What is a text?

What is a text?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 43 (2012) 341–358 Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Studies in History and Philosophy ...

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Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 43 (2012) 341–358

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/shpsa

What is a text? Adrian Wilson Philosophy Department, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, United Kingdom

a r t i c l e

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Article history: Received 13 December 2011 Available online 8 February 2012 Keywords: Authorship Epistemology Hermeneutics Historiography Reading Textuality

a b s t r a c t This paper argues that textuality—the property of being a text—is assigned by the reader, rather than constituting an inherent property, and that the being of texts was both captured and mystified by the figure of ‘the text’ as this developed from the 1970s onwards. Textuality consists in the abstraction of verbal content from its origins, entailing the apprehension of that content as copresent with the reader; and it is given a material embodiment in the process of publication, especially in the production of canonical works, which together comprise the locus classicus of the textual apprehension. Whole disciplines—here termed the hermeneutico-canonical disciplines—are based upon that apprehension, and the discipline or approach known as hermeneutics consists of its theoretical elaboration. In contrast, the discipline of history rests upon the apprehension of the verbal under the sign of the document or its cognates, and this difference renders intelligible the longstanding relationship of mutual suspicion between hermeneutics and history. The historiography of science, remarkably enough, manages to combine these approaches; the paper concludes by suggesting that these can be brought into a more fruitful synthesis by investigating historically the construction of scientific canons. Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

When citing this paper, please use the full journal title Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

This paper is concerned with a cluster of issues which, while pertinent to the historiography of science,1 extend well beyond the boundaries of that discipline. For the question considered here—what is a text?—arises across a very broad disciplinary range, as do such associated themes as authorship and canonicity, to which that question will lead us. Indeed this exploration will necessarily be concerned with disciplines themselves, since as we shall see, it is disciplines which constitute not just texts themselves, but also the very figure of the ‘text’. 1. Preamble: from the figure of the text to the question of the text From the late 1960s onwards the usage of the word ‘text’— originally confined within philological and bibliographic

bounds—expanded dramatically on two fronts: it came to refer to a literary work, in place of the word ‘work’ itself, and it began to subsume the written-or-printed word as such, in all its manifold forms. This new and elastic usage had no clear or specific basis in any of the previous uses of ‘text’;2 it seems to have developed unnoticed within literary criticism and related disciplines,3 and to have been given decisive momentum by certain seminal essays of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes. Derrida’s De la Grammatologie of 1967 announced the principle that ‘il n’y a pas de hors-texte’, ‘there is no outside-of-the-text’;4 Barthes’s ‘La mort de l’auteur’ of 1968 replaced the personal figure of the author with the impersonal figure of écriture, that is, writing; and his ‘De l’oeuvre au texte’, which appeared in 1971, installed the new figure of the text in place of the traditional category of ‘the work’.5 After these pieces were translated into English in the mid-1970s, it

E-mail address: [email protected] Cf. Shapin & Schaffer (1985), Cunningham (1989), Jardine (1991), Shapin (1992), Christie (1993), Secord (2004). 2 See the entry for ‘text’ in the old Oxford English Dictionary [hereafter OED] (12 vols., 1933, vol. xi). 3 For literary criticism see Holland (1975), 1980 reprint, p. 118. Other disciplines in which this figure developed were hermeneutics and the history of ideas; cf. below, at n.116. 4 Derrida (1967), p. 227; Derrida (1974), p. 158. Strictly speaking this remark was tautologous, since in theory, at least, it was based on reading the pertinent passage from Rousseau’s Confessions ‘as a text’—Derrida’s emphasis—‘and not as a document’: Derrida (1967), p. 214; cf. Derrida (1974), p. 149. In practice, Derrida’s reading of that passage worked through a covert play between textual and documentary apprehensions: see Burke (1992), pp. 123–38. 5 Barthes (1968, 1971). Cf. the 1968 essay by Gérard Genette entitled ‘‘‘Stendhal’’‘ (in quotation-marks), translated in Genette (1982), pp. 147–82. See also Banfield (1985), pp. 1–22; Burke (1992), Sutrop (1994), Keefer (1995). 1

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A. Wilson / Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 43 (2012) 341–358

became routine to describe ‘works’ in the traditional sense, and writings of other kinds as well, as ‘texts’. The new usage became hegemonic in the 1980s, leading to a vast outpouring of studies whose premise was ‘texts’ or ‘the text’ and whose theme was denominated, in another new usage, as ‘textuality’.6 Moreover, the reference of ‘text’ was extended to embrace (as a recent technical dictionary puts it) ‘any cultural object of investigation’,7 with the effect that ‘textuality’ came to be seen as a property not just of the written word but also of human lives and even of the social order itself—despite Derrida’s own disavowal of such interpretations.8 All this rested upon the expanded usage of that once-innocent word ‘text’. Yet so far as I have been able to find, the shift in usage itself has never been discussed, still less has its history been written.9 On the contrary, the figure of the text in its new application has been unreflectively assigned the status of a simple real; the gaze of theory, in the very act of focusing upon the property of textuality, has taken for granted the site and home of that property, namely the figure of the text itself. Thus in a strange paradox, ‘the text’ is at once the most theorised and least theorised of concepts. To the extent that the question what is a text? has been raised at all, the answers have begged the question. Derrida simply evaded the issue from the outset.10 Barthes was inconsistent—assigning the constitution of the text now to the reader, now to the writer;11 deploying the figure of the text both as a substitute for the individual work and in a transcendent sense, as the replacement and extension of the figure of écriture.12 And he claimed that ‘a Theory of the Text’ in this transcendent, capitalised sense was unattainable, since ‘the Text’ put in question the very possibility of a ‘meta-language’ in which to articulate such a theory.13 Other commentators, then and since, have attained no greater clarity. Paul Ricoeur, for instance, simply identified the textual as the written, thereby echoing the new usage rather than interrogating it.14 One theorist effectively equated the text with the literary work, and observed: ‘Evidently 6

the meaning of the term is so obvious [that] there is scarcely a literary handbook that troubles to mention it’.15 Another had the courage to ask ‘What is meant by the term ‘‘text’’?’ and came up with these answers: that ‘it may initially be seen as a situated use of language marked by a tense interaction between mutually implicated yet contestatory tendencies’; that texts possess both ‘documentary and worklike aspects’; that ‘to the extent that a text is not a mere document, it supplements existing reality’; that ‘a text is a network of resistances’; and finally, that ‘whatever else they may be, texts are events in the history of language’.16 If these vacuous gestures succeeded only in defining ‘text’ as indefinable, they had the merit of making relatively explicit a difficulty which was usually left tacit at the time, and which has remained so to this day.17 In contrast, and indeed in a curious counterpoint, the analogous question ‘What is an author?’ was posed explicitly as early as 1969—specifically by Michel Foucault, in a lecture which he gave in March of that year and which, like Barthes’s essays on the author and the text, was to appear in English in 1977.18 Foucault’s 1969 lecture ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?’ was a response to Barthes’s ‘La mort de l’auteur’, published in the previous year, where Barthes had installed écriture in place of the author-figure. Although Foucault happily added his own signature to the author’s death-warrant, he wanted not just to abolish the author-figure but also to interrogate its meaning, for he suspected that figure to be more durable than Barthes had imagined: indeed, he argued that écriture itself had ‘merely transposed the empirical characteristics of an author to a transcendental anonymity’.19 Foucault’s answer to his own question ‘What is an author?’ was that ‘the author’ is a constructed figure, the product and embodiment of a discursive convention which he termed ‘the author-function’. Although this novel conception was highly illuminating in some respects, it also served in other ways to obscure the nature of the author-figure, as we shall shortly see.20 But if Foucault’s achievement was double-edged with respect

The entry for ‘textuality’ in the old OED gave this solely as an occasional synonym for ‘textualism’, in the sense of ‘strict adherence to the text, especially of the Scriptures’. Payne (ed.) (1996), p. 530. In 1977 Derrida remarked, in criticism of such appropriations: ‘it was never our wish to extend the reassuring notion of the text to a whole extra-textual realm and to transform the world into a library by doing away with all boundaries . . .’. See Derrida (1979), p. 84; for the context, n.10 below. Cf. Burke (1992), pp. 126–7. 9 The new usage was not registered in the new OED (20 vols., 1989, vol. xvii), though it is perhaps implicit in the 1977 quotation given there to illustrate the combined terms ‘text linguistics’ and ‘text linguist’, and the associated new usage for ‘textuality’ is registered there in quotations from as early as 1970. In the online OED, the new usage of ‘text’ began to appear in the draft 1993 additions under ‘Linguistics’, and its extended form was registered in the draft additions of July 2009. 10 No definition was offered in Derrida (1967). In 1977 Derrida circled around the question thus: ‘If we are to approach a text, it must have an edge. The question of the text, as it has been elaborated and transformed in the last dozen or so years, has not merely ‘‘touched’’ . . . all those boundaries that form the running border of what used to be called a text, of what we once thought this word could identify, i.e., the supposed end and beginning of a work [etc.] . . . What has happened, if it has happened, is a sort of overrun that spoils all these boundaries . . . and forces us to extend the accredited concept, the dominant notion of a ‘‘text’’, of what I still call a ‘‘text’’, for strategic reasons in part . . .’ The passage went on to endorse the breaking of these boundaries, yet then to make the disclaimer quoted in n.8 above. Derrida thereupon asked: ‘What are the borderlines of a text?’—thus taking as given the reference of ‘text’ itself. See Derrida (1979), pp. 83–5. 11 ‘La mort de l’auteur’ made it explicit that texts are constituted by the reader: Barthes (1968), pp. 66–7; Barthes (1977), pp. 147–8. In ‘De l’oeuvre au texte’ this formulation was retained, but its emphasis was muted, and it was now implied that some authors can produce texts (as distinct from works); thus ‘Georges Bataille wrote texts, or even, perhaps, a text, one single text’ [un seul et même texte]: Barthes (1971), pp. 76, 71, my translation; cf. Barthes (1977), pp. 163, 157. On the paradox that Bataille and certain other authors were exempted from the death-sentence, see Burke (1992), pp. 45, 87. 12 In ‘La mort de l’auteur’, ‘texts’ were taken as equivalent to individual works: Barthes (1968), pp. 64, 65, 66; Barthes (1977), pp. 145, 146, 147. In ‘De l’oeuvre au texte’ the predominant usage was transcendent and capitalised (‘le Texte’), but from time to time Barthes reverted to the concrete and individual reference, signalled as un-capitalised: Barthes (1971), pp. 70, 76; Barthes (1977), pp. 156, 163. 13 Barthes (1971, p. 77, 1977), p. 164. 14 ‘Let us call a text every utterance or set of utterances fixed by writing’: Ricoeur (1971), p. 135. 15 Holl (1975), 1980 reprint, p. 118 and passim. 16 LaCapra (1980), pp. 247, 250, 263 (on which cf. p. 257), 274, 275. In fact, the effective usage of ‘text’ in this essay was simple enough: it was merely a generic designation for canonical texts. What is remarkable, in a paper devoted to theoretical clarification, is that this concrete reference had to be covered-over. Cf. below, at n.144. 17 The persistent obscurity of the figure of the text is illustrated by each of two complementary approaches to the problem of its definition. The entry in Payne (ed.) (1996), p. 530, opts for vagueness, in the end offering no definition at all. In contrast Pope (1995) seeks to be specific, with results that are instructively incoherent. ‘By text’, writes Pope (p. 3), ‘I mean any more or less cohesive communicative act which involves a substantial verbal component and is in some way recorded’. This definition is doubly inappropriate, since (a) what can be recorded is not the communicative act but its verbal component (the conceivable exception to this, namely film, is not itself examined in the book save as a medium of thought-experimental rewriting, e.g. pp. 83–92); and (b) in practice, the use of ‘text’ throughout the book denotes not communicative acts (the performances of human agents) but their recorded verbal products. Thus it would have been more accurate, as well as more coherent, to define ‘text’ as (for instance) ‘any recorded verbal component or product of a communicative act’. The effect of Pope’s very different definition is to construe the verbal record as the communicative act itself; as will emerge in due course, this remarkable elision is no accident (cf. n.72 below). Correlatively, the book nowhere discusses (though its bibliography cites) the descriptive speech-act theory of Austin, which was concerned precisely to distinguish between the communicative act and its verbal component. Instead, Pope’s brief discussion of speech-act theory is confined to its prescriptive variants—this in order to write speech-act theory out of consideration (pp. 127–9). Cf. Austin (1962). 18 Foucault (1977). For another version see Harari (ed.) (1980), pp. 141–60; for bibliographic details see Burke (1992), pp. 89–94. 19 Foucault (1977), p. 119. Cf. below, at n.77. 20 Below, at n.30. 7 8

