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TitleD. F. McKenzie-Bibliography & the Sociology of Texts
TagsBooks Sociology Library And Museum Bibliography
File Size1.3 MB
Total Pages136
Table of Contents
1 The book as an expressive form
2 The broken phial: non-book texts
3 The dialectics of bibliography now
Document Text Contents
Page 68


Bibliography and the sociology of texts

Dublin Bay, thinks there must be a divine order at work:

‘Done half by design.’

That symmetry last appeared in the Odyssey Press edition of Ulysses,

published in Hamburg in 1932. It was issued in two volumes. The final

section of the first volume includes the phrase ‘Done half by design’,

signalling the reader to move on to volume two, the night volume, after

a full day with Bloom.

Dr Kidd’s examples do, I think, illustrate the force of at least one half

of my argument: that books can be expressive forms of some subtlety,

and that an editorial policy which ignores that fact is likely to bring

forth a text which, by its author’s standards, is deficient, though I have

no wish to criticize the Garland edition, which has its own distinct

purpose. Joyce engineered the publication of the 1922 Shakespeare

and Company edition to fall on his birthday. He received the first two

copies that day, the second of the second, 1922. Some Joyce scholars

may be ruefully reflecting that on this day of the year one also cele-

brates the feast of the purification.

I should like now to move back to that other, contrasting, concept of

‘text’ and its nature as open, unstable, indeterminate. In this sense – a

sense in which the recent editors of Ulysses have employed it – the ‘text’

is in some degree independent of the documents which, at any par-

ticular moment, give it form. It is to recognize too that no text of any

complexity yields a definitive meaning. The ostensible unity of any one

‘contained’ text – be it in the shape of a manuscript, book, map, film,

or computer-stored file – is an illusion. As a language, its forms and

meaning derive from other texts; and as we listen to, look at, or read it,

at the very same time we re-write it. The word ‘text-book’, as first de-

fined by Nathan Bailey in his Dictionarium Britannicum of 1730, reminds

us of this truth: ‘Text-book (in Universities) is a Classick Author written

very wide by the Students, to give Room for an Interpretation dictated

by the Master, &c. to be inserted in the Interlines.’ Each student makes

his or her own text.

That recognition brings us full circle. Whatever its metamorphoses,

the different physical forms of any text, and the intentions they serve,

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Bibliography and the sociology of texts


are relative to a specific time, place, and person. This creates a problem

only if we want meaning to be absolute and immutable. In fact, change

and adaptation are a condition of survival, just as the creative applica-

tion of texts is a condition of their being read at all. The 1984 critical

and synoptic text of Ulysses has physically changed every previous

version in the act of replicating it. It has become in its turn a new

bibliographical fact; and it is these facts which constitute the primary

evidence for any history of meanings. They alone make possible,

in their sequence, any account of cultural change. Perceived from a

bibliographical point of view, therefore, the ostensible contradiction

between those two concepts of ‘text’, the closed and the open, simply

dissolves. But implicit in those comments are several points about the

nature of bibliography which it might be helpful now to make quite


First, I imply that it is committed to the description of all recorded

texts. In principle, it is comprehensive, and therefore indiscriminate.

Any national collection formed largely by copyright deposit shows this

non-elitist, non-canonical, non-generic, all-inclusive principle at work.

International networking simply extends it. Ultimately, any discrete

bibliography of subject, person, or collection merely contributes to an

ideal of that universal bibliographical control. It thereby enables the

discovery of any possible relationship there might be between any one

text and any other text – whenever, wherever, and in whatever form.

In other words, bibliography is the means by which we establish the

uniqueness of any single text as well as the means by which we are able

to uncover all its inter-textual dimensions.

Second, because it is bibliography’s job to record and explain the

physical forms which mediate meaning, it has an interpretative func-

tion which complements and modifies any purely verbal analysis. In

principle, it can fulfil this function in any of the modes in which texts

are transmitted, not just printed books. It is therefore equally relevant,

as a discipline, to any structure of meaning which is recordable and


Third, it impartially accepts the construction of new texts and their

forms. The conflation of versions, or the writing of new books out of

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Oral culture, literacy, and print in early New Zealand


an editorial direction which recognized the social inutility of a clutter of

versions, as distinct from the social value of a harmonized text.

