Textual Theory Projects, Spring 1998
David Greetham Theories of the Text
D.C. Greetham's work on textual theory, and on intention in particular, is encyclopedic in scope and, in the case of Theories of the Text, admittedly "co-optive and epistemological" (4). In this sense, Greetham is not a practitioner of any particular editorial approach but rather a theoretician problematizing both the nature of texts and the way in which we think about them. Greetham embraces the issue of intention as central to the discipline:
textual intentionalism is very much concerned with the gap between the act of perception and the real object (the text), and it in that gap that the problematics of the discipline's devotion to intention are to be found. Further, I believe that reconceiving the text as intentional object in phenomenological terms ('the direction or application of a mind to an object') clarifies rather than obscures the textual issue. (181)Greetham's chapter "Intention in the Text" in Theories of the Text critiques the work, among others, of Tanselle, Shillingsburg, McLaverty and Maillouxall of which bear directly on the project at hand.
Greetham on Tanselle [Top]
While admiring Tanselle's "magisterial survey of intentionalism" (166), Greetham faults Tanselle for his failure to "interrogate the very postulatethat intention exists or that it is a valid aim for textual critics " (166) and cites what he sees as the major paradox of the intentionalist position.
According to Greetham:
Tanselle notes that "statements" [made by authors] on collaboration "cannot be accepted uncritically" since they may be "attempts at self-persuasion." [Rationale] (84). As I have noted elsewhere, there is a paradox in this position for if "the self-persuasion" has been apparently successful [as in the documented case of Typee], and the author has consequently accepted not only the realities but the virtues of collaboration then does not this "self-persuasion" fall into that same class of "mis-guided" revisions [Rationale, 83] which, according to Tanselle's privileging of intention, must be accepted (Stepping, 74).Greetham identifies the core of this paradox by observing that "'the work itself' may not divulge its meaning directly or unambiguously" (182). In driving their editions by the twin engines of author's intention and critical interpretationoften in competing directionsTanselle and other intentionalists attempt a "bracketing" between the historical and the aesthetic which, Greetham contends "is only ever contingent, not permanent or positivist" (186).
Greetham on Shillingsburg [Top]
Peter Shillingsburg, unlike Tanselle, acknowledges the contingency inherent in intention-driven editions. Like Tanselle, Shillingsburg relies on intention and aesthetics, but acknowledges that editions are neither definitive nor "true" (lecture 4/21/98). Greetham, however, faults Shillingsburg for his lack of consideration of ontology and the subsequent narrowness of Shillingsburg's theoretical system. Greetham argues that Shillingsburg has narrowed the meaning of literary intention "to cover only an intention to record on paper, or some other medium, a specific sequence or words and punctuation according to an acceptable or feasible grammar," a narrowing Greetham finds "inadequate for this context" (Greetham 159). Greetham identifies Shillingsburg's model of "recoverable intention" as purist or technical and as unable to account for language slips, such as Freudian slips, irony or sarcasm, or intentional error. Greetham calls this "the challenge of intentional slide" (161). "Shillingsburg's concept of convention will not bear scrutiny," according to Greetham, for its lack of accounting for artists which push the limits of convention or employ "effective difference" (162) to subvert convention. James Joyce, of course, is the prime example of this kind of writing and Greetham concludes that Shillingsburg's "convention-based feasible grammar " (163) is ill-equipped to encompass the editing of a work such as Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (163). Greetham identifies Shillingsburg, McLaverty, and Tanselle as sharing a similar "discriminatory problem" (164) which fails to operate in the realm of Joycean texts.
This would also seem to be an argument that Greetham could also make in regard to Mailloux's application of speech-act theory to the problem of intention, but as is discussed below, Greetham argues that Mailloux 's phenomenological approach mitigates this problem. This is an area in which Greetham's critique appears inconsistent. It is true that Mailloux is not relying on as small a unit of meaning as Shillingsburg in determining "convention," but, like Shillingsburg, Mailloux's reliance on the author's projection of his readers' expectations, based on speech conventions of the time, could also fail to accommodate a work such as Finnegan's Wake which purposely sets out to defy those conventionsboth on the grammatical level as well as on the larger speech-act level.
Greetham states that Shillingsburg follows Hancher's "distinction between intention to do (which Shillingsburg finds 'conclusively recoverable from the signs written) (28) and intention to mean (which Shillingsburg believes to be 'inconclusively recoverable through critical interpretation') (28)" (Greetham 160). Greetham compares this to McLaverty's distinction between motive and intention and dismisses the distinction as inadequate because it automatically accepts the idealism of the gap between idea and performance and yet, in practice, uses the evidence of performance to gain entry to the idea from which the performance, especially improper or imperfect performance, will be adjudicated, in a manner similar to Tanselle's employment of the 'work' to identify intention.
Greetham on Mailloux [Top]
Greetham comes closest to aligning himself with a particular theorist and theory of texts when discussing Steven Mailloux. Greetham argues that Mailloux's phenomenological approach recognizes the process-oriented nature of intention while continuing to recognize the centrality of the concern for an author's "voice."
