Cultures  
G. Thomas Tanselle's Descriptive Bibliography — a monumental compilation of essays devoted to bibliographical theory and practice as they have evolved as a discipline since the 1960s — not only attests to Tanselle's vibrant career but is also an occasion to reflect on bibliography as a "way of thinking" about book history, material culture, the editing of fluid texts, and digital scholarship. In our profession, the field of descriptive bibliography has endured decades of begrudging tolerance as
more » ... "merely" custodial rather than critical; and yet bibliography — in so far as it records change — is the fundamental grounding for any historicist and materialist project. Melville's so-called "L-word" in Typee — once it is tracked from manuscript to first edition to revised edition — records an "oscillating revision" in Melville's thinking and writing that exemplifies the dance between accident and intentionality in the creative process. Tanselle's essays on the practical workings of bibliography also suggest the field's ability to extend its scope beyond idealized notions of the authorial work and to embrace non-authorized reprints, periodical placement, illustration, and non-literary documents, as well as adaptive revision in film and translation. Descriptive bibliography is essential for our deeper engagement with how and why versions evolve. Advancements in digital strategies related to database and display will facilitate the future acceptance of descriptive bibliography among literary scholars and critics seeking to test the interpretive potentials of biography, material history and culture, and the fluid text.
doi:10.14434/tc.v14i2.33652 fatcat:j2r7fgrupbax5kbgpjfpteku7a