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to what he called ‘the question of the author’, his approach was straightforwardly mystifying with respect to what we may term the ‘question of the text’. For as I have shown elsewhere,21 his lecture not only failed to pose the latter question, but also worked to exclude it from the analytic field. This Foucault achieved through a veritable cluster of rhetorical strokes: by playing between the figures of the ‘text’ and the ‘work’; by differentially distributing those two figures within the structure of his argument; and by deploying the word ‘text’ in three different ways—referring in turn to the authored, the written and the uttered. The remarkable result was that even as the unreflective figure of the author was replaced by the critical concept of ‘the author-function’, so the figure of the text slipped beyond the analytical horizon, covertly acquiring the status of a natural kind. In this respect Foucault’s treatment accurately anticipated the wider subsequent fate of the text-figure. While the central aporiai of Foucault’s lecture were associated with the generic figures of author and text, his specific examples entailed a further ambiguity: namely the question as to whether ‘the’ author-function was one phenomenon or several. For although Foucault insisted that ‘the author-function . . . does not operate in a uniform manner in all discourses, at all times, and in any given culture’,22 such potential discursive distinctions were implicitly suppressed by the vast referential sweep of his argument: Homer and Flaubert, Aristotle and Nietzsche, Galileo and Darwin were just a few of the figures whom he summoned together into a single gallery of authors.23 Similarly, Foucault’s points of departure were on the one hand his own Les mots et les choses, a work in the history of science, and on the other hand Barthes’s ‘Death of the author’, which was concerned with imaginative literature;24 his most sustained discussion was devoted to Marx and Freud, yet his argument was framed within a quotation from Beckett;25 and when he came to illustrate the textual devices underlying the author-function, he juxtaposed ‘a novel narrated in the first person’ with ‘a mathematical treatise’.26 The author-function thus emerged as a transdiscursive phenomenon, notably pertaining indifferently to fictional and non-fictional works alike. Since the present paper will necessarily be ranging across a similarly wide canvas, it may be helpful to delineate at the outset the scope of this inquiry and its disciplinary associations. My main concern is with the ‘question of the text’; but this will entail addressing the related ‘question of the author’ as well. These themes will be pursued in non-fictional domains, particularly (though by no means exclusively) the history of the sciences; but as it happens, much of the argument will also apply to ‘texts’ of a literary kind. Further, various conceptual resources and points of reference will be drawn from literary theory, and adapted to present purposes as occasion requires. In this respect my investiga-



tion will be following what is now a well-trodden track: the extension of literary analysis beyond the confines of imaginative literature, for instance to writings in philosophy,27 in history,28 and in science itself.29 It will be convenient to begin by considering the ‘question of the author’, partly to settle accounts with Foucault’s essay and also because this will bring into focus the physical being of ‘texts’. I shall then be in a position to address directly the question that I have taken as my title. My answer will lead us, by way of canonicity and disciplines, to the tension between Hermeneutik and Geschichte and thence to some possible implications for the historiography of science and medicine. 2. Who is Aristotle? The question Foucault posed in 1969 was ‘What is an author?’. As this wording implied, the effect of his lecture was to eliminate the personal quality of the author-figure, introducing in its stead the impersonal ‘author-function’. The positive side of this thesis, that is, the argument that the figure of the author is an interpretative construct, was convincingly argued; but its negative moment, that is, the obliteration of the personal being of ‘the author’, was accomplished not by explicit argument but instead by a series of covert rhetorical manoeuvres.30 This was the very technique with which, as we have seen, Foucault simultaneously buried the ‘question of the text’.31 Ironically enough, Foucault’s deft erasure of the author-as-person was doubly at odds with his own purposes. For in the first place, it is precisely the quality of personal being that the ‘author-function’ confers upon ‘the author’, which means that to suppress this attribute of the author-figure is to lose sight of the working of the author-function itself; and secondly, the larger question Foucault wanted to raise was ‘the privileges of the subject’,32 yet he had suppressed from the analytical field just those qualities which the author-figure shares with the figure of the subject. In short, as I have put this elsewhere, Foucault had replaced one mystery by another;33 his powerful insight was achieved at the price of a specific blindness.34 This aporia of Foucault’s ‘What is an author?’ has been nicely captured by Sean Burke, whose excellent critical discussion is headed with the aptly rephrased question ‘What (and who) is an author?’.35 Burke’s rewriting of Foucault’s title leads us, then, to precisely the question which Foucault worked so hard to eliminate: namely, ‘Who is an author?’. But if we are to follow this direction, it becomes necessary to rephrase the question yet again. For the question ‘who is an author?’ cannot admit of an answer, since a ‘who’ has to refer to an individual: the very bearing of ‘who’ is lost if it is applied to an abstract figure such as ‘an author’. That is why I am asking here ‘Who is Aristotle?’. It would equally be possible

Wilson (2004). Foucault (1977), pp. 130 (quoted), 125–7. 23 Some examples, in alphabetical order, with page-numbers in Foucault (1977): Aristotle 121, Buffon 113, Darwin 114, Flaubert 117, Galileo 133 and 136, Homer 122, Newton 136, Nietzsche 118, Sade 118, Shakespeare 122. The one systematic distinction Foucault drew was between authors of works on the one hand, and authors of ‘discursive practices’ (notably Marx and Freud) on the other: pp. 131–6. 24 See respectively ibid., pp. 113–15 and 118–20 (where Foucault’s reference to Barthes was left implicit). 25 For Marx and Freud see ibid., pp. 131–6; for Beckett, pp. 115, 138. 26 Ibid., pp. 120–30. 27 For instance Derrida (1967), de Man (1979), Rée (1987). 28 Hexter (1971), pp. 15–76 (an essay first published in 1968); Hexter (1972), pp. 299–329; White (1973), Ricoeur (1983-85), Cook (1988). 29 See for instance Shapin & Schaffer (1985), Benjamin et al. (eds.) (1987), Latour (1987), Woolgar (1988), pp. 67–82; Myers (1990), Woolgar (1993). 30 Wilson (2004). 31 See above, at n.21. 32 Foucault (1977), p. 137. 33 Quoting loosely from Wilson (2004). In fact this point was made with respect to the subsidiary theme of the author’s name, but it is equally applicable to the larger, surrounding question of the author’s being. 34 Cf. de Man (1983), p. 16 and passim. 35 Burke (1992), pp. 89–94; emphasis added. Burke’s critique, while leading in a similar direction to my own (Wilson, 2004), focuses on different passages within the lecture (particularly on the Marx-Freud discussion: cf. n.23 above). See also Banfield (1985), Nesbit (1987), Biriotti & Miller (eds.) (1993). 22


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to ask, say, ‘Who is Foucault?’, ‘Who is Freud?’, or (as I shall indeed be asking later on) ‘Who is Locke?’.36 Consider the following sentences, excerpted from Richard Robinson’s introduction to his 1962 translation of two books of Aristotle’s Politics: Aristotle often speaks of Nature as if she were a person and perhaps a divine person. Nature is a kind of goddess to him, not explicitly acknowledged as such but acting as such. He considers himself able to tell us of certain universal principles on which nature acts. For instance, he tells us in Politics I 2 that ‘Nature never makes things penuriously . . .’37 To whom do Robinson’s words refer? Who is this ‘Aristotle’? Clearly this is not the flesh-and-blood Aristotle, who is reckoned to have died over 2,000 years before these words were written; for the ‘Aristotle’ discussed here is very much alive. He is engaged in speaking; he is in our presence, for he tells us things; moreover, we experience a certain closeness to him, enabling us to infer what is going on in his mind: ‘He considers himself able to tell us...’. It is precisely as if he were in the room with us, engaged in a conversation. In short, we are not dealing here with the historical person Aristotle, a long-dead individual who happened to leave certain writings which we may read and from which we might, with a struggle, infer something of his being.38 On the contrary, this ‘Aristotle’ is here with us, alive and well, in excellent condition, full of ideas, and talking to us: in a nutshell, he is a living person.39 I shall call this ‘Aristotle’ the virtual author. He is not the historical individual named Aristotle, who (so we take it) wrote the words of the book we are reading (such as the Politics); rather, he is a virtual individual who is read in that text, who is constructed by the reader. The virtual author is a projection of the act of reading.40 Far from being merely a quirk of Robinson’s, or peculiar to the figure of Aristotle, this mode of apprehension is the very norm of reading, certainly in the case of those non-fictional works with which I am concerned, and arguably (as we shall see) in imaginative literature as well.41 Without attempting an exhaustive account, I shall suggest four characteristics of the virtual author. 1. The virtual author has the attributes of a person. This is shown most clearly by the use of the author’s name, and by the associated use of personal pronouns and adjectives to refer to the author. It also emerges in the fact that we tend not only to agree-disagree with the virtual author’s written views, but also to entertain feelings of attraction or repulsion towards her or him.42


2. Our own relation to the virtual author is a relation of copresence. This is why ‘Aristotle’, as we are told, ‘speaks’ of Nature, and can ‘tell us’ things about her. The use of the present tense; the fact that he addresses us; the fact that he does so through the medium of speech—all these announce his presence-with-us. 3. The virtual author arises from the works, rather than the other way around; or to be more precise, the virtual author arises from our apprehension of the works.43 One marker of this is that virtual authors manage unaided to write their own posthumous works: that is to say, we routinely elide the constitutive role of editors in bringing such works into being, assigning these works solely to their ‘authors’.44 The same applies to the work of translators: thus the virtual author named Aristotle converses with us in our language, English, a language which did not exist when the historical individual named Aristotle was writing. Another such marker is the fact that the relation between author and works varies according to our own disciplinary angle of approach. Sometimes, as in the case of ‘Aristotle’, the virtual author tends to be linked, albeit loosely, to his or her oeuvre as a whole. Sometimes the same name effectively designates more than one virtual author: thus the ‘Locke’ of the Two Treatises of Government is a political theorist, whereas the ‘Locke’ of the Essay concerning Human Understanding is a philosopher of knowledge, and these two Lockes are seldom connected with one another, or indeed with the Locke-or-Lockes who wrote or authored still other works.45 And sometimes again, as in the case of Adam Smith, the virtual author is associated with a single work, whereas the historical writer of the same name was far more prolific.46 4. As a corollary, the integrity of the virtual author is textual, not biographical, in origin. Hence the fact that the virtual author can assimilate various features of the historical author, while nonetheless remaining thoroughly virtual in character. Such biographical details can be so assimilated, without transforming the virtual author into the historical author, because they are pendant from a textual frame: they are typically adduced in order to resolve detailed local puzzles in the work.47 The concept of the virtual author has certain analogues in recent literary and philosophical theory, though its resemblances with these should not be overstated. In particular, the virtual author is different in kind from the concept of the ‘implied author’, developed by Wayne Booth;48 for Booth’s ‘implied author’ is constructed by the writer and then apprehended by the reader, whereas the virtual author is specifically a construct of the reader.49 The true literary cognates of the virtual-author concept are the ‘postulated narrator’ of Jonathan Culler, the ‘postulated author’ of Alexander Nehamas and the ‘fictional author’ of Gregory Currie. Nevertheless

