Episode 128: Tanselle’s Terminology

A handful of students (mine and from other classes) have been asking me if I have a blog of some sort. I point them to this site and realize that I haven’t written on here since forever. The discipline to update my thoughts and musings on various topics and actually archive them keeps getting lost. The original purpose of this blog is to develop some of my more interesting ideas, some nerdy, some academic, all in one way important to me and that I consider worth sharing. The intent was to post something at a nearly daily basis and since I’ve been doing this for a couple of years with several months of hiatuses being not uncommon, you can tell it has been lost. So I’m going to do my best to get some writing done one way or another and post it here. It should mostly be dissertation centered but if any interesting cyber conversations take place I might just copy paste them unto here so that the general public can geek out with me.

I’m not sure if I’ve covered this particular topic before but this is going to be part of future chapter 1 of dissertation so here goes.

One of the central critical theories that I use in my analysis of serial texts is Textual Criticism, which deals with the process of authors creating and publishing their texts. One of the main theorists of this field is George Thomas Tanselle whose seminal book A Brief Rationale of Textual Criticism contains many ideas that guide my study of contemporary serial within various media. One distinction that Tanselle makes in his definitions of the “work”, the “text”, and the “document” are particularly instrumental to this dissertation and are used throughout each of the following chapters. These terms (especially the first two) are often interchangeable when referring to the literary creation of any author but I will be using them according to Tanselle’s definition throughout this study.

The work exists as an abstract concept within the author’s mind. Before a single word is written and even after its publication, the work is ephemeral and malleable. The text is the physical embodiment of the work as the author gives shape to his/her thoughts through language. While the common perception of the text is the manuscript, it can be an amalgam of multiple notes in various sources with annotations and changes done by the author and editors. The document is how the reader can perceive the text, usually after the publication process. Alterations to individual documents (ie highlighting, annotating, or other marks to pages to name a few) are quite common but in order to change the text itself the author (or someone with the authorial authority to do so) must publish an amended version of the text via a new publication of the document.

In the context of serialization, the stages of work, text, and document become problematized even more so than with traditional print publishing. The work continues to be abstract but can be limited to a certain number of years when a particle title has been serialized for so long that multiple authors have worked on it. For example, Grant Morrison’s time  writing Batman spanned from 2006-2009 so that would be his work within the grand scheme of said piece of serial fiction. The text encompasses all installments in all versions by all authors, even the ones that have not been written yet. The text changes with each additional part added to it during serialization but parts of the story can be altered through newer installments. Authors can change the text through retroactive continuity or “retconning” which makes it so that a previous event never happened officially within the text itself but readers know the history of the narrative well enough to track these changes. The document is each individual installment but also the trade paperbacks, the reprints, the compilations, and the omnibus editions. Digital documents have each subset of the webpage of the document but also the website itself, where the author also works as the webmaster (or gives that authorial performance on someone else) and alterations to the text can be done almost instantaneously through this format and affect all readers from that point on.

Edit: Definition used in my MAEE thesis concerning work, text, and document. on Tanselle’s definitions of the
“work” as the “ineluctable entity, which one can admire or deplore but cannot alter without
becoming a collaborator with its creator (or creators)” (14), the “text” as the “tangible records of
creativity” (20), and the “document” as “the received texts of the work” (28)

John Bryant’s concept of textual fluidity: “Fluid texts, insofar as their material versions register these breakdown
revisionary acts, are, from the moment of genesis and on into print, a constant ‘deferral’ of the
literary work itself” (10)

And this is another nice quote to have handy. Peter Shillingsburg, specifically because of
his definitions of different types of texts and of textual performances, which include the creative
performance where the literary work is first invented, the production performance where it is
ready to be transmitted or published, and the reception performance where the reader interprets
the text (Resisting Texts, 76-78)

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