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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Conjectural emendation

This link leads to the fascinating review by T. Lubin) of D. Goodall's edition of the Parākhya Tantra. The review discusses most notably Goodall's use of conjectural emendations. This is a hot topic, since finding a balance in emendations means struggling to find a balance between not violating the text and saving its meaning.

What do readers do and think?

For further thoughts on the methodology of critical editions, see this post.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The debate about conjectural emendation is unfounded. Lubin even admits that Goodall is wholly upfront with his methodology and fallibility. He cites every original. The problem that appears to trouble Lubin is his misconception of an edition, or perhaps just when it is called critical, as "the text." It is not. It is a hypothesis. Non-critical editions use conjectural emendation too, they just do it without saying so.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Anonymous reader,
thank you so much for this explicit comment. I agree with three of your points:
1. one of the advantages of Goodall's edition is that he is quite frank about what he is doing and that he enables the readers to hold different opinions, since he provides them with the textual material he is working on.
2. A critical edition is the work of a critical intelligence. It is not just a collation of manuscripts.
3. And, of course, I also agree that most editions just silently emend the text, without mentioning the variant readings in the apparatus (I am presently working on Jayanta, as you might have noticed from previous posts).

However, I think you will also agree that one has to finely tune one's conjectural emendations, at least because the background knowledge presupposed by the method is never complete. Personally, I would also add a "favor rei" in regard to a flawed manuscript. In other words, I would try to make sense of its reading, if only this is possible. In fact, I tend to think that the copyist might have had good reasons to write what he did and that it would be superb to claim a priori that my Sanskrit is better than his. Of course, this does not apply to some traditions, for instance because texts were only copied in order to acquire merit, without caring for their being accurate.

Anonymous said...

Good that we agree about most of the points, but to go back to your original question, I strongly disagree with casting the issue in terms of "preserving the text" versus "violating the text" as you do. Editors like Goodall are clearly preserving the text by giving all deviations from the manuscript on the same page, and even more conveniently, by giving a diplomatic transcription as an appendix. Making a conjectural emendation is not doing violence to the text, it is making a hypothesis about what the text might have been. Again, we need to stop equating manuscripts of a text or editions of a text with the text itself. Texts are fluid, and though they may exist, I don't know of any autograph copies of ancient Sanskrit texts. Scribes, scholars, and others who copied Sanskrit manuscripts also made conjectural emendations. To readily accept a reading that happened to be conjectured by someone several hundred years ago as a priori more authoritative than one conjectured right now is a mistake. I am currently working in a situation similar to Goodall's in that the text I am working on survives in only one manuscript (very corrupt) and one apograph. The apograph's writer made many conjectures about what he thought the text should be, and most of the time he is obviously wrong.

Everything I have said is theoretical, because that seems to be what you and Lubin are interested in. Practically speaking, I think Goodall would be the overjoyed for people to improve on his text of the Parakhya with specific suggestions for improving specific passages. Lubin suggested one. My discomfort is not that he questioned this passage---that is a good thing---but that so many scholars that haven't thought the issues through are attacking the methodology of Goodall et al. I have seen no argument that hold any water. His methodology is impeccable.

"However, I think you will also agree that one has to finely tune one's conjectural emendations,"

I wholly agree. Is that at issue here? If the claim is that Goodall did not finely tune his conjectures, don't we deserve more evidence?

"I would try to make sense of its reading, if only this is possible"

This is in my view what makes a critical edition critical, more so than the printing of variants. Trying to make sense of a reading doesn't mean that we HAVE to print it as the accepted, hypothesized text, however. If the reading of the manuscripts makes sense and is rejected, I think a note is in order to discuss the matter.

Of course, this does not apply to some traditions, for instance because texts were only copied in order to acquire merit, without caring for their being accurate.

To paraphrase Housman ("The Application of Though to Textual Criticism"), "which is heavier, a tall man or a fat man? One has to weigh them!" We cannot know which manuscript is better, one whose scribe was concerned with accurately transmitting the exemplar, mistakes and all, or the one that may be educated and more ready to alter the exemplar because he believes it is in error. Either manuscript may have the right reading in any given case and so each reading must be weighed individually.

elisa freschi said...