Below, at nn.45, 65, 161. Robinson (1962), p. xvii. 38 This, of course, we also learn from Foucault’s ‘What is an author?’, but not in the way that is emerging here. 39 Thus, just as ‘Aristotle often speaks of Nature as if she were a person’ (above, at n.37), so we can say that Robinson ‘often speaks of Aristotle as if he were a person’. For the record, this reflexivity is fortuitous: I did not notice it when choosing this passage by way of example, but only afterwards. 40 Cf. Ricoeur (1971), pp. 136–7. 41 Thus Foucault switched into the present tense when paraphrasing St Jerome’s De Viris Illustribus: Foucault (1977), p. 127. On the reading of fiction see below, at n.48. 42 For instance, see Collingwood (1946), pp. 29–31; Robinson (1962), pp. 32–3; Livingston (1993), p. 112. 43 This is true even of a living writer, as is shown vividly and poignantly by the variety of public constructions of that author who bears the name Salman Rushdie. See Spivak (1993), Ni Fhlathuin (1995), and cf. Ricoeur (1971), pp. 136–7. 44 Foucault himself drew attention to this with respect to Nietzsche. See Foucault (1977), pp. 118–19; the specific rhetorical role of this passage is discussed in Wilson (2004). Cf. also Genette (1982), as cited in n.5 above. From a vast range of possibilities (in addition to Aristotle and Nietzsche, think for instance of Marx, Saussure and Wittgenstein), I select two relatively recent examples; in each of these cases the editor’s contribution is usually overlooked. (1) Collingwood (1946) in fact bore the considerable stamp of its editor, T.M. Knox: see van der Dussen (1993) and Wilson (1993b). (2) Austin (1962) was the work not just of Austin but also of its editor, J.O. Urmson, as the latter’s introduction made clear. 45 See Harris (1994). Another example: the geographer Kant versus the philosopher Kant (below, at n. 65). 46 Christie (1987b), pp. 202–3. 47 Thus Robinson’s virtual ‘Aristotle’ was informed by the life of the historical Aristotle: for instance, Aristotle was within the same general culture as Plato and Thucydides (Robinson [1962], p. xv); he was ‘the philosophic tutor of Alexander the Great’ (p. 15); he was writing in Athens (e.g. pp. 40, 102, 116, 122). 48 Booth (1961), Booth (1979). Booth’s concept is adapted to non-fictional works in Rée (1987); cf. also Woolgar (1993). 49 Thus Booth’s ‘implied author’ is cognate with Iser’s ‘implied reader’ (reformulated by Genette as the ‘virtual reader’), rather than with the concepts of Culler, Nehamas and Currie (discussed below). See Iser (1978), pp. 20–38; Ricoeur (1984-88), vol iii, pp. 170–1, 317 n.37. 37

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the virtual author differs in certain important ways from the concepts of Culler,50 Nehamas,51 and Currie.52 Some of these differences may arise from the fact that these various interpretative figures pertain to the reading of imaginative literature, as of course does Booth’s ‘implied author’,53 whereas the figure denoted here as the virtual author is associated with non-fictional works. In this respect the concept of the virtual author is akin to Jorge Gracia’s philosophical theory of authorship, though Gracia’s conception, too, differs in its emphasis from that developed here.54 But what should particularly be noted is that the concept of the virtual author enables us to resolve the central problem which was raised-and-suppressed by Foucault’s ‘What is an author?’. We have seen that Foucault’s considerable positive accomplishment—namely his discovery that the author is a construct—was achieved at the formidable price of erasing the personal quality of the author-figure. The concept of the virtual author enables us to preserve Foucault’s discovery while also reinstating that which Foucault suppressed: for the virtual author is both a construct and a person. I have identified the virtual author by attending to an instance of everyday usage, that is, to the significance of the word ‘Aristotle’ as used by Robinson. But this does not exhaust the familiar meanings of that word, for there is also another usage: we say, for instance, that ‘we find in Aristotle’ such-and-such a doctrine, method, argument. Here we are of course referring to the works of Aristotle. Thus the word ‘Aristotle’ has not one meaning but two: it refers both to the virtual author and to that author’s works. This double usage is no accident. On the contrary, it enables us to clarify just who this ‘Aristotle’ is: the virtual author is the text construed as a human agent. And as we shall now see, this in turn helps to explain how the virtual author comes into being, how she or he is endowed with life. Our relation of co-presence with the virtual author ‘Aristotle’ doubtless derives in part from our own assimilation of the written to the spoken, and of the spoken in turn to what is conceived as the subjective.55 But this co-presence also has a real and physical basis in the being of the text. It is precisely because texts such as the one called the Politics are present—physically present upon our bookshelves—that ‘Aristotle’ himself is present. In short, ‘Aristotle’ really is, as I put it just now, ‘in the room with us’. The physical presence of the text becomes the existential presence of the virtual author, who as we have seen is the text-asagent. None of this is confined to ‘Aristotle’—even though it could


be argued that ‘he’ is the very primordium of the canonical author. Rather, this mode of apprehension is characteristic of all canonical authors, that is to say, of canonical texts. Canonical authors are routinely evoked as co-present with ourselves; and they are indeed so present, in the form of their works, for this is the very definition of their canonical status. Canonicity is a particular form of survival, of permanence, of presence. The canonical text lives by virtue of its presence; as soon as it ceases to have this life, it ceases to be canonical, with the effect that the virtual author too passes away.56 Nevertheless a virtual author can also attain presence and acquire life in another, second-order way: that is, an eponymous existence as the name attached to what we may call a canonical achievement. For example, the virtual author Ranke is very well-known in historiographic discussions, but not from his works—rather from the incessantly-quoted phrase wie es eigentlich gewesen, ‘as it actually happened’. In this attenuated form Ranke is alive, even though his works are not—as will appear later on, when I shall be quoting this same phrase.57 This particular mode of virtual existence is of course especially familiar in the sciences, whose various ‘laws’ are designated by their respective authorial eponyms—the quasi-tribute which science pays to its own past. In fact, of course, such laws typically owe their judicial status, and often enough a significant measure of their very content, to posthumous acts of abstraction and appropriation.58 Thus eponymy, whether attached to ‘doctrines’ or to ‘laws’, rests upon some act of violence performed upon the works and activities of the historical individual who bore the same name. Yet in this respect the attenuated, eponymous virtual author is no different from the virtual author whose existence rests upon full-scale canonical ‘works’, for as will emerge more fully below, the canonical ‘work’ is also a retrospective construct, a later appropriation.59 The ‘second-order’ presence of eponymy, then, merges imperceptibly into the actual presence of the works—as is suggested, with respect to the discipline of philosophy, by Watson’s concept of ‘shadow history’. On Watson’s account, philosophy proceeds by way of a continuous, shifting, one-sided quasi-dialogue with what is taken to be its own past, but is in fact a ‘shadow’ of that past, that is, a highly selective history. This ‘shadow history’ acquires a life of its own, becoming in fact more real than the past of which it is the shadow.60 And this ‘shadow’ is to the past itself much as the virtual author is to the historical author.

50 Culler (1975), pp. 146, 197–202. There can be more than one of Culler’s ‘postulated narrators’ in a single text, whereas the virtual author is a single individual who is expected to be consistent within a given work. 51 Nehamas (1981), Nehamas (1987). (1) The virtual author is a purely descriptive concept, whereas Nehamas’s ‘postulated author’ has a prescriptive element. (2) The concept of the virtual author does not require any necessary link with an entire oeuvre (see above, at n.45), whereas Nehamas insists that the ‘postulated author’ is connected with an oeuvre, not with a single work. As it appears to me, Nehamas’s concept does not require this; but I must bow to the author who has postulated the postulated author! See Nehamas (1987), p. 274. (3) The virtual author is depicted here as a person, whereas Nehamas stresses that the ‘postulated author’ is a character, not a person (ibid., pp. 273, 285). In fact it may be that some further category, distinct from both ‘person’ and ‘character’, is being invoked both by the ‘postulated author’ and by the ‘virtual author’. 52 Currie (1990), pp. 79–83. (1) Like Nehamas, Currie includes a prescriptive element in his concept. (2) Although most of Currie’s discussion implies that the ‘fictional author’ is purely a construct of the reader, at one point he suggests that a writer may place a ‘fictional author’ within a novel (p. 78 n.32). This would radically distinguish Currie’s ‘fictional author’ from the present concept of the ‘virtual author’ and from the 1987 version of Nehamas’s ‘postulated author’. However it is conceivable that Currie might not insist on this point: cf. the change in Nehamas’s formulation between 1981 and 1987, documented in the next note. 53 One would expect that Nehamas’s ‘postulated author’ and Currie’s ‘fictional author’, being creations of the reader, are distinct from Booth’s ‘implied author’; but in fact the matter is more complex. Originally Nehamas downplayed the difference between his concept and Booth’s, but in his later formulation Nehamas indeed stressed this difference: see Nehamas (1981), p. 145 n.36; Nehamas (1987), pp. 273–4. Currie’s ‘fictional author’ is ambiguous in this regard: see the previous note, and cf. also Currie (1990), p. 76 n.31. Booth (1988), reiterating and developing the concept of the ‘implied author’, lists Nehamas’s 1987 essay in its bibliography but does not discuss his conception. 54 Gracia (1990), whose concern is analytic, distinguishes the historical author from three separate interpretative figures: the ‘composite author’ (a figure which incorporates the contribution of editors); the ‘pseudo-historical author’ (the picture which we construct of the historical author); and the ‘interpretative author’ (the author whom we posit in the act of interpreting a text). The present concept of the ‘virtual author’ is phenomenological rather than analytic, and combines these three figures into one. See also Gracia (1994). 55 Derrida (1967), passim. 56 On the mystification inherent in such locutions as ‘‘Aristotle says’’, and their hidden basis in the physical book, cf. Secord (2004), pp. 661, 670. The mortality of virtual authors is nicely conveyed by McCrea (1990). 57 See below, at nn.133, 137. 58 Cf. Brannigan (1981), p. 94 and passim. On Mendel’s law (one of the cases analyzed by Brannigan), see Charnley and Radick (in press); another familiar example is what are known as ‘Koch’s postulates’, on which see Carter (2003), pp.144–5. On appropriation in the sciences more generally see Jardine (1991), pp. 74–6, 130–45 and passim. 59 See below, at n.111. 60 Watson (1993). Cf. n.108 below.


