Editing and Authorial Intention

Much like Laura and Olivia, I think our attention in the past few weeks has shifted from aiming to preserve the textual elements of the print version of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes to making the digital version as navigable and as easy to read as possible. In our role as editors and annotators, we’re trying to anticipate what the “everyday reader” will need to know in order to engage with the digital edition. Of course, Wikisource has its own standards and practices for annotations, and we as a class have also come up with our own guidelines. My concern is that I’ve always conceived of the role of the editor as a bridge between the author and the reader, and I feel unqualified to speak for either one.

We’ve heard a lot about the death of the author in previous weeks, and I found it interesting how Shillingsburg problematizes this through a critique of Jerome McGann. In keeping with the death of the author movement, McGann rejects the concept of authorial intention, and proposes instead that “works of literary art are ‘actual’ only when produced through the mediating influence of publication” (Shillingsburg 29). According to Shillingsburg, by dismissing authorial intention, McGann fails to take into account that “works of literary art are not only initiated by an author but typically grow to fruition under the control of the author, whose original writing, revisions, and reactions to suggestions are usually filtered through his own consciousness” (30). Authorial intention extends beyond the initial impetus to create to include control over several different aspects of production.

As I was reading, I was thinking about how this argument relates specifically to our annotations. Based on our work so far, it seems perfectly possible to edit and annotate for Wikisource without having particular knowledge of the author, the text, or the time period. This is especially noteworthy in light of what Shillngsburg has to say about the traditional role of editors, who “recognized the need to train themselves in philology, grammar, orthography, paleography, generic forms, and other areas, in order to be prepared to recognize the difference between a variation and a violation of form” (15). I had no idea who John Oliver Hobbes was prior to this class, and I’ve never studied the Victorians. When reading The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes, I’ve focused almost exclusively on my own section, and even then I’ve read mostly in non-linear snippets. If the author is dead, it doesn’t matter that I don’t know anything about JOH’s intentions, and to a significant extent, they’re unknowable to me either way. At the same time, I can’t recognize “variations and violations of form” in the same way that a more experienced, specialized, and scholarly editor might, and I wonder to what extent this is a problem. I know my work stands to be revised by any number of contributors, who may know more than I do. It just feels strange to try to connect an unknowable reader to an unknown author without personally having the knowledge or the ability to bridge the gap.

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