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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Methodology of critical editions

An anonymous, yet intriguing reader made me reflect in general about the methodology of critical editions. Let me first point out that I am not an expert and that this post mainly aims at raising a discussion (or at least some thoughts in its readers).

The first point is, in my opinion, having clear the purpose of what one is doing. Does one want to reconstruct the author's text? The one commented upon by its main commentator? The one copied by a well-known intellectual?… The question amounts to a basic dichomoty:
  • 1. Reconstruction of the Ur-text (with Urtext understood lato sensu, as every possible stage of the text, provided that it is linked to a precise person, time and place).
  • 2. Reconstruction of the Tradition.

In the second case, it will make sense to list as many variants as possible, virtually also all variants. They will help one to throw light on, e.g., the fortune of the text, the kind of copysts who copied it, their geographical and social origin, etc.
In the first case, by contrast, I would suggest not to list variants which do not make sense and/or which are due to obvious misreadings.
For instance, in the first case I would not list variants such as sakti instead of śakti, kamma instead of karma, or even na instead of sa if the context is clear and they are very similar in the manuscript. In the second case, it would be interesting to note that the text had been copied in a region where palatal ś were pronounced as s, by copysts who were not extremely accurate in reproducing consonant clusters and possibly in a telegu (or similar) script.

If, as often the case, one wants to do both, one runs the risk of producing a critical apparatus so full of variants, that it will be neglected altogether by readers, etc. Hence, I would add a couple of additional suggestions:
—If the text has never been published before, I would avoid producing an unreadable edition, i.e., one in which there is only one (or 2, 3, 4) line(s) per page and the rest of the page is occupied by variants.
—Many, possibly most, insignificant variants could be included in the manuscript's description. One could explain there that the copyst of X tends to duplicate t-s or tends to confuse voiced and unvoiced stops, etc.
—If the number of insignificant variants is enormous, but the manuscript(s) one is working on is very important for the reconstruction of, e.g., the cultural history of a certain area, one could consider producing a separate diplomatic edition.
—I would always produce a translation of the text I have edited, so that readers can better see the rationale of my editiorial choices.
As for conjectural emendations, as already explained, I tend to think that the received text is "innocent until proven guilty". I would not emend it if it makes sense as it is and would anyway emend it as little as possible. Obviously enough, the degree of emendations strictly depends on the kind of manuscripts one is working with. But also on the purpose one has (virtually no conjectures, if one wants to reconstruct the tradition over the text).

If you want to read the post which lead to this one, with the interesting comments of an anonymouys reader, click here.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your suggestions on preparing a critical edition, but here are some things I have to add.
I would error on the side of more variants. Yes we have to silently emend many things of the apparatus becomes too pedantic, but I wouldn't throw out variants that don't make sense, because they could be concealing the right reading. Just because it doesn't make sense to one editor doesn't mean that another won't come along and see through the corruption.

It doesn't sound very consistent as a method, but I suppose the number of manuscripts used will have some impact on how much detail you give for variants. If you have 10 or fewer manuscripts I don't think living all the variants (as in all that are not being silently emended as a rule) will take up more than a half page at most. If, on the other hand, you have hundreds of manuscripts that you want to include then you will need some other policy. It also depends on how you want the edition to be used, but again, I would error toward recording more.

I think it would be ideal, in this digital age, for editors to put images of the manuscript online so those who are really interested in the exact reading of the MS can check it. Of course there are issues with getting permission from the MS's owner, but if that could be worked out, it would take a lot of burden off the editor to be really pedantic in the reporting.

How do you feel about conjectures in the footnotes? I was trying to pin you down about this before. In my view conjectures are very valuable, and if you don't feel comfortable putting them in the "above the line" edited text ("the hypothesis"), one can still offer them in notes.

Anonymous said...

In the second sentence of paragraph 1, I would conjecture Anon meant "or the apparatus" when he wrote "of the apparatus".

In the second sentence of paragraph 2, I conjecture Anon meant "leaving all the variants" instead of "living all the variants."

Please don't silently emend these, because Anon could have meant every letter exactly as he typed them. By recording our conjectures and the original reading, we preserve both the original and our interpretation for future readers!

elisa freschi said...

I agree with your point about digital images of the MS (this is also what I suggested in the project about the critical edition of the Nyāyamañjarī).

As for your idea of giving as much detail as possible, for future readers, first you will agree that it does not make sense to repeat the same kind of variant over and over again. A telegu manuscript I worked on, never distinguishes i from ī. Would you mention it each time?
Second, as for other kinds of variants (say, "paṇḍala" instead of "maṇḍala", just to mention a silly example), let me ask a provocative question: is there a *limit* for such accurate readers? I myself re-read a long manuscript although I hardly found more than the i-ī already mentioned. Most of my manuscript-lover colleagues also tend to trust no one but their own eyes. And they are right, since each reader usually notices something else or something more.

Anonymous said...

As for your idea of giving as much detail as possible, for future readers,

I didn't say this. I said I would error on the side of giving more variants, but I thought I made it clear that I agree one cannot and should not list everything. In my own work I have a long list of variant types that I "silently emend", i.e. emend without note. This includes the interchangability of ś and s, anusvāra and homorganic nasals, placement of daṇḍas, gemination (doubling) of consonants after 'r', 'ṛ' for 'ri', and many other small issues. I know that a very few readers, perhaps linguists, would have wanted these details, but I think including them is too pedantic for the vast majority of users of such an edition.