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The distinction between the virtual author and the historical author corresponds precisely to Michael Oakeshott’s distinction between the ‘practical past’, that is, the past-as-present in our culture, and the historical past, that is, the past that has passed.61 The significance and aptness of Oakeshott’s powerful category of the ‘practical past’ is well conveyed by his alternative formulation: ‘the didactic or so-called living ‘‘past’’’.62 The ‘practical past’ is indeed living, and it has this living quality because it has been assigned a didactic use in the present. And it is just this complex of presence and significance—condensed by Oakeshott into the pregnant adjective ‘practical’—which characterises the canonical in each of its forms. Thus canonical texts, canonical achievements, virtual authors and ‘shadow history’ all belong to the practical past; and this helps to reveal that Oakeshott’s conception is even more cogent and fruitful than his own exposition has suggested. For Oakeshott deliberately limits his examples ‘to the commonplace’;63 but this drastically restricts the scope of his argument, since the domain of ‘the commonplace’, namely the shared culture of the present age, is almost vanishingly narrow. In fact, of course, we inhabit not one culture but many, each with its own distinctive ‘practical past’; and once this diversity of ‘the present’ and of ‘the’ practical past is brought into focus, the considerable strength of Oakeshott’s concept becomes more apparent.64 It is for just this reason that we have more than one Locke (the political theorist and the philosopher of knowledge), more than one Kant (the geographer and the philosopher), and so on.65 So too, while ‘Aristotle’ is very much alive, he is living not in our culture as a whole but at certain specific sites within that culture. By way of recapitulation, we may observe that the full force of the question ‘Who is Aristotle?’ emerges if we pose it as three questions—underlining each of its three words in turn. The question ‘Who?’ opens the theme of the virtual author’s personal being. The question ‘is?’ draws attention to the implied presence of this figure. And the question ‘Aristotle?’ leads us into the apparent double meaning, namely author and works, which is in fact a single meaning, namely the canonical text-as-agent.

from their authorial and publishing histories.66 ‘In this usage’, McGann went on, we are dealing with ‘texts’ which transcend their concrete and actual textualities.67 This usage of the word text does not mean anything written or printed in an actual physical state; rather, it means the opposite: it points to an Ur-poem or meta-work whose existence is the Idea that can be abstracted out of all concrete and written texts which have ever existed or will ever exist. While McGann was here referring specifically to literary works, his remarks are applicable across the full terrain of what is now called the textual. McGann’s point was that the designation ‘text’, in abstracting the object to which it refers from its ‘actual physical state’, turns it into ‘a timeless object, unconnected with history’.68 This is as true of the writings of Aristotle, Locke, Newton or Kant as of the writings of Blake, of Byron, of Emily Dickinson—the examples McGann was discussing; and it is true, too, of the extension of ‘text’ to refer to the written-or-printed as such. Here McGann accurately identified a salient feature of the new usage. Yet the apprehension of the ‘text’ as a ‘timeless object’ by no means began with this usage; on the contrary, this was of very long standing. We have already encountered just this apprehension in Robinson’s approach to Aristotle’s Politics, and more generally in the nature of the canonical text. Thus the new usage of ‘text’ is double-edged. On the one hand, as McGann rightly observed, it is inherently mystifying in that it abstracts the objects to which it refers from their material existence. On the other hand, this usage also has a positive side, albeit unwittingly; for it has actually brought to the fore and rendered semi-explicit the very mode of apprehension which it reflects. And it is that mode of apprehension with which I am concerned. I can now suggest an answer to the question ‘what is a text?’, in the form of five propositions. These are not to be understood as ‘propositions’ in the analytical sense; on the contrary, they are conjoined, each implying the others, so that together they comprise an interrelated complex.

3. What is a text? As we saw at the outset, the shift of usage entailed in the new figure of the ‘text’ has attracted curiously little discussion. Nevertheless that transmutation did draw some perceptive comments in the early 1980s from the literary theorist and critic Jerome J. McGann, who was concerned at that time with the relationship between the literary ‘work’ and the bibliographic ‘text’. It seems that this thematic gave McGann an interest in retaining the older usages, thereby leading him to adopt a critical stance towards the new figure of the text. In particular he observed that the new usage is profoundly mystifying, in that it abstracts works from the actual and contingent events of their ‘bibliographies’, that is, 61

1. The attribute of being a text—to denote which we may adapt the word textuality69—does not inhere in any given object; rather, textuality is assigned to such an object by the reader and by wider cultural processes which constitute the very possibility of reading. The explicit or implicit designation ‘text’, then, is not a neutral description of written and printed materials, but on the contrary is a particular way of positioning them. Thus what Stanley Fish has written of the ‘shape’ of texts—that this ‘shape’ is conferred by ‘interpretive strategies’—extends still further, to their very being.70 In short, a text is not a natural object; rather, textuality is a mode of apprehension, a practical construal.

See Oakeshott (1983), pp. 1–44, particularly pp. 16–19, 34–44; also p. 106. Ibid., p. 39 (and see further below, at nn.74, 110). 63 Ibid., p. 19 n.2. 64 It is precisely the practical past that is invoked in the following remarks (Lowenthal, 1985): ‘The past is everywhere. All around us lie features which, like ourselves and our thoughts, have more or less recognizable antecedents’. These are the opening sentences of a book whose entire content is a meditation on the practical past, associated with a systematic elision of the distinction between the practical past and the historical past, and which accordingly treats Oakeshott’s argument to summary dismissal (ibid., p. 237). In view of this orientation Lowenthal’s title—The Past is a Foreign Country—may seem paradoxical, since the image of the foreign emphasizes the gulf between past and present. But the apparent paradox is resolved by the accompanying figure of country, for a ‘foreign country’ can be visited, and is thus present. Hence too the active figure of the present in Lowenthal’s title, taken from the opening sentence of L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’. 65 Above, at n.45; Brewer (1973), p. 102; Livingstone (1990). 66 McGann (1985b), p. 117. This particular essay was written in 1980-1 (see p. 132). 67 Notice that McGann was adapting the word ‘textuality’; cf. n.69 below. 68 Ibid., p. 118. The context of these remarks was McGann’s critique of the concept of ‘final authorial intention’; see further McGann (1983), McGann (1991), p. 179 et seq., esp. p. 183; and n.98 below. 69 Using the word differently from (1) its original usage (cf. n.6 above); (2) the usage associated with the recent figure of the text; and (3) McGann’s use in the passage just quoted (cf. n.67 above). 70 Fish (1980), p. 13. 62

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2. That construal consists, as McGann observed, in abstracting verbal content from its material embodiment; or, more precisely, from its original material embodiment and, correlatively, from its original setting of action. A printed book, a manuscript letter, a shopping-list, an encyclopaedia, a handbill—all these physical objects, these products of the pen and the press, lose their differentiae as they are apprehended as texts.71 3. This mode of apprehension is by its very nature doubly selfoblivious. In the first place, the quality of textuality is projected into the object itself. Secondly, and as a corollary, the abstracted verbal content is assigned the quality of reality, independent of its material embodiment and from the setting of action in which it arose.72 4. The objects to which textuality is assigned can and do arise variously from the present, from the past, and (as with various writings appropriated here)73 from a liminal zone between the two. But textuality projects all such objects onto the plane of the present. Thus in its principal application, namely to past writings, textuality entails the actual presence of the past; that is, textuality is precisely an instance of Oakeshott’s ‘practical past’.74 It is this which makes possible the relation of co-presence which constructs the ‘virtual author’. 5. Textuality is given a material embodiment in the act of publication or republication. The canonical text is the physical form of the designation ‘text’; it makes that designation real, by restoring to the ‘text’ the materiality it has lost. It is precisely in this material form that the past actually is present. However this is always, and necessarily, a new material form; correlatively, such publication situates the text in a new setting of action. Thus, once again in accordance with Oakeshott’s fruitful distinction, the past that is present is not the same as the past that has passed. A ‘text’, then, is a constructed object, just as an ‘author’ is (so we have learnt from Foucault) a constructed individual. Far from being a neutral description of a pre-existing object, the designation ‘text’ reassigns the object to which it refers: it positions that object in a seemingly transtemporal space, which is in fact the space of copresence with the reader, or more widely of presence within the reader’s world. The attribution of textuality assimilates the object into the cultural world of the present. This was captured with perfect if unwitting accuracy by Roland Barthes himself, in the opening passage of ‘La mort de l’auteur’—the essay which put forward the figure of écriture, which was closely enmeshed with the new figure of the text. To bring out what was at stake here I shall abridge and selectively emphasise the English translation of this classic paragraph, supplying the original French words where appropriate: In his story Sarrasine, Balzac, referring to [parlant de] a castrato disguised as a woman, writes [écrit] the following sentence: ‘It was Woman herself, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness, her fussings and her delicious sensibility.’ Who is speaking thus? [Qui parle ainsi?] Is it the hero of the story . . .? Is it the individual Balzac . . .? Is it Balzac the author . . .? Is it universal wisdom? Romantic psychology? We shall never know, for the good rea-


son that writing [écriture] is the destruction of every voice [voix], of every origin. Writing is that neutral, that composite, that oblique space where our subject slips away, the [photographic] negative where every identity is lost, starting with the identity of the very body which writes.75 In order to arrive at his answer Barthes first of all built up—it is tempting to say, had to build up—a play between writing and speech, a play which settled upon speech at the precise point where he posed his question: Qui parle ainsi?76 Thus the figure of écriture was constructed by way of the figure of the written-apprehendedas-the-spoken, that is to say, the written-in-presence—amply bearing out Foucault’s suspicion that the features of the author-figure had been transposed, in concealed form, upon écriture. Or to put the point more sharply, if écriture erases ‘every identity’, the figure of écriture also erases the acts of écrire and publier, by apprehending their product under the sign of speech.77 The effect of this covert assimilation of writing to speech was to project the written onto the plane of the present. And this quality of the Barthesian figure of écriture was shared by the new figure of the text. To recapitulate: The mode of apprehension delineated by our five propositions did not arise with the recent figure of the text: on the contrary, it is as old as the written trace itself, for it develops spontaneously in the acts of reading and cultural appropriation. The contemporary figure of the text is simultaneously illuminating and mystifying. It crystallises this mode of apprehension, embodying it in the form of a name—a name which reifies the written-orprinted word, thereby accurately reflecting the mode of apprehension itself. Paradoxically, the new figure of the text is appropriate in the very mystification which it effects; for it captures, echoes and compounds that reification of the verbal which is entailed in the co-presence of the read. And it thus becomes intelligible that the figure of the text has so persistently eluded coherent definition. 4. The self-oblivion of the textual construal I have observed that my five propositions are mutually-imbricated; in other words, they stand or fall together. But the pivotal point, which is also the most elusive, is Proposition 3: the claim that the textual apprehension is self-oblivious, that it assigns to its object those qualities which arise from the apprehension itself. Thus although this proposition has already been illustrated indirectly with reference to Barthes’s concept of écriture, it will be helpful to exemplify it further and directly. To this end I shall now consider two examples: first Hans-Georg Gadamer’s conception of hermeneutics, together with its development by Hans Robert Jauss, then a paper of Tony Bennett’s which proposed a new Marxist approach to literary texts. It will thus emerge that the self-oblivion of the textual construal runs across a wide range of theoretical positions. Gadamer’s ‘philosophical hermeneutics’, which is concerned with the nature and basis of the act of understanding, is addressed to the concerns of traditional Hermeneutik—the tradition which Dilthey constructed from resources supplied by such earlier figures as Schleiermacher and Droysen78—but has taken those concerns in a

71 As Barthes himself put it (1971, p. 71): ‘l’oeuvre se tient dans la main, le texte se tient dans le langage’ (‘the work is held in the hand, the text is contained within language’, my translation). 72 It is this (widespread) move which makes possible the further (occasional) step of taking the text itself as a ‘communicative act’ (n.17 above). The latter construal, by assigning agency to recorded words, of course completes the effacement of the various human actions (such as writing, editing, publishing) which actually produced those words. 73 For instance writings by Foucault, Robinson, Oakeshott, McGann, Fish; and others below. 74 Above, at n.61. 75 Barthes (1968), p. 61; translation adapted from that in Barthes (1977), p. 142. 76 Cf. Banfield (1985), pp. 2–3. 77 écrire and publier: writing and publishing. For Foucault on écriture see above, at n.19. 78 ‘The’ hermeneutic tradition is itself complex, as is the hermeneutic concept of tradition: see for instance Szondi (1970), Szondi (1995), Bleicher (1980), Gusdorf (1988), Bruns (1992), pp. 1–17, 195–212. See further below, from n.126 onwards.