One possible approach to the problem of serial or incomplete or variable intention has been suggested by Steven Mailloux, who rewrites the various dicta on intention adopted by Tanselle from Hancher in a processional or compositional style of traditional intentionalism his rewriting of Hancher suggests a possible way out of the impasse we have observed. (201)As mentioned earlier, Mailloux's processional approach does not resolve the issues of conflicting intentions within the phenomenological scheme. In Mailloux's essay, he provides an example from Hawthorne in which the text was later revised by the author, but both versions can easily be argued to portray authorial rather than editorial intentjust at different moments and with greater or lesser internal coherence. Mailloux identifies instances of conflicted authorial intention in the case of Hawthorne and feels compelled to resolve them. Greetham, surprisingly, does not take issue with this. Mailloux does not privilege intention in the same manner as Tanselle, yet it can be argued that similar conflicting principles of historicity (speech act conventions) and aesthetics (narrative coherence) generate a form of extrinsic criticism, albeit a phenomenological one. As Greetham aptly notes, "an author's progressive intention may be just as contradictory, perhaps more so, than a finished intention. But Mailloux's concern is more phenomenological than narrowly (that is, authorially) intentionalist" (202). What Greetham seems to be saying is that Mailloux is not so much making claims for the author's intention as he is simply for following speech act conventiontherefore he makes his editorial decision based on convention, not authorial intention. Greetham appears to resolve this issue by invoking the need for reflexive judgment, stating, "we have to reconstruct the authorial persona and intention at various stages in its development and to image the reflexive judgment of this intention on the changes made, and not simply along a linear, historical path whereby later is better " (189).
Despite this conundrum, Greetham lauds Mailloux's recognition of the ontological nature of the work. Greetham cites Mailloux's reflexive model as "rhetorically useful to the argument of this book: it draws our definition of intention closer to the Hirsch/Husserl emphasis on the direction of consciousness to an intended object and it paves the way for a fuller discussion of the phenomenology and reading of the text (203).
Greetham himself [Top]
In "Intention in the Text," Greetham conducts what he calls an "excursus on the history of intention" (180). An excursus means both a lengthy exposition on a particular topic and a digressionand this chapter is certainly both. It is no wonder Greetham employs an image proposed by Roland Barthesthat of a woven text: Greetham's work is associative and interlaced, not linear or, necessarily, strictly logical in terms of delineating a theoretical position. Instead, Greetham leaves us with a fabric that looks more like a patchwork quilt rather than one which creates the ordered, consistent judgment that is evident in a woven fabric. Greetham notes that his essay "Textual Theory: Redrawing the Matrix" and his forthcoming book Theories of the Text (which includes "Intention in the Text"), were efforts on his part, not to advance any particular theorybut to provide an encyclopedic approach to the field (Lecture 5/19 /98). In the course of the excursus, Greetham backs away from setting forth a model of his own, abjuring, "Well, it is not my role to adjudicate between the rival hermeneutic histories of McGann and Rajan, but rather to point to the discrepancies and to suggest that the historical differences are themselves ideological" (179). But Greetham, ever the semiotic player, cannot resist finding the aporias, leaving a resulting mix of the encyclopedic and the critical.
While Greetham tries to situate himself largely as commentator, two major critical concerns become clear: the problematic nature of textual critics (such as McLaverty, Shillingsburg, and Tanselle) who confront "intention at the theoretical level" by relying on the work of Hirsch, and 2) the failure of social-textual critics such as McGann to assess accurately the origins and importance of intention in textual theory. According to Greetham, the anti-intentionalist critic fails to recognize the means by which intention confirms "the territory, the map, in which our hermeneutic has space to operate" (180). Greetham begins his chapter with a discussion of voice, in particular, an example of a contested recording of Walt Whitman reading some of his poetry. Greetham uses this example to make the point that "voice as inferred subject" does indeed matter (158).
Perhaps the most significant articulation of theory made by Greetham in "Intention in the Text" is the essential role of ontology in textual criticisma role he finds lacking in the systems of Shillingsburg and McLaverty, "My point is that a discussion of intention must comprehend ontology but that most textual critics have simply proceeded as if the ontological argument has already been confronted and resolved" (161). Greetham says this fault makes the systems of Shillingsburg and McLaverty less comprehensive (161).
The question is whether the artefactual can be explained by an appeal to embedded or motivating intention, and whether such intention is assuredly recoverable from some objective historical source or is only ever the product of the observer's conferring it back upon the subject through the very existence of the predicate, as de Man would have it. (Greetham, 165)Like Mailloux, Greetham seeks to join elements of intention and phenomenology; Greetham employs the image of weaving to express this conjoining: "text is woven, but it is both warp and woof and only an examination of all threadsnot just one particular (chronological) linewill give access to the perfected pattern" (190).
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First uploaded on October 11, 1998. Modified and moved to the Textual Studies Program home site June 2000.