Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Textual scholarship is bunk

Several weeks ago I picked up an edition of Golding's translation of Ovid at a used bookstore. It was $12, and since I only wanted it for casual reference, I didn't care about having an especially scholarly edition. This looked like a perfectly serviceable transcription.

It is, and I'm happy with it. But I didn't expect its editor to be so aggressive about not having undertaken a more bibliographically ambitious edition. This is from his note on the text:
This present edition is based on the copy of the first edition (1567) now in the Library of the University of Illinois. Its purpose is simply to present the pleasant and delectable work to a reader interested in what must have been one of the favorite books of the young Shakespeare. . . . It is not, then, primarily a textual edition--one scrupulously based on a collation of many copies of the first and later editions, with the laudable purpose of arriving at a text scientifically as pure as possible--purer, in fact, than any Elizabethan ever happened upon. The boy from Stratford, for example, probably not long before 1580, would simply have picked up a copy of the book; it would not have occurred to him to compare it with other copies for variants in phrasing, spelling, punctuation, most of these due to human accidents--to the extra tankard of beer the compositor had at lunch, to the pretty girl who brushed by his window and set his hand a-fumbling among the letters, to failing light or weariness at the end of the day.

Ovid's Metamorphoses: The Arthur Golding Translation, 1567, ed. John Frederick Nims. New York: Macmillan, 1965
Wow. Contempt for textual scholarship just drips from those lines, doesn't it? Oh, those textual scholars, with their "laudable" (by which I mean, sweetly pathetic) devotion to a "scientifically pure" text! They should drink more beer and eye more pretty women and really, you know: live life. Like Shakespeare! And Golding's compositor! (And perhaps Professor Nims himself, who appears from his acknowledgements to have fobbed most of the edition's actual labor off on the English department's secretaries and typists.)

So those of you currently collating and shit? Stop right this minute!

10 comments:

R said...

*wipes tears from eyes*

Man, that was hilarious. I love "the boy from Stratford," and Nims' construction of merrie old Elizabethan England, where the girls were pretty and even the compositors are red-blooded males.

Susan said...

Well, I'm sure he's right about the boy from Stratford, but . . . well my guess is there might be SOME argument for textual scholarship:)

Moria said...

<3

scr said...

That's funny. Another reading of it is that he assumes you only care about the text w/r/t Shakespeare.

medieval woman said...

Hee, hee....

My transcriptions always get messed up from a cat brushing against my arm...

Sisyphus said...

Actually, I think this is great advice! I'm going to stop working right now and get a beer! Flavia, drop that piece o'crap "book" thing you got there and let's go --- it's only Ovid, after all!

Hopefully we can go out and meet some cute compositors, or even some glovers or fullers --- writers, though, I don't think so, as they're always at home dreaming of girls and a-fumbling among their letters instead of going out and actually getting any.

Flavia said...

Bro:

Oh, absolutely. He mentions Shax over and over again as a presumed reason one would want to read this translation--even while elsewhere saying that the evidence Shax relied on it isn't as strong as once thought.

He does something similar with Ezra Pound, who apparently once described Golding's translation as "the most beautiful book in the language." Nim spends half his time talking this up and half his time saying that, well, Pound doesn't seem to have actually read it very carefully, and maybe only glanced at it, because it's really not great as poetry.

Frankly, he doesn't seem to like Golding's translation at all, or to have wanted to spend any time on an edition. Maybe someone talked him into it, or he thought it would sell?

Doctor Cleveland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doctor Cleveland said...

I enjoy that he simultaneously buys into 20th-century bibliographers' stereotypes about why printers make mistakes (the New Bibliographers loved these colorful narratives)and argues against trying to remove those errors!

No, no, no, don't turn that n back into a u! That's a monument to the printers' drunken ogling! It is to be preserved forever!

Jack said...

Dr. C,
Love that you removed your own post, then posted on preserving monuments to compositor's errors. Kinda blew my mind.