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radically new direction.79 On the one hand, Gadamer fits entirely within the frame of traditional hermeneutics, in that his substantive work has precisely been concerned with the study of canonical texts and authors, starting with Plato. On the other hand, his approach represents a radical departure from that tradition, in that he has abandoned its telos of a realist or objective determination of meaning. For Gadamer, understanding is necessarily anchored in the perspective of the interpreter; all that can be attained is a ‘fusion of horizons’ between the interpreter’s perspective and that of the author (or the text) being read. The goal of a definitive determination of meaning is not only elusive but illusory, a denial of the situated nature of the very act of interpretation. Thus Gadamerian hermeneutics calls not for a suppression of the interpreter’s viewpoint, after the manner of traditional hermeneutics, but on the contrary for an adequate awareness of the role and nature of that viewpoint. Such an awareness Gadamer has sought through a cluster of concepts adapted from Heidegger’s account of the existential basis of understanding. According to Heidegger, all understanding is rooted in a founding ‘fore-structure’, entailing a fore-having (Vorhabe), a foreseeing (Vorsicht) and a fore-conception (Vorgriff); and it is this ‘fore-structure’ which constitutes the very possibility, and the particular being, of any given object of study.80 Gadamer, applying this approach to the act of textual interpretation, suggests that such interpretation entails a fore-projection (Vorentwurf), associated with a series of ‘fore-meanings’ which ‘make up our fore-understanding’.81 From this starting-point Gadamer arrives—to the anguish of such critics as Habermas, Hirsch and Betti—at a radically relativist position, entailing for instance the notion that ‘prejudice’ is a fruitful hermeneutic instrument.82 Taken in the most general terms, Gadamer’s position vis-a-vis his critics is surely unassailable, since the very aim of objectivity proclaimed (in different ways) by Betti and Hirsch must itself entail an interpretative fore-projection (Vorentwurf), as must the critical-theoretical aim of Habermas. But my concern is not with those debates but rather with the limits of Gadamer’s own framework. We can approach this issue by observing that the concept of textuality outlined above could happily be rephrased in the very Heideggerian language upon which Gadamer’s hermeneutics is based. On the present argument, textuality is precisely a Vorhabe, a fore-having: it is a ‘mode of apprehension’ which construes its object in a particular way, assigning to that object a specific mode of being. And since hermeneutics is specifically concerned with the study of canonical texts—as Gadamer has repeatedly made clear—it follows that the Vorhabe of textuality is constitutive of hermeneutics.83 Yet this is precisely what Gadamer’s analysis does not bring out. Throughout his patient exposition of the nature, presuppositions and objectives of hermeneutics, he simply takes as given the existence of its objects.84 ‘Texts’ for Gadamer just are texts: their


mode of being is not conferred through the act of use but, on the contrary, inheres within them. And correspondingly, their canonisation does not construct their cultural worth but rather reflects it. This conception reaches its ironic apogee in Gadamer’s notion of the ‘classical’. For in a paradoxical contradiction of his own framework, Gadamer has concluded that the classicism of the works of the ancients is, literally, ‘timeless’.85 It is at just this point that Gadamer’s own pupil Hans Robert Jauss departs from his mentor, accurately observing that this posited immanence and permanence of the classical violates the very precepts of Gadamer’s approach.86 Indeed, Jauss takes this criticism still further, arguing that Gadamer’s model of aesthetic experience in general is itself ‘classical’ (in the sense of ancient-and-humanist) in type, centred as it is upon mimesis and recognition—experiential structures violated, on Jauss’s analysis, both in the medieval world and in the modern age.87 According to Jauss’s critique, then, not only has Gadamer explicitly assigned timelessness to the classical works themselves; he has also insidiously conferred just such a timelessness upon the ancient-and-humanist mode of aesthetic experience, mistakenly taking this historicallyspecific interpretative mode as general and universal. Thus Gadamer’s entire conception stands in need of revision, for it becomes necessary to relativise and historicise just those modes of experience whose historical mutability he has obliterated. Here, then, is the starting-point for Jauss’s own ‘aesthetics of reception’,88 which combines Heideggerian resources such as the concept of Vorgriff (foreconception) with further concepts drawn from Russian Formalism. Jauss’s reception-aesthetics offers a framework for grasping the historical mutability not just of meanings but also of meaning itself, a framework structured around the central concept of a ‘horizon of expectations’.89 But while in these respects Jauss has ably criticised and creatively adapted Gadamer’s approach, he too is confined within the Vorhabe of textuality itself—and with equally ironic results. It is not just that the objects of ‘reception’ are precisely canonical texts (usually depicted by Jauss within the older idiom of ‘works’); more than this, Jauss’s very concept of ‘reception’ repeats and compounds the self-oblivion of the act of textualisation. For in Jauss’s schema, as the word ‘reception’ itself implies, the canonical works are always unproblematically present-and-available for-and-before the act of ‘reception’: that is, ‘reception’ does not constitute those works, it merely and precisely receives them as pre-given objects. Thus Jauss’s choice of the term ‘reception’ is no accident, for ‘reception’ is the necessary cognate of his concept of the nature of the literary work itself. As he has explained: Literary works differ from purely historical documents precisely because they do more than simply document a particular time, and remain ‘speaking’ to the extent that they attempt to solve

Gadamer (1965), Gadamer (1976). A very interesting meditation on Gadamer’s hermeneutics is Bruns (1992). Heidegger (1962), pp. 191–5, particularly p. 193. ‘Fore-structure’ translates the German term Vor-Struktur. Gadamer (1965, pp. 250–2, 1975), pp. 265–8, quoted from p. 268. ‘Fore-meaning’ translates the German term Vormeinung; ‘fore-understanding’, the German Vorverständnis. These Gadamerian terms overlap in various ways with those of Heidegger’s Being and Time (Heidegger 1962): thus Heidegger made extensive use of Entwurf, the basis of Vorentwurf (p. 185n.), and he occasionally used Vormeinung (p. 192, where Macquarrie and Robinson translate this as ‘assumption’). I have not come across any discussion which compares these respective clusters of concepts, apart from Dreyfus (1980), pp. 10–11; cf. below, at n.92. 82 Gadamer (1975, pp. 277–307, 1976), p. 9. For Gadamer’s critics see Bleicher (1980), and cf. Margolis (1993). 83 On the relation between Heidegger’s Vorhabe and Gadamer’s set of concepts see further below, at n.92. 84 See for instance Gadamer (1975), p. 537, where ‘the task of hermeneutics’ is specified as ‘the task of interpreting transmitted texts’ (and. cf. p. 295). As will emerge in due course, the word ‘transmitted’ here performs a massive work of elision: cf. n.167 below. (The word used in the German original was überlieferten, which conveys both ‘transmitted’ and ‘traditional’: Gadamer [1965], pp. 508, 279.) 85 Gadamer (1975), pp. 285–90, particularly p. 288; cf. Bruns (1992), pp. 154–5. 86 Jauss (1982), pp. 30–1. 87 Ibid., passim, e.g. Chapter 3 (pp. 77–109). Jauss in turn is criticised by de Man (‘Introduction’, in ibid., pp. xxii–xxiv), on grounds which, though differently anchored (specifically in the question of rhetoric) are compatible with the terms of Jauss’s critique of Gadamer; indeed de Man here convicts Jauss of just that unavowed classicism which Jauss has detected in Gadamer. Cf. below, at n.91. 88 As distinct from a more ‘traditional’ or conventional ‘aesthetics of representation’ (ibid., pp. 18–19, 40). 89 Ibid., pp. 22, 94 and passim (Vorgriff); 22–34 and passim (horizon of expectations); 16–19, 32–3, 41, 72 (Russian Formalism). 80


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problems of form or content, and so extend far beyond the silent relics of the past.90 With this formulation (which notably invokes the figure of the written-as-speaking), Jauss has elegantly concealed all that goes to constitute a text, a canonical work. By attributing its present availability to its verbal content, he has silently erased the material premise of that availability, namely the act of republication. And in an identical gesture, he has assigned its literary status to the work itself, thereby obliterating the existential premise of that status, namely the apprehension of the reader or critic. Thus Jauss himself has reproduced, on another plane, the very timelessness for which he has rightly criticised Gadamer.91 In short, the hermeneutic conceptions of Gadamer and of Jauss obey and display a single, shared limit. On the one hand, each of them has elegantly demonstrated the importance of hermeneutic ‘fore-projections’, of the interpretative ‘fore-understanding’. On the other hand, neither of them has captured the more fundamental moment of the hermeneutic ‘fore-structure’, namely its forehaving or Vorhabe—that is, the prior apprehension of textuality itself. For Heidegger’s concept of Vorhabe, which pertains to the apprehended being of the apprehended object, has no equivalent in the conceptions of either Gadamer or Jauss.92 Rather, the terms used by Gadamer and Jauss are concerned not with the apprehended being of the apprehended object but with the subsidiary domain of its apprehended meaning.93 Thus the conceptual net deployed by Gadamer and by Jauss captures no more and no less than what it is designed to capture: it grasps the constructed nature of textual interpretations, but necessarily elides the constructed nature of textuality itself, that is, the fact that textuality is a fore-having, a Vorhabe. This boundary of their achievement stems precisely from the fact that Gadamer and Jauss themselves are anchored in this very forehaving, which arises from their grounding in the hermeneutic tradition. The fact that textuality is a construal is simply invisible both for Gadamer and for Jauss: forming as it does the very precondition of their field, textuality is necessarily taken as a given.94 This displays precisely that self-oblivion to which my third proposition refers.95 The same oblivion is equally apparent, and perhaps more poignant, in the very different perspective of Tony Bennett, as developed in his appositely-titled essay ‘Texts in history’, published in 1987.96 Here Bennett went to the very brink of capturing the constructed nature of textuality, only to withdraw at the last moment.



