The interests of critical editorial practice

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Abstract

This paper examines the practices of New Bibliography. The New Bibliographers have played a major role in constituting the canonical texts of the English literary institutions. This paper argues that current objections to the methods of New Bibliography fail to locate the presuppositions that motivate this textual approach. It is argued that Habermas's notion of knowledge-constitutive interests most adequately articulates the subjective nature of critical editorial practice. The task of a sociological analysis of New Bibliographical method becomes, then, one of making explicit the categorial framework upon which it relies. The paper demonstrates the constructed nature of some of the terms—such as “author” and “work”—that the New Bibliographers take to be self-evident. The theoretical claims of the paper are subsequently grounded in an analysis of a particular instantiation of critical editorial practice. The test case is the effective-history of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, which is representative of the state of other canonical texts such as Shakespeare's King Lear. The paper finally identifies some of the interests motivating New Bibliography. Although the paper suggests why these interests are misdirected, its main contribution is to make it clear what is at stake in a debate over critical editorial practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-277
Number of pages19
JournalPoetics
Volume15
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1986

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