Thursday, June 09, 2005

Introduction to Textual Criticism

In my other life, I am a student of documents--as Zarby so nicely put it (here)--and as such I have some experience in the discipline of textual criticism. What’s that, you ask? Textual criticism aims at reconstructing original texts from later texts. For recently published works, it’s not needed. Texts now are mass-produced, and libraries and private collections hold copies that are exactly identical to one another. But try to engage seriously with Shakespeare, for example, and we have no first edition, or editio princeps. All we have are later editions, each a little bit different. For texts written before the invention of the printing-press the situation is even more complicated, since all we have are different hand-written versions (manuscripts), no two of which are perfectly identical. Reconstructing the text involves careful comparison of all existing manuscripts, trying to determine their relationships with one another, and then working back towards what is likely to be true text.

Having dabbled in textual criticism as a student, you can imagine my delight at having new material on which to apply what I'd learned. (Kids! Pay attention in school! You never know what will come in handy later!) Grewal’s meeting of the 18th of May with Tim Murphy exists in several copies. These ‘texts’ can be compared to one another and their relationship determined. Clarifying those relations could potentially also clarify what happened behind the scenes while they were being produced.

I suggest that the 'exemplars' (surviving versions of the text) are as follows. (Textual criticism tends to use capital Roman letters for texts we have; small Greek letters for texts that we can deduce the existence of.)
  • ω - the archetype (what Grewal and Murphy really said)
  • ψ - the original recording (whether recorded on tape or digitally)
  • χ - (If 2 was on analogue tape, the original digital version)
  • φ – the tape that goes with G (more on this shortly)
  • A. The ‘eight-minute tape’ (8'57; May 19) — I have referred to this as the ‘eight-minute tape’ earlier (truncating rather than rounding). For convenience I will keep this name. (‘A’ sounds like ‘eight’)
  • B. The transcript released with the eight-minute tape
  • F. The four-minute tape, released May 31 (tm-ud meeting.mp3; )
  • G. 1Conversation-TimMurphy.pdf (released with F, but much longer)
  • J. The June 3 tape (tm.mp3; 25'58)
  • K. The transcript released with J
One methodology that is standard in textual criticism is the construction of a stemma, or ‘family tree’ of exemplars that visually portrays how the different texts relate to one another. Below is a tentative stemma that I whipped up for you. This is a simplified version, and as I work on it, it will have to be modified. This particular stemma of the Murphy-Grewal meeting does not take account of contamination from one branch of the stemma to another, for example.

So, what's the point? Once it became clear that there were serious flaws in the released tapes, the Conservatives claimed that it was accidental. This was greeted with much derision. But since we should not explain as pure conspiracy what could in fact involve a degree of incompetence, I don't think it's impossible that the multiplication of versions of the tapes behind closed doors in fact resulted in the wrong tapes being released. The Four minute tape, above, is probably such a mistake--since it is shorter than the 8-minute tape (A) but has a section in it that is missing in A (Paul from Nova Scotia appears); but G (the transcript released with F) is much longer than F but leaves out (Paul from Nova Scotia).

(Another interesting thing here. In this case the best exemplar is J. But it is the most recent. Sometimes that happens.)

Afterthought. After I prepared this stemma it struck me that there is a serious flaw. The relationship between earlier and later pdfs is probably the more important one, with the new audio versions in fact being a corrective influence on the transcripts, not their chief source. (Or, most of the time--there is at least one place where the earliest transcript got it right and later transcripts screwed it up.)

(Anyway, this is the theory. Sorry to make you wait for it, but I should have something else for you by the end of the day.)


Blogger No Yards said...

I see 4 greek symbols and the capital letters A B F G J and K.

7:25 PM  
Blogger buckets said...

thanks. That's what it should look like.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Well, that intelligent foray into textual theory should prove once and for all that your are not a Liberal communications hack astro-turfing...

There is not way those guys could be that smart.

Good job buckets..

7:56 PM  
Blogger Knight of Good Mr. Iron Man said...

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8:10 PM  

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