Bennett positioned his own approach to ‘texts’ by means of a double difference—demarcating his conception first from poststructuralism, then from traditional Marxist literary criticism. It was in the latter context that the shape of his argument began to emerge. After semi-aligning himself with Ernesto Laclau’s postmodernist version of Marxism,97 Bennett mounted a telling set of arguments against what he described as the implicit assumption of traditional Marxist criticism, namely:98 the assumption . . . that the relations between literary texts, other ideological phenomena and broader social and political processes can be determined . . . by referring such texts to the conditions of production obtaining at the moment of their origin. Against that assumption he made the following pivotal statement of principle (with my emphasis added): To the contrary, the actual and variable functioning of texts in history can only be understood if account is taken of the ways in which such originary relations may be modified through the operation of subsequent determinations—institutional and discursive—which may retrospectively cancel out, modify or overdetermine those which marked the originating conditions of a text’s production. The meanings of texts, then—their ‘actual and variable functioning... in history ‘—are produced historically, and therefore mutably, by ‘subsequent determinations’. But the texts themselves are produced under certain earlier, ‘originating conditions’. That is, Bennett stripped away the constitutive importance of ‘the moment of their origin’ at the level of meaning, while retaining that posited moment at the level of the objects themselves. The concept of ‘the originating conditions of a text’s production’ proclaimed that textuality inheres in the object as an essential and irreducible property acquired at the moment of its birth. This double move comprised the very foundation of Bennett’s argument. On the one hand, at many points his exposition brought out precisely the present Proposition 1, that is, the fact that the quality of being a text is assigned to the object rather than inhering in it. On the other hand, in every case Bennett instantly recoiled from this insight, restoring the quality of textuality to the ‘texts’ themselves. This can be illustrated through Bennett’s account of his own central, and very fruitful, concept—the concept of a ‘reading formation’, which can perhaps be seen as the more active

Ibid., p. 69. Cf., from a different and technical angle, de Man’s criticism of Jauss (n.87 above). 92 Heidegger (1962), pp. 199, 276, 279, 313, 337, 364, 370, 424 (though for an important qualification see n.94 below). It will be recalled that in Heidegger’s terms, Vorhabe comprised one of the three aspects or moments of the Vor-Struktur of understanding (above, at n.80); on the other two aspects (Vorsicht and Vorgriff) cf. the next note. Gadamer’s elision of Vorhabe has been observed by Dreyfus (1980, pp. 10-11), who however glosses Vorhabe in a different way from that suggested here: cf. also Dreyfus (1991), pp. 199–202. 93 In Heidegger’s account, apprehended-meaning was the principal concern of the other two aspects of the Vor-Struktur of understanding, namely Vorsicht (fore-seeing) and Vorgriff (fore-conception): see for instance ibid., pp. 200, 358–9. However, to complicate the picture, these occasionally touched upon apprehended-being (see particularly p. 275)—and for a converse and more serious complication, see the next note. 94 This discussion has implicitly presented Heidegger’s own treatment as exempt from these limitations; but this picture, while rhetorically convenient here, is not strictly accurate. For in the course of the very passage in which Heidegger defined the Vor-Struktur of understanding in the first place, he implied that his account pertained specifically to textual interpretation: Heidegger (1962), pp. 191–2, at p. 192. If this were taken literally, it would undermine the use to which Vorhabe was subsequently put throughout Being and Time; and it would proclaim that Vorhabe, too, as well as Vorsicht and Vorgriff, pertains to apprehended-meaning rather than to apprehended-being (cf. the previous two notes). Thus it seems that this particular remark of Heidegger’s has to be interpreted as a slip on his part—a slip which took the being of the text for granted in precisely the same way as was to be done by Gadamer, by Jauss, and subsequently (cf. the next note) by de Man. 95 A similar elision is to be found in Paul de Man’s brief discussion of Heidegger’s conception: de Man (1983), pp. 29–31, particularly p. 30. In that passage, Vorhabe (misprinted as Forhabe) is first equated with ‘fore-structure’ (which is technically inaccurate) and is then glossed as ‘foreknowledge’ (which assimilates Vorhabe to Vorsicht and Vorgriff). Further, it is suggested that ‘for the interpreter of a poetic text, this foreknowledge is the text itself’, and ‘the text itself’ is seen as ‘what was already there’ before the act of interpretation. The effect of these moves is to turn the bearing of Vorhabe from apprehended-being to apprehended-meaning, and relatedly to elide yet again the fact that textuality is an apprehension. 96 Bennett (1987), pp. 63–81; cf. to similar effect Bennett (1990). 97 For a helpful discussion of the work of Laclau and his collaborator Chantal Mouffe, see Curry (1993). 98 Bennett (1987), p. 69. This point of Bennett’s corresponds to McGann’s critique of ‘final authorial intention’ (n.68 above). McGann’s target is the ‘New Criticism’, which saw authorial production as individual, whereas Bennett’s target is Marxist criticism of the type exemplified by Lukacs, which saw authorial production as social. But McGann and Bennett are united—rightly, from the present point of view—in drawing attention to what has intervened between the past act of authoring, however construed, and the present act of reading. Thus Bennett’s ‘reading formations’, discussed below, have much in common with McGann’s ‘secondary moments of textual production and reproduction’, for which see McGann (1985c). However, see n.103 below. 91


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and processual analogue of Jauss’s ‘horizon of expectations’. Bennett’s exposition of the ‘reading formation’ began as follows (again with my emphases):99 . . . I want to suggest that the proper object for Marxist literary theory consists not in the study of texts but in the study of reading formations. By a reading formation, I mean a set of discursive and inter-textual determinations which organize and animate the practice of reading, connecting texts and readers in specific relations to one another in constituting readers as reading subjects of particular types and texts as objects-to-be-read in particular ways. This entails arguing that texts have and can have no existence independently of such reading formations, that there is no place independent of, anterior to or above the varying reading formations through which their historical life is variously modulated, within which texts can be constituted as objects of knowledge. Texts exist only as always-already organised or activated to be read in certain ways just as readers exist as always-already activated to read in certain ways . . . Almost everything that Bennett wrote here—particularly the clause I have emphasized—is entirely consonant with the present argument.100 Yet he immediately continued (once more with my emphases): The consequence of this so far as Marxism is concerned . . . is that it should seek to detach texts from socially dominant reading formations and to install them in new ones.101 The grammar of this sentence betrays the underlying assumption that texts are in fact conceived here as givens: in a seeming paradox, textuality itself is not a product of reading formations, since ‘texts’ remain ‘texts’ before, during and after the operations of ‘detaching’ and ‘installing’ them. A close reading of the remainder of Bennett’s essay reveals that this assumption pervaded its entire argument.102 Correlatively, and strangely enough for a Marxist, Bennett construed the constitution of ‘texts’ as a series of reading processes; his account made no mention of such material activities as commissioning, writing, dedicating, subscribing, editing, publishing, printing, buying and selling.103 Bennett’s position can be summed up as follows. That which is historically mutable, and is accordingly the object of both inquiry and intervention, is what-kind-of-text a text is.104 But the ‘fact’ that the text is a text is an attribute which inheres within it, a property which was conferred at birth and which the text will carry for ever afterwards.105 In short, despite all that Bennett has argued about the constitution of texts through ‘reading formations’, and despite his very title, ‘Texts in history’, it emerges that textuality is ahistorical—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say atemporal. A 99

clearer indication of the force of Proposition 3 is difficult to imagine. 5. Canons, traditions, disciplines The attribute of textuality is materialised, according to Proposition 5, in the form of canonical texts. Such texts are closely and reciprocally tied to traditions: each tradition creates its own canon of classic texts, while conversely the canon justifies the tradition, giving it reality and cultural weight. Correspondingly, tradition gives solidity to textuality, making it very difficult to detach any given piece of writing from the textuality which has been assigned to it. The canon intensifies this, for each individual ‘text’ is so to speak tethered to all the others in the canon: their textualities all support each other. The strongest form that this takes is what we might call the canonical chain: a historical sequence of texts, together comprising a movement of some sort—perhaps of progress, perhaps a series of repetitions, or perhaps both—which confers the semblance of historical continuity.106 Whenever we contemplate a canonical chain, it appears as if the textuality of its constituent elements is an unarguable and selfconstituted fact. Each author in the canonical tradition typically refers to her or his predecessors, either explicitly (as in non-fictional traditions) or implicitly (in a developing genre of imaginative literature); these self-affirmed filiations seemingly confirm the continuity of the tradition, the objective existence of its canon, the mutual tethering of the various canonical texts, and the reality of their several textualities. In these circumstances it may seem perverse to argue, as I am doing here, that textuality is assigned by our own act of interpretation. This calls for two comments, concerning firstly the textuality of the individual texts and secondly the reality and integrity of the tradition as a whole. In the first place, textuality can indeed be a real historical quality, insofar as a past tradition itself endowed certain objects with that quality: but in every case, that textuality had its origin not in the objects themselves but rather in the acts of appropriation performed by such traditions. The writings of Aristotle would be so many meaningless marks on old pieces of paper or parchment, were it not for the actions of (for instance) the medieval schoolmen who conferred on those writings the quality of textuality. Such acts of appropriation embrace both physical preservation and existential survival, or in Heidegger’s terminology, both Vorhandenheit (presence-at-hand) and Zuhandenheit (readiness-to-hand)—revealing, incidentally, that these are connected.107 The Vorhandenheit of a text, that is to say its physical availability, requires its transcription and publication; this is precisely what is involved in canonisation. Its Zuhandenheit, that is, its imbrication with present human activities,

Bennett (1987), pp. 70–1. The ‘almost’ arises from the way that the word ‘texts’ was used in the second quoted sentence (this particular usage is ambiguous in this respect), and from the word ‘modulated’ towards the end of the quoted passage (the present argument entails replacing this by the word ‘constituted’). In addition, the definition of a ‘reading formation’ as ‘a set of discursive and inter-textual determinations’ might be taken to suggest that the social is itself merely discursive and textual; such a position (which was probably not Bennett’s, but which his definition did not preclude) would differ from that underlying the present argument. 101 Ibid., p. 71 (rendering ‘consequences’ into the singular). The omission in this quotation is Bennett’s discussion of Marxist theory, as distinct from Marxist criticism. For the sake of convenience and clarity, I have focused on Bennett’s discussion of criticism; but his remarks about theory were entirely of a piece. The concern of theory, he observed here, is ‘to analyse the determinations which are operative in the processes whereby meanings are produced in relation to textual phenomena’. This displays precisely the problem to which I am drawing attention: ‘meanings are produced’, but ‘textual phenomena’ are givens or premises—in effect, pre-existent raw materials to which meanings are assigned. 102 See for instance ibid., pp. 75–6, where in the very act of arguing against ‘the concept of the ‘‘text itself’’‘, Bennett unwittingly invoked that very concept; also pp. 72, 74–5. 103 Admittedly, Bennett wrote at one point that reading formations have the effect of ‘shaping’ a text ‘in the historically concrete forms in which it is available as a text-to-beread’, and a little later that ‘texts are material phenomena’ (ibid., pp. 72, 75). Yet if this was meant to allude to such processes as physical canonisation, it is remarkable that this was nowhere stated in the essay. The ironic result is that Bennett emerges as less ‘Marxist’ than McGann; for McGann’s ‘secondary moments of textual production and reproduction’ (see n.98 above) refer precisely to the physical production of texts in their material form as books, whereas Bennett’s ‘reading formations’ pertain in effect to the consumption of these material objects. 104 ‘Inquiry’ and ‘intervention’ refer to Bennett’s categories of theory and criticism respectively: cf. n.101 above. 105 This structure is exhibited in less explicit form by many other formulations, for instance those of LaCapra (1980, p. 261), Fish (above, at n.70), Heidegger and de Man (nn.94-5 above). 106 Note that Foucault’s ‘archaeology’ (Foucault, 1972), while breaking such continuities, did not challenge textuality; on the contrary, texts were precisely its raw material. Cf. further n.167 below. 107 Heidegger (1962), pp. 102–7. 100

