Thursday, September 15, 2011

In praise of variants

Philology is a bourgeois, paternalist and hygienist discourse of the family, which cherishes filiation, condemns adultery, is afraid of contamination. A discourse of guilt (the variant is a deviant conduct), which founds a positive methodology (Bernard Cerquiglini).

This sounds like a funny and yet intriguing quote. I found it thanks to Reinhold Grünendahl's "Post-philological Gestures - "Deconstructing" Textual Criticism" (WZKS 52-53), which is in fact a praise of German textual criticism against Deconstructionism and any other attack coming from the side of Said's, Derrida's and Foucault's (alleged?) followers.
The intriguing side of the quote and that —at least in my case— it made me react by thinking that, in fact, I do not condemn at all variants. They are often the most important part of one's work. They tell one a lot about the fortune of a text (has it been understood? misunderstood? wilfully altered?), the milieus where it has been read, the kind of people who read it and their worldview. Besides, it might be the only way to get some insight into the original meaning of the text as conceived by its author.
Interestingly enough, the quote is found in a book which seems to share a similar point of view, since it is called Eloge de la variante: Histoire critique de la philologie (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1989, the quote is from pp.76-77).

On critical editions, textual criticism and variants, you might like these two posts (and their insightful comments).

1 comment:

Jayarava said...

Cerquiglini would know all about that style of philology having been a vice president of the Conseil supérieur de la langue française. France is infamous for its linguistic frigidity, and its ambivalent relationship with authority.

Of course variants are interesting, though I also note that Patrick Olivelle complains of the suppression of variation in critical editions of the Upaniṣads - so not all of us do find them interesting.

I like K. R. Norman's definition: "The philologists tells us what words mean, and why they mean that." We might "and when they meant that".

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