Dear reader (why anonymous, by the way?),

thanks for your further clarifications.
1. You seem to imply that I agree with Lubin ("Everything I have said is theoretical, because that seems to be what you and Lubin are interested in") and that I oppose Goodall's methodology. In fact, I did not have the pleasure to meet neither the one nor the other. I DID NOT MEAN AT ALL to criticise Goodall's critical edition. I had the pleasure to work on his editions of Śaivasiddhānta works and highly appreciated them. My point was just (as usual in this blog) to discuss a hot topic. Or do you think that there is nothing to discuss, since G's methodology is the only possible option?

2. Connected with that is another key point, that is, you write that

"To readily accept a reading that happened to be conjectured by someone several hundred years ago as a priori more authoritative than one conjectured right now is a mistake".

I see your point and understand it. However, I am less confident of my Sanskrit competences than I am of those of many learned paṇḍits whose copies of manuscripts I had the pleasure to read;-) As you might have already read in my methodological manifesto, I tend to think that unless and until contrary evidences, one should adopt a principle of charity. Of course, this mostly applies to the case you also mention, that is, to a reading which makes sense and is nonetheless rejected.
Once again, I am not referring to Goodall's edition and just value and enjoy discussions.

Anonymous said...

What I written is perhaps a bit too polemical---reason enough to want to remain anonimo?

I believe Goodall's methodology is the best, but of course not the only one. I know some people are so afraid of emending that they will only publish diplomatic editions. That is a mistake in my mind. I have tried to illustrate why Goodall's methodology is sound and superior. Do you still doubt?

I am less confident of my Sanskrit competences than I am of those of many learned paṇḍits whose copies of manuscripts I had the pleasure to read;-)

Frankly your Sanskrit is probably much better than mine, but you work on a subject whose scribes and pandits were more highly educated than the types of texts I work with, so maybe our attitudes are shaped by that.

elisa freschi said...

Not at all! In fact, I like arguing about scholarly topics!
And yes, I still think that G's methodology is not the best one. I would say that one needs a distinct method for each textual tradition one deals with.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in keeping up this conversation, but only the first two comments are visible now (some kind of software or network glitch?), so I can't look back at your latest replies.

I think we agree on basic methodology such as listing all variants, giving careful consideration to each possible reading in light of what we know and testimonia, and having notes discussing decisions made. It seems that what we disagree about is the degree of certainty necessary in order to print an emendation in the main text, is that right? I don't imagine you object to making conjectures, but perhaps you favor keeping them in footnotes when there is any doubt, correct?

elisa freschi said...

Yes, I still hope the comments will "appear" again, but there has been a general problem with all comments posted between thursday and friday (I also "lost" the comments I made in another blog) —and even with a post of mine (and, I suppose, many others).
Yes, I agree with discussing decisions, especially if they run against all/most manuscripts and I agree even more about giving careful consideration to the manuscripts, but also to the text's direct or indirect sources. I do not necessarily agree about listing all variants (see infra).

As for the methodology of critical editions in general, the topic is more than intriguing, so that I ended up writing a separate post about it: http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/2011/05/methodology-of-critical-editions.html

PDSz said...

Indeed, with a comprehensive reporting of readings and clear markup of where the text has been `tampered with', I think there can be no debate about the use of conjectural emendation. There can be a debate (and it is very welcome) about individual conjectures. I happen to think that the example given in the review is a very elegant one and perfectly plausible. Entire pages could be filled with corruptions issuing from misreading -tta- and the other corruptions that this causes. Moreover, the feminine at the end is again fine, since daṇḍas are used in such a haphazard manner.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Peter,
I do not think anyone here (including T.Lubin, if I understand his review correctly) claims that conjectures should be avoided at all. The only point worth debating is how far should one avoid conjecturing, in case there is any other possible way.
I agree with your point that one should rather focus on individual conjectures. And the one mentioned by Lubin is not very "invasive". By the way, what do you mean as for the use of daṇḍas and feminines? Do you mean to say that a feminine ending might have been misread as a daṇḍa?

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