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necessarily entails an act of appropriation, a putting-to-use in what is always a new context—of which the Thomist appropriation of Aristotle offers a striking example.108 But it is equally intrinsic to such appropriation that it is self-oblivious: the textuality that it confers on an object is projected into that object, and is seen as inhering therein. And to the extent that this really happens, textuality is indeed real.109 Thus Aristotle-for-the-schoolmen (to continue with this example), although entirely virtual and textual, was nevertheless a very real part of the medieval cultural world. Seen from our own day, such a case as Aristotle-for-the-schoolmen may be described, adapting Oakeshott’s language, as a former practical past.110 Any such former practical past was an aspect of what is now the historical past, that is, the past which has passed. And in that historical past the given former practical past was as real as life itself. Secondly, the apparent integrity of the canonical chain is in fact conferred retrospectively, selectively, and to a degree arbitrarily. The continuity of the chain, the definition of what are to count as its constituent ‘links’, the closure which seals these ‘links’ into their place within the chain—all these are, necessarily, retrospective constructs. One indication of this arbitrary and retrospective character of canonical chains is the fact that despite their durability, canons turn out to be historically mutable. This is familiar enough with respect to the literary canon, and indeed is unsurprising in that context, in view of such considerations as the politics of gender, changes in taste, and the shifting institutional setting of literary criticism.111 So too the question as to what comprises ‘the’ Western philosophical canon is a repeatedly-contested issue, marked for instance by pronounced divisions between different national cultures.112 Further, the very distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘philosophical’ canons is proving increasingly difficult to sustain.113 But the point has a still wider relevance, as can be illustrated by considering some of the implications of Shapin and Schaffer’s seminal Leviathan and the Air-Pump.114 Until that book appeared in 1985, the canonised ‘Hobbes’ was a major figure in the ‘history of political thought’, but played no part in the ‘history of science’; while the canonised ‘Boyle’ was prominent in the ‘history of science’, but absent from the ‘history of political thought’. These two canonised figures were blissfully ignorant of each other’s existence—though neither of them suffered from this solitude, for each had his own allies and enemies, his own canonical companions in love and hate. But Shapin and Schaffer entirely reconstructed these canonical relations, and this in a twofold way. Not only did they position Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle together, through a reconstruction of their active and heated exchanges in the 1660s. More than this, Leviathan and the Air-Pump also depicted a Hobbes and a Boyle who for all their deep disagreements shared one premise which divided both of them from their respective subsequent canonisations: namely that ‘political’ and ‘natural’ philosophies were conjoined at their very heart and basis. This not only shakes the canonical identities of ‘Hobbes’ and


‘Boyle’—identities which had been stable for about two centuries;115 it also puts in question the identities of the respective canons themselves. To summarise: At first glance, textuality appears to inhere in the elements which comprise canonical chains. Yet the very solidity of this appearance arises precisely from the fact that the individual ‘texts’ are viewed in their preassigned places as links in the canonical chain. And the canonical chain is itself a retrospective construct which performs some specific cultural work. The phenomenon of canons-and-traditions leads us to the associated theme of disciplines. For the academic discipline is precisely the modern embodiment of such traditions; and it is specifically for a discipline that a canon has reality. Now while every discipline constructs for itself a canonical lineage, there are certain disciplines whose very existence consists in the interpretation of a textual canon: most notably literary criticism, hermeneutics, and the history of ideas. These disciplines, therefore—the hermeneuticocanonical disciplines, as we may call them—take texts in their textuality as their very objects; and this has several consequences which are germane to my theme. First, it is intelligible that (as we saw at the outset) it was from just these disciplinary sites, especially from literary criticism, that the contemporary figure of the text arose. For these disciplines deploy the very mode of apprehension which is embodied in that figure. Their material consists of canonical texts; their object is the verbal content of these texts; and they apprehend that object as (in the words of Proposition 4) ‘the actual presence of the past’. This constitution of the textual object, then, comprises what can be called the hermeneutico-canonical perspective—that is, in Heidegger’s language, the interpretative fore-having (Vorhabe) which characterizes the hermeneutico-canonical disciplines. The figure of the text is neither more nor less than the condensation and congealment of this perspective.116 And the wider application of that figure, first as the designation of the written and then to denote ‘any cultural object of investigation’,117 is the projection of the hermeneutico-canonical perspective onto the domain of the real.118 Second, while all of these disciplines are in some measure— some of them in considerable measure—concerned with the past, their focus is specifically upon (in Oakeshott’s formulation) the ‘practical past’, that is, the past that is present. The contrast, of course, is with the discipline of history, Geschichte, whose dominant orientation is towards the ‘historical past’, the past that has passed. This disparity is by no means absolute, for it can be and is elided in many ways: for instance, some historians are in fact oriented to the ‘practical past’;119 some species of literary criticism are radically historicist; and the practical past can itself be apprehended along a variety of different lines, for instance stressing its chronological ordering to a greater or lesser degree.120 Further, as we are about to see, the tension between the practical past and the historical past

108 Some further, modern examples emerge in Watson (1993), Livingston (1993), and associated papers in the Journal of the History of Philosophy 31. This exchange, especially Watson’s paper, beautifully brings out the selective and reconstructive nature of such ‘historical’ appropriations. Cf. above, at n.60. 109 This is precisely analogous to the fetishistic character of commodities as construed by Marx. Commodities can only be commodities by being assigned an objective quality; they do indeed possess this quality; but they possess it precisely through the self-oblivion of the very act which assigns it to them. 110 Oakeshott (1983, pp. 38–9) gives the example of Livy-for-Machiavelli, though without distinguishing this as a former (rather than present) practical past. 111 See for instance, from a now substantial literature, Kermode (1983), Eagleton (1984), Spender (1986), McCrea (1990), Guillory (1993); and, for a counterblast to Guillory, Bloom (1994). 112 See Margolis (1993) and also associated essays in The Monist 76 (1993), pp. 421–93. 113 See for instance Ricoeur (1984-88), Cascardi (ed.) (1987), Gadamer (1975), Bruns (1992); and the works cited in n.27 above. 114 Shapin & Schaffer (1985). 115 Simon Schaffer tells me that the latest instance he could discover of Boyle and Hobbes being coupled together was in the 1760s. Their identities as canonical figures arose from the publication of their collected works, dating from the 1750s-’70s and the 1820s-’40s respectively. 116 Cf. n.16 above. 117 Above, at n.7. 118 Barthes, however, presented this in very different terms, as the realisation of a new interdisciplinarity: Barthes (1971, pp. 69–70, 1977), pp. 155–6. 119 For example Lowenthal (n.64 above). 120 Thus Bloom (1994), while specifically concerned with the past, deliberately eschews a chronological organization, placing Shakespeare before Chaucer and Dante. Notice that this move, which would be meaningless with reference to the historical past, makes perfect sense as a way of treating the practical past.


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as objects of study is expressed in various ways, according to its disciplinary sites. Nevertheless this distinction captures the fundamental axis of difference between history on the one hand and the hermeneutico-canonical disciplines on the other. Third, it is precisely at the intersection between hermeneutico-canonical and historical orientations, and between the practical past and the historical past as objects of study, that the historiography of science is situated.121 For although this discipline has largely broken the bounds of the textual focus with which it began, so that it now takes in such themes as institutions and practices, laboratories and experiments, networks and interests, it nevertheless retains an orientation to a textual canon. The canon may expand to include, for example, Newton’s alchemical and scriptural studies, yet it retains a stable core in the Principia and the Optics; to no small extent we read (say) Darwin’s notebooks in order to illuminate (say) The Origin of Species; and while we can now see Galileo the courtier, we have by no means forgotten—nor should we—Galileo the author.122 Hence the fact that even such a contextualist, revisionist and practice-oriented work as Leviathan and the Air-Pump is concerned not only with (to quote its subtitle) the experimental life but also with the canonical authors Hobbes and Boyle. Hence too the fact that Latour’s Science in Action is framed within the rhetorical analysis of scientific writings, conceived precisely as texts; or again the fact that Jardine’s The Scenes of Inquiry takes Gadamer’s hermeneutics as a central point of reference.123 In short, although the historiography of science is no longer inscribed within the orbit of canonicity (as it originally was, for instance with Whewell),124 canonicity is inescapably inscribed within the historiography of science. The reason for this has been well put by Shapin: the discipline ‘as it has been, presently is, and likely will remain’ derives its identity and its discursive authority from its focus upon such canonical figures as Newton, apprehended specifically and selectively as contributorsto-the-tradition-of-science.125 That is to say, the discipline is irreducibly anchored in the study of specific traditions and of their canonical achievements—achievements which are for the most part embodied precisely in canonical texts. What is perhaps remarkable about the historiography of science is that it manages to combine hermeneutico-canonical and historical orientations in a more or less peaceful coexistence. Finally, and in sharp contrast, there is one particular hermeneutico-canonical discipline which has actually constituted itself in explicit opposition to the discipline of history: namely Hermeneutik (hermeneutics) itself. For it was specifically Geschichte (that is, history, histoire, storia) which Dilthey constructed as the Other for his Hermeneutik. Indeed, at the level of substance this antithesis began still earlier, with Droysen’s Historik of the 1850s; for while Droysen was explicitly concerned with the methods of Geschichte, he effectively conceived Geschichte as Hermeneutik, in opposition to Ranke’s objectivist conception of 121

historical knowledge.126 And just as this opposition to Rankean Geschichte stretched back from Dilthey to Droysen, so too it has extended forwards from Dilthey to Gadamer and Jauss.127 This particular disciplinary gulf therefore merits special attention, as the site where the tension between the practical past and the historical past as objects of study has become most manifest. The hermeneutic critique of historiography is threefold. In the first place, history characteristically posits and perpetuates a rupture between past and present, whereas the concern of hermeneutics is to bridge between them. As Droysen put it, in a remark which Jauss has quoted with approval: That which was, does not interest us because it was, but because in a certain sense it still is, in that it is still effective because it stands in the total context of things which we call the historical, i.e., moral world, the moral cosmos.128 One might gloss this as saying that the historical past has to be assimilated to the practical past in order to be real. Second, and relatedly, historiography only seeks to attain an Erklarung, that is, a detached knowledge of the past, whereas the form of knowledge which hermeneutics seeks is Verstehen, an understanding which comprises an encounter of mind with mind through what are conceived as the products of mind. Third, spokesmen for hermeneutics have repeatedly made magisterial claims to the effect that hermeneutics provides the necessary foundation for any historical method.129 Gadamer himself, true both to his own tradition and to his own originality, has repeated this argument in a particularly interesting form,130 and so in his turn has Jauss.131 It is this foundational claim which is especially significant; for whereas the other aspects of the hermeneutic critique express what is ultimately a matter of preference, this claim consigns Geschichte to a subordinate place and installs Hermeneutik as the master-discipline. The basis of this argument can be summarised as follows. Hermeneutics is by definition that ‘science of interpretation’ which studies what is entailed in the very act of interpretation: namely a reciprocal transaction between the interpreter and the object of interpretation, a transaction which necessarily engages the present being and situation of the interpreter as one of the terms of this exchange. And historical knowledge rests precisely upon interpretation and is grounded in the specific position of the interpreter, that is to say in the historian’s situation in the present. In short, historical knowledge is posited upon just that act (the act of interpretation) and just that encounter (between the present and the past) of which hermeneutics is the systematic study; and thus Geschichte rests upon Hermeneutik. Yet historians, particularly historians in the Anglophone tradition, have remained singularly unmoved by these arguments; indeed, they have effectively ignored them.132 And to the extent that they have sought a rationale for their own interpretative practices at all, they have consistently tied themselves to the