The Waitangi Tribunal, however, affirmed an even higher principle:

A Maori approach to the Treaty would imply that its wairua

or spirit is something more than a literal construction of the

actual words used can provide. The spirit of the Treaty tran-

scends the sum total of its component written words and puts

narrow or literal interpretations out of place.

That spirit is only recoverable if texts are regarded not simply as

verbal constructs but as social products. Crucial to that development is

Pakeha recognition of their own myth of literacy and recognition of the

status of oral culture and spoken consensus. For many Maori, the spirit

of the treaty is best served by the Maori text, in which kawanatanga

means what it says (governorship, not sovereignty), in which the

taonga guaranteed by the Crown include all that is materially and

 Report pp. 52–63; the immediate quotation is on p. 55. A Bill of Rights for New
Zealand. A White Paper (Wellington, 1985), p. 37, proposes ‘that the Treaty of
Waitangi is to be regarded as always speaking and shall be applied to circumstances
as they arise so that effect may be given to its spirit and true intent.’ Nevertheless,
Pakeha intentions to give legal effect to the treaty in a Bill of Rights, however
strongly entrenched, would destroy its tapu state and make it vulnerable to
legislative change: its mana would then be lost. As indicated in note 35 above, an
oral culture will generate, not a fixed text, but a variety of versions which have their
local and topical value in giving life to the wairua of the ‘text’ which comprehends
and transcends them all. Treaties are likely to become a more frequently used
resource, not only for ethnohistorical studies, but for concepts of text in complex
political, linguistic, and cultural contexts, for their mixed modes of oral and written
discourse, for their synchronic and diachronic dimensions, for their continuing
human implications (they are not exactly dramatic fictions), and for the forcing
circumstances which compel the law to offer what are essentially editorial
judgements. David R. Miller of the Newberry Library tells me that the microfilming
of 9,552 Iroquois treaty documents has been completed, and an associated study
published: The History and Culture of Iroquois Diplomacy: an Interdisciplinary Guide
to the Treaties of the Six Nations and League (Syracuse, 1985). The value of treaties as
texts for analysis of diplomacy as a matter of cultural as well as political contact is
well demonstrated in Dorothy V. Jones’s Licence for Empire: Colonisation by Treaty
(Chicago, 1983). A. S. Keller, O. J. Lissitzyn, and F. J. Mann, Creation of Rights of
Sovereignty through Symbolic Acts, 1400–1800 (New York, 1938) remains a
convenient historical summary of European attitudes and practice.

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Bibliography and the sociology of texts

spiritually precious, in which Maori and Pakeha share the Queen’s pro-

tection as equal partners. So understood, the treaty in Maori is a sacred

covenant, one which is tapu, and with a mana which places it above the

law, whereas the English versions distort its effect and remain caught in

the mesh of documentary history and juridical process. As the Maori

always knew, there is a real world beyond the niceties of the literal text

and in that world there is in fact a providential version now editing

itself into the status of a social and political document of power and

purpose. The physical versions and their fortuitous forms are not the

only testimonies to intent: implicit in the accidents of history is an ideal

text which history has begun to discover, a reconciliation of readings

which is also a meeting of minds. The concept of an ideal text as a cul-

tural and political imperative is not imposed on history but derives

from it and from an understanding of the social dynamics of textual


Colenso died in 1899 at the ripe old age of eighty-eight, thirty-six

hours after penning his last letter to Coupland Harding. He left to

Harding two hundred pounds for his son, William Colenso Harding,

and all his printing materials, including ‘my sole composing-stick –

with which I did so much work both in England and in New Zealand’.

Harding was a worthy recipient and was later to note: ‘It was in this

stick that the Maori New Testament of 1837 was set, and also the Treaty

of Waitangi – Truly, a venerable relic’.

 Letter to G. Robertson, 1 March 1899: Mitchell MS AC 83/4.

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