Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0398. Wednesday, 29 May 1996.
Date: Monday, 27 May 1996 09:53:00 +0100
Subject: 7.0383 Re: Texts
Comment: RE: SHK 7.0383 Re: Texts
For Gabriel Egan.
Let me take the last point first about Derrida and "originals": on the
principle that no "original" can ever be present to itself, then any invocation
of the term is bound to raise the question of whether an "original" is ever
possible. To use the term is to invoke the law, and to disclose the conditions
of its operation...hence politics. Of course, you may say that all language
is prone to this failing, and that the anchoring points which sustain meaning
are provisional. Ergo, "original" can never quite deliver as a term the
promise that it holds out. I'm sure that irony wasn't lost on the general
editors of the series.
But you raise a number of larger, and, I think, more interesting questions
which have to do with the status and provenance of a printed text of a play,
and subsequent editions of it. Your point about the uncertainty of the
conditions of composition is well taken. My only reservation is that we should
be careful here not to make "performance" the "source", so to speak, in a way
which is essentially no different from making print the "source". In our very
literate attempts to anchor texts, to give them some stability we are, of
course, in danger of imposing our expectations on them. The recent debate
about whether Shakespeare "intended" to write iambic lines seems to me
symptomatic of precisely this problem.
On the question of terminology, it seems to me that when we deploy a particular
discourse then we do invoke the very historically overdetermined means which
you seem to want to screen out. I have no wish to deny an interlocutor the
freedom to CONTEST meanings, but there is a very big difference between
journalistic usages of terms which have, in other contexts, specialized
meanings, and what I hope would be the more precise analytical discourse of
literary and cultural history. Even according to your own "original" definition
of "fetishization", I would be puzzled by your ascription. This is not, of
course, to deny that "Shakespearean" texts are "mediated" (and I think we may
agree on the meaning of this term). By using as copy-text a single copy of an
early quarto with all its blemishes and inconsistencies the very effect which
you seem to want is in large part achieved. What might the significance be,
for example, of following the first quarto naming of Brokenbury who appears in
subsequent editions of Richard III as Brakenbury? What would be the
significance, say for following the first quarto naming of Corambis in Hamlet?
That does precisely to the term "original" what my Derridean explanation