A Rationale of Textual Criticism
G. Thomas Tanselle
"No one writes more knowledgeably or brilliantly about textual criticism than Tanselle."—Washington Post
"Of course, nobody with any previous interest in the subject needs to hear encouraging praise about the author or the quality of the Rosenbach Lecture Series."—American Literature
"A strangely evocative, even a moving book, a rara avis in textual circles. . . . A calm, beautifully articulated peroration that should be required reading for all critics, literary or textual. . . . Tansell's Rationale is one further demonstration of the attempts to 'step outside,' for in its call to all the citizens of the great republic of arts and letters it allows us to overcome the narrow prejudices which we may have inherited and to put our scholarship and our criticism at the service of human communication in all its manifestations. This is the final polemic of the book, and it is an heroic one indeed. That it has succeeded so well, not least in its artfully modulated language, is a tribute to the comprehensiveness and liberality of the mind of its author."—Review
"These short, lucid, well-written, humane lectures are essential reading for graduate and undergraduate students concerned with texts of any kind requiring critical attention—and for their teachers."—Review of English Studies
Textual criticism—the traditional term for the task of evaluating the authority of the words and punctuation of a text—is often considered an undertaking preliminary to literary criticism: many people believe that the job of textual critics is to provide reliable texts for literary critics to analyze. G. Thomas Tanselle argues, on the contrary, that the two activities cannot be separated.
The textual critic, in choosing among textual variants and correcting what appear to be textual errors, inevitably exercises critical judgment and reflects a particular point of view toward the nature of literature. And the literary critic, in interpreting the meaning of a work or passage, needs to be (though rarely is) critical of the makeup of every text of it, including those produced by scholarly editors.
G. Thomas Tanselle is Vice President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Adjunct Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.