Peter Robinson, What text really is not, and why editors have to learn to swim

This article attempts to ask some fundamental questions about editing in the digital age, and give some answers to these questions. It is argued that a concentration on digital methods, for themselves, may neglect the base questions facing any editor: why is the editor making this edition; from whom is the editor making this edition? Indeed, in some respects thinking about text encoding for digital purposes has been built on assumptions which are, for editors, simply wrong. In particular, the concept of what ‘text’ is, upon which (for instance) the Text Encoding Initiative principles are based (what Renear calls ‘realist’), is positivist, overconfident, simplistic and neglects the materiality of actual text instances. This view is opposed by what Renear calls ‘anti-realism’: texts do not have an independent existence, but are constructed by individual and collective acts of perception. In concrete terms, ‘anti-realism’ sees editions as made to serve the needs of the reader, as acts of interpretation and not as representations of some concrete reality: this is Pichler's view of the Wittgenstein transcripts, and the author's views of the Canterbury Tales project transcripts. However, it is argued that both realist and anti-realist extremes are dangerous: ‘realism’ can lead to editions which are arrogant and out-of-touch; anti-realism to editions which are reductionist and etiolated. In place of either extreme, we should substitute a different aim: to challenge readers to make new texts for themselves as they read, by finding new ways of presenting material so that both we editors and those who use our editions become better readers.

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