Thursday, March 24, 2011
Do we really want to edit the Ur-Text?
As all readers know, I am working since years on the edition and translation of Rāmānujācārya's Tantrarahasya and I have collected several versions of my own translation. Some fifty years ago, I would have had several workbooks full of notes. As soon as one would have become too full, I would have transcribed the last version in a new one and started re-reading it again. Suppose that I were a teacher: I would have used my translation in my classes again and again. My students would have taken notes and the ones of, say, year 1960, would have ended up with a translation quite different than the ones of year 1950. Then, one of them might have re-thought about the text and added her own notes on the margins. Another might have lent her workbook to a friend, who might have copied its content and added some glosses in brackets, when she could not make sense of it. Not to speak about the new readings produced just by misreadings, or by copying further the initial text. And this all can be easily thought to happen within a lifespan!
Of course, one might say that all philologists try to reconstruct the author's final view. This can be practically impossible (because of the lack of autograph manuscripts, etc.), but theoretically possible. However, the "final view" only exists in some cases. A kāvya poem, in classical and contemporary India has probably been elaborated enough to have a final version. But what about lectures, conferences, talks, manuscripts written by authors who were trying to make sense of a problem, struggled with that, re-read a passage again and again trying to make sense of it?
Do we really want to say that the textual edition of the Ur-Text is a general rule? Even if the Ur-Text is assumed as an abstract entity, such as the author's last version?