But you still pass over my question about the value of conjectures! What if all of the manuscripts read paṇḍala where the sense requires maṇḍala. We would emend to maṇḍala and give a note about the manuscripts reading paṇḍala, right?

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for the ongoing discussion, dear Anonymous.
As for details, once again I think the question can only be settled once the purpose of the critical edition is made clear. If you want to discuss the tradition of the text, then daṇḍas, for instance, might be very significant.
Re. your question, if I am reconstructing the (/an) Urtext, if the sense is for maṇḍala beyond every reasonable doubt (e.g. "saṃsāramaṇḍale…") and I have some/many manuscript with paṇḍala, which I can group under the same archetype, I would just emend it. There is no use in mentioning a variant which is clearly a typo. If I find it in manuscripts belonging to different groups and in scripts where m is clearly different than p, I would give it in a footnote. I would probably explain in the Introduction that such cases have been included (notwithstanding my thumb-rule of including only meaningful variants) because they made me consider that the archetype might have had something different, and that paṇḍala is the output of a reading different than maṇḍala. What would you do?
And would you put a conjecture which ameliorates the text but is not strictly needed (since the text already makes some sense) in the edition or in the footnotes?

Anonymous said...

I would not hesitate to emend to maṇḍala, but I would definitely print in my variants register that manuscripts xyz read paṇḍala. It only takes up a small amount of space. But this is a small issue.

I personally would prefer well reasoned conjectures/emendations to go in the edition rather than the footnotes, but I mention the possibility of offering emendations in the notes because you and Lubin seemed to be hostile to the practice of conjectural emendation all together. I think it is very important to try to offer emendations when the text is suspect and equally important to list what the manuscripts read so that if the conjecture is wrong a future reader has ready access to the manuscript's reading.

Now regarding cases where the received text makes some sense but is still suspected to be wrong, well that is a matter of debate. My opinion is that, like with the small emendations, one should definitly offer one's conjecture somewhere, be it in a note or in the text itself if one is that confident.

To bring this back to Goodall and the review, I again maintain that if a reviewer like Lubin wants to accuse the book of relying too heavily on conjectural emendation, he needs to provide us with more evidence than one stray example that Goodall was actually too liberal with the received text. I'm not convinced based on what I have seen.

elisa freschi said...

Well, I cannot speak for Lubin (and, honestly, I don't like being grouped with someone I have never been working with). As for me, I do not disagree with the practice of conjectures, whenever they are needed. For instance, in the case of lacunae or whenever the received text just does not make any sense. I am just less ready than you seem to be to rely on my Sanskrit knowledge. I tend to think that the received text is "innocent until proven guilty" and that one needs a strong amount of evidence (e.g., similar sentences in the text's sources, in other texts by the same author…) to emend a text. I would first assume that *I* am not understanding it and emend it only as the extrema ratio. As already said, the copyst's grasp Sanskrit was not necessarily worse than mine. To sum up: I would not emend something only because "it does not sound like the author's style".
Once again, I am not claiming that this is what Goodall (or any other) does. Would you?
Why don't you comment on the problem of distinguishing the purpose of one's critical edition?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you comment on the problem of distinguishing the purpose of one's critical edition?

I agree! I think I said as much in one of the comments that disappeared.

I apologize if I was unfairly grouping you and Lubin. You pointed to the practice of conjectural emendation as a controversal one, with Lubin on the side critiquing use of conjectural emendation. You framed the issue in terms of conjectural emendation "violating the text", so that is probably how I think that you sided with Lubin regarding the review of Goodall. Anyhow, I seem to have misunderstood your position. Your rationale on when to conjecture/emend in your last comment is perfectly reasonable to me.

We can leave it at that.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for that. Although I will miss this ongoing discussion…;-)

Vidya said...

A very interesting and thought-provoking post.

While there may not be a single methodology (even if we wish there were one) that works for everyone, it simply makes sense to have a section that minimally documents the assumptions made, the approach to emendation, conjectures etc. If we look at some of the early publications (pre-1930) by traditional Pandits, their depth of sanskrit seems to outweigh their awareness of research methods so one observes a tendency to make these grammatical emendations. Aside,we may also distinguish here the semantic emendations (the "paṇḍala" example) from emendations needed for syntactic/grammatical reasons. Some indicate them in brackets, some add (??) to the text and so on. So there occurs this huge element of subjective sifting that happens in the mind of the editor on what constitutes a trivial change.

Then again there are these assumptions about relative weights assigned to manuscripts (Recension A tends to be more accurate than Recension B) the reasons for which are not always listed.

So I think it all goes back to your first point - the purpose of what one is doing.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Vidya,
yes, I agree. I enormously admire several of the pre-modern editors for their insightful approach. Yet, nowadays I would suggest first of all to spell out as much as possible and to write it down in the Introduction. What is one expecting to achieve? Why? Through which method? Why did one prefer it over the other possible ones? I am sometimes irritated by critical editions which do not make any methodological statement, as if they could be "neutral" about it.
What do you work on? Which method suits you?

Vidya said...

I do not work on anything specific. just the perspective of a reader (consumer?) of critical editions.

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