The Place of Bibliography in the Academy Today: Reassessing Sara Jeannette Duncan‪.‬

Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 2008, Spring, 46, 1

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In an essay entitled "Rewriting George Orwell," Stephen Schwartz outlines what he calls "a scandal in English letters ... the wholesale misappropriation and even mutilation of George Orwell's works" (1) by editor Peter Davison. His specific complaint is that Davison followed the instructions that Orwell left among his papers for a future edition of Homage to Catalonia, in which two chapters should be relocated to the end of the text as appendices. Schwartz makes a compelling argument against this arrangement, but for the purposes of the present discussion I am less interested in his argument than I am in his rhetoric. Schwartz characterizes Davison's editorial work as an act of "vandalism," complaining bitterly about the absurdity of Davison stumbling into the enormous responsibility of editing Orwell's complete works and dismissively characterizing Davison as a "professional bibliographer" and a "proofreader." Schwartz concludes by demanding that Penguin withdraw Davison's edition and re-issue the title in its original form, arguing that "[t]o do otherwise would be to posthumously betray Orwell and his Catalan comrades, to repeat and reinforce Stalin's treason." (2) I do not wish to weigh in on this editorial debate. I mention it in order to draw attention to the battle lines as they are imagined here, as representative of the bibliographer on one hand and the literary scholar on the other, battle lines which seem to me to be both artificial and counter-productive, but lines which seem to be deepening. I do not mean to suggest that bibliographic work, descriptive or analytical, is not central to particular literary paradigms and to literary criticism in particular periods. What I am suggesting is that, despite its importance in particular contexts, bibliography is currently out of fashion in the academy. Perhaps it never was entirely fashionable, but it seems that its rigours used to garner more respect and that published bibliographies used to be more valued as critical resources. Times have changed. It is clear that today's rapidly expanding digitized collections, which often provide access to numerous editions, serve textual critics in a way that published bibliographies never could. But it is less clear why scholars working in the rapidly expanding field of book history do not make more extensive use of bibliographical methodologies. I should point out that I am not talking about enumerative bibliography, which continues to serve a broad group of scholars, but about descriptive (or analytical) bibliography, which is a formal method of describing the physical features of a published text in a way that reveals evidence about its publishing history. Surely such bibliographic work is the foundation upon which book history ought to be built. Although this is so in theory, in practical terms it is unlikely for new scholars to employ bibliographic methods for a simple practical reason. With a couple of notable exceptions, it is clear that English departments in universities across Canada have withdrawn basic bibliographic training for graduate students. Today, few programs have even a single session on bibliography in a professional skills course. It is not only that very few graduate students can write bibliographic descriptions or employ bibliographic methodologies in their own research; we have reached a point at which very few young literary scholars are capable of reading or understanding the value of what one of my colleagues characterizes as the "hieroglyphic format" of published bibliographies.

Professionnel et technique
22 mars
Bibliographical Society of Canada

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