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Textual Sifting

Mar 14 2012

Textual Fulfilment. Using most of Peter Barry's textual categories--cotext, context, multitext, epitext, peritext, and so on (see Barry, 'Rethinking Textuality in Literary Studies Today', Literature Compass 7. 11 [November 2010], pp. 999-1008 [DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2010.00758.x])--it is possible to analyse TEXT as the superordinate of a semantic field. Barry's terms, like the branches of a family tree, emerge from the superordinate and create a set of methods for approaching textual fulfilment. But, like further offspring, categories of 'textness'--the written word, the spoken word, the image-text, the digital text--can either be grouped together under each of Barry's sets, or, can form whole new branches of their own. In an act of Divergent Thinking, my students have been engaged in designing mind-maps for text that permit a glance into the potential for interpreting text in all its fullness.  Here's a snippet of one:

Textual Priorities. What is also becoming clear through detailed analysis is that different authors+text can be allied, because of particular shared elements of 'textness' that emerge from close study of them. It's probably obvious, but Shakespeare and Walt Whitman (apparently sometimes called 'America's Shakespeare', which is a bit sad: why can't he just be America's Whitman?) share the numinous textual element of 'authorial fetishization'. This might, perhaps, be akin to visceral 'aura', something that we have been trying, unsuccessfully, to pin down, though Kendall O'Brien's 'experience' is an astute attempt at definition.

Textual Sifting. Of most significance with these authors, and others who are similarly a permanent part of the canon, it is their being THE author that, in a sense, surpasses even their literary oeuvres: oeuvres with all the attendant problems of 'what is the text' of Leaves of Grass or The Merchant of Venice? In these case, and others like them--Beowulf, Chaucer, Milton perhaps, Dickinson--the overwhelming priority in terms of 'textness' is the cult of the author. Clearly, in the case of Beowulf, the cult of the author means the cult of 'Anonymous', and I think that while we'd all like to know the date of that poem, no one wants to know who might feasibly be called the author/s, because part of its cult is its unknowability, its lack of compositional and authorial context. Not all works share the priority of Authorship (or Intentionality), though: more of those next time.