Bibliography and Theory:
Who dismisses the careful comparison of textual variants as mere details, details, details and under-theorizes the complex notions of paratext and authorship? A sloppy scholar. A poorly trained researcher. Or someone who refuses to internalize in some niche of their superego, the old bibliographic caveat: beware consumer of the invisible labour of editors. Someone perhaps who has not applied the hermeneutics of suspicion and granted themselves the sadistic pleasure of research addiction.
Quite simply, the unpathological possess poor textual habits. I suspect in many cases, the person conflates the mode of oral delivery with the writerly mode of published paper and forgets about the possibility of being reread. So much of academic discourse relies on hearing, mimicking, so much of good academic work relies on verification with the eyes.
First, an example of misquotation. Nancy J. Peterson in an article appearing in a refereed journal, the October 1994 issue of PMLA, misquotes Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's translation of a text by Jacques Derrida. Peterson writes: "Derrida makes the now famous pronouncement "there is nothing beyond the text" (158) (Peterson 983). Well, on page 158 of Of Grammatology to which Peterson refers her readers there is no such sentence. Spivak's version reads: "There is nothing outside of the text [there is no outside-text; il n'y a pas de hors-texte]". I do not want to discuss the geometry of outside versus beyond. I do want to signal what is lost. Spivak reproduces the italics of the French text both in her translation and in the quotation in her translator's note inserted within brackets. Her alternative rendition, "there is no outside-text" appears in plain text. Furthermore this passage and the passage in Derrida are not pronouncements. They are traces of writing. One begins to wonder about the soundness of Peterson's theoretical understanding underpinning her tracking of the interplay of "History, Postmodernism, and Louise Erdrich's Tracks" which by the way is the title of her article.
Let us investigate another case. What happens when pre-publication readers fail to point out an error of reference to the punctuation of a text that is actually cited with different punctuation in the commentary? Sleuths are faced with the case of the disappearing period.
In the Winter 1981 issue of volume 11 of Diacritics appeared Paul de Man's review article of three books and an article by Michael Riffaterre. The piece is reprinted in the posthumous collection, The Resistance to Theory, which appeared as Volume 33 in the University of Minnesota Press series Theory and History of Literature. The reader who is keen goes back to the Diacritics issue to find in the right hand margin of page 17 an emblem for the trail of disappearing periods. It is the charming figure of a smoker created out of letters, whose hand is a Q angled in such a fashion as to imitate a cigarette from which arises a meandering line of dots or periods. This ekphrasis coupled with my stubborn refusal to breach copyright law and to neither distribute photocopies nor produce a slide of the work of the, I believe, uncredited artist, is meant to underline the importance of verification.
The comparative reader also finds a change in the
title of de Man's piece. As it appears in the U of
Minnesota Press volume, the title is shortened. On the
recto of the title page, the page detailing the
permission to reproduce, the piece is referred to by
its shortened title, "Hypogram and Inscription". It
appears in Diacritics under the title "Hypogram and
Inscription: Michael Riffaterre's Poetics of Reading".
It is laid out entirely in upper case, flush with the
right margin in four lines as follows:
The Diacritics version lists before the opening paragraph of de Man's text the works of Riffaterre under review: three books and an article. None have the word "reading" in their titles. The work of inscription in these paratextual matters sets up not only de Man's reading of Riffaterre but also his misreading of the text which is the object of Riffaterrean analysis, a poem by Victor Hugo.
After dealing with the beginning of the poem, this is how de Man describes Hugo's description:
The description that follows, one single sentence extending over 13 lines, is a mere expansion, in Riffaterre's sense of the term, of the original figure. It does not describe an entity, referential or textual, but sets up a rapport between concepts said to be structured like a sense perception: the sentence culminates in the verb to hear ("Le carillon, c'est l'heure . . . [the parenthesis remains unclosed in the Minnesota Press edition] (47)
Well the mere expansion apparently beginning with "Le carillon, c'est l'heure ... " at line 5 may not end at the end of line 8 but the sentence does. The period found there could be one of those textual errors that creep in unbeknownst to proof readers. One considers the reproduced Hugo text to be corrupt since it contains a grammatical infelicity in its last line. But the period is there in the Riffaterre text that reproduces the Hugo poem and the grammatical infelicity is not (La Production du texte 177). Just to be sure one checks the edition from which Riffaterre quotes. Indeed the period is in place in the Gallimard edition (1063). The possibility does exist that De Man might have consulted another edition while he was writing his review of Riffaterre's work. However the Diacritics article reproduces the Hugo text with period at the end of line 8. What is strange is that no prepublication reader caught the error or if they did, that they did not make mention of it to the Yale professor, just as no PMLA referees pointed out to Peterson the nuance between beyond and outside, hopefully some readers will before the book from which the essay is culled goes to press. But back to the trail of dots...
The disappearing period would appear as mere detail it if were not for the coda of de Man's piece. In his peroration de Man connects prosopopeia with hallucinatory effects. De Man invokes an undecidable dilemma: does prosopopeia, the address of inanimate entities, come from dreams and hallucinations or are such phenomena enabled by the linguistic resources of vocative forms? By analogy de Man extends this pattern of argumentation to problematize the relation between semiotics and rhetoric. He writes:
The claim of all poetry to make the invisible visible is a figure to the precise extent that it undoes the distinction between sign and trope. It smuggles the wiles of rhetoric back into the hygienic clarity of semiotics. (50)
If, however, some poetry does not claim to render the invisible visible, the game collapses and de Man's concluding contrast between inscription and description vanishes.
copyright 1997 François Lachance