It is this, as much as technical considerations, which accounts for the longstanding and persistent separation between the historiography of science and Geschichte at large. Cf. Porter (1990), Jardine (1991), p. 130; Wilson (1993a), pp. 30–1. Biagioli (1993). 123 Latour (1987), chap. 1 and passim; Jardine (1991), pp. 68–76. 124 Christie (1993), pp. 397–8. Cf. Cantor (1991), Laudan (1993). 125 Shapin (1992), p. 347. Shapin’s wider argument, that the figures of inner and outer are in practice inescapable for the historiography of science, points in the same direction. 126 Gadamer (1975), pp. 212–18, particularly pp. 216–18; White (1973), pp. 270–3; MacLean (1982), Schleier (1990), pp. pp. 112–16; Southard (1995). 127 The apparent exception is Paul Ricoeur, who treats Geschichte with far more respect: see particularly Ricoeur (1984-88), vols. i and iii. Accordingly, Ricoeur marginalises the conflict between Geschichte and Hermeneutik, preferring to assimilate them to one another. But the effect of this elision is to leave the hermeneutic critique intact; moreover, as it turns out, the terms on which Ricoeur assimilates the two favour Hermeneutik over Geschichte (see n.153 below). 128 J.G. Droysen, Historik, quoted in Jauss (1982), p. 59 (for citation see n.24, p. 202); MacLean (1982), p. 354 n.23. 129 See for instance Dilthey (1900), Heidegger (1962), p. 450; Ermarth (1978), pp. 245, 264; Gadamer (1976), pp. 11–12; Bleicher (1980). 130 Gadamer (1975), pp. 335–41: this argument culminates in positing ‘the text’ as ‘the universal’. The passage is considered by Hoy (1978), pp. 146–60. 131 Jauss (1982), chap. 2 (pp. 46–75). 132 For example, there is no mention of hermeneutics, nor of Droysen, Dilthey or Gadamer, in Tosh (1992). Hermeneutics was not discussed in Elton (1967), and received only a brief and brutal dismissal in Elton (1991), pp. 29–30; see further n.157 below. Nevertheless it is significant that hermeneutics appeared on Elton’s map in 1991; cf. also Marwick (1989), p. 289. This shift probably results from the assimilation of hermeneutics by the social sciences in the 1980s: see below, at n.136. 122

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source-critical methods associated particularly with Ranke—who has served precisely as the central target for the hermeneutic critique.133 These two disciplinary traditions, then, are agreed only in taking Ranke as an emblematic figure, attaching opposite valuations to that figure.134 The indifference of historians to the hermeneutic challenge works de facto to confound the hegemonic claims which have emanated from hermeneutics; yet it has to be remarked that historians have yet to produce a theorised refutation of those claims.135 This dialogue of the deaf, curious enough in itself, becomes still more striking now that hermeneutics has—since about 1980—acquired a serious reception in the social sciences.136 The radical disparity between these two perspectives becomes intelligible in the light of the understanding of textuality developed here, allied to Oakeshott’s distinction between the practical past and the historical past. As we have seen with respect to Gadamer and Jauss, hermeneutics has concentrated on the study of canonical texts, without however problematising their textuality. Both the choice of this object and the failure to thematise that choice are bound up with the conception of knowledge which hermeneutics deploys, a conception radically different from that which animates historiography. For Hermeneutik, knowing is the knowing of meaning, which entails that the knower is in the presence of the known. The object of knowledge, then, can only be the ‘practical past’, the past which is present, for it is this and this alone which could have meaning, which could (as Droysen put it) ‘interest us’. For Geschichte, in contrast, knowing is the recovering of actions and events, of that which occurred, that is, in Ranke’s phrase, what actually happened, eigentlich gewesen.137 Here the object of knowledge is defined and circumscribed by the past tense of its verb (happened, gewesen);138 the concern of Geschichte, then, is with the ‘historical past’, the past that has passed. It is precisely for this reason that historians typically deploy such figures as ‘document’ and ‘record’ (which invoke the historical past itself), or ‘source’ and ‘evidence’ (which invoke the act of discovering that past), rather than the figure of the ‘text’ (which invokes the practical past as against the historical past, the act of interpretation as distinct from the act of discovering). What gives bite to the hermeneutic challenge is the fact that the very use of the past tense implies and yet conceals the figure of the present. Indeed, it might be said that the perennial disagreements of historians over the significance of the present in the knowing of the past reflect a collective discomfort which is inherent in their enterprise.139 This aporetic quality of the figure of the present in historiographic discourse indicates that Geschichte has much to learn


from Hermeneutik. The same is suggested by the fact that the figures of ‘document’,140 ‘record’, ‘source’ and ‘evidence’, so ubiquitously deployed and so necessary for the historian’s task, nevertheless remain—like the very different figure of the text—untheorized. Thus the figure of the document and its kindred might well be interrogated along lines analogous to those followed here in examining the figure of the text. On the other hand, against the hermeneutic critique it must be observed that a tradition that has yet to grasp the nature of its own underlying Vorhabe141 is scarcely justified in ascribing to itself the founding status which it has claimed. Further, Hermeneutik in its turn has more to learn from Geschichte than has yet been acknowledged. For the practical past, in its textualised form as in any other, is a residue of the historical past, or in other words, the is that has survived implies a was that has not; and it is Geschichte which sets itself the task of reconstructing that historical past, the pastwhich-has-passed. Thus the very premise of that which Hermeneutik strives to know is that which Geschichte strives to know. One might sum up this point, and the implications of this section as a whole, by saying that it is precisely in canons and traditions that the historical past and the practical past are conjoined. What this might mean concretely—particularly for the historiography of science and medicine—will emerge in the next and final section, where I shall examine more closely the antinomy between Hermeneutik and Geschichte, as refracted through a specific and unique confrontation from the fairly recent past. 6. Hermeneutics versus history Although what I am calling the hermeneutic challenge has been ignored by historians, it happens that there took place in 1985/ 1991 a contest in print which was concerned with the very themes of that challenge. One of the many ironies of this little battle was that neither of the combatants noticed that their differences precisely mirrored the longstanding gulf between Hermeneutik and Geschichte. Indeed, in this and other respects the exchange served chiefly to perpetuate and extend the mutual incomprehension of the two approaches. Nevertheless it will be fruitful to examine that exchange, both because its very aporiai illustrate what is at stake here, and because it will lead us to a practical version of the question at hand. The two participants in this micro-debate were Dominick LaCapra, writing in 1985, and Geoffrey Elton, lecturing in 1990.142 Both protagonists were reiterating and extending arguments which they

133 Ermarth (1978), passim, e.g. pp. 58, 311; Gadamer (1975), passim, e.g. pp. 211, 262; Jauss (1982), p. 8. Some historians pledge allegiance to source-criticism (for instance Marc Bloch, Kitson Clark, G.R. Elton, E.P. Thompson); others (for example, Herbert Butterfield, E.H. Carr, J.H. Hexter) eschew or marginalise it, treating the historian’s raw material as ‘facts’, ‘data’ or ‘records’ rather than as ‘sources’ or ‘evidence’; both groups have however ignored hermeneutics. For a survey of historians’ proclaimed approaches, see Wilson (1993b). 134 Thus Ranke has far more citations than any other author in Tosh (1992). In Marwick (1989), Ranke has just one close rival as to citations—namely Marc Bloch, who was also an enthusiast for source-criticism. See Bloch (1954), pp. 50–57, 66–75, 91–113. 135 So far as I am aware, only a few attempts have been made to connect the two traditions: one from a legal historian (Emilio Betti), two from adherents of hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoeur) and one from a philosopher (Alex Callinicos). See Bleicher (1980), pp. 51–94, at pp. 83–4; Gadamer (1975), pp. 335–41 (cf. above, at n.130); Ricoeur (1965), pp. 21–40; Ricoeur (1981), chap. 11; Ricoeur (1984-88), vol. iii, pp. 304, 305–6 (and see further n.153 below); Callinicos (1995), pp. 88–90. At a less explicit level, however, two of the seminal works of the Anglophone philosophy of history can be seen as sites of intersection between Hermeneutik and Geschichte: Bradley (1874) and Collingwood (1946). 136 However, cf. n.132 above. For hermeneutics and the social sciences see Bleicher (1980), Ricoeur (1981), Thompson (1981), Giddens (1984), pp. 327–34; Hekman (1986), Habermas (1987), Outhwaite (1987), Heller (1989) and cf. Wilson (1993a), p. 55. 137 Cf. above, at n.57. 138 Cf. Christie (1987a), p. 9. 139 Some historians (amongst them the author of this paper) have depicted the historian’s position-in-the-present merely as an obstacle to understanding, which is at best a onesided treatment of the matter: see for instance Butterfield (1931), Wilson & Ashplant (1988), Elton (1991), p. 65. Others have striven to assign a positive role to the historian’s present embeddedness, but the terms in which they have formulated this have been so varied and haphazard as to yield no coherent picture. Examples of such efforts include Bloch’s invocation of the historian’s personal experience (discussed rather inconclusively by Oakeshott); Collingwood’s re-enactment doctrine (which has been demolished by Ricoeur); Hexter’s concept of the historian’s ‘second record’; Carr’s dialogue-between-past-and-present (on which I have commented elsewhere) and his notion of selection. See Bloch (1954), p. 44; Collingwood (1946), pp. 282–302; Hexter (1972), pp. 102–44; Carr (1964), Oakeshott (1983), pp. 68–9; Ricoeur (1984-88), vol. iii, pp. 144–7; Wilson (1993b), p. 55 n.38. 140 The figure of the ‘document’ also has a different and technical use in ethnomethodology; but here I am referring only to its invocation in historiography. 141 See above, at n.83 onwards. 142 LaCapra (1985), pp. 136–8; Elton (1991), pp. 60–1.


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had published before this time. Elton had first set out his approach to historical inference in his The Practice of History of 1967, and had developed it further in subsequent books which appeared in 1970 and 1983.143 LaCapra, a generation younger than Elton, began to advance his own methodological arguments in a paper of 1980, which was reprinted in 1982 (and which I have already had occasion to cite). Initially LaCapra had not brought these ideas into juxtaposition with Elton; instead he had taken as his Other-figure Leopold von Ranke, thus unconsciously repeating a classical stroke of hermeneutic polemic.144 But in his History and Criticism of 1985 LaCapra took the bold step of taking the living author Geoffrey Elton as his target. And it was to this sally that Elton responded during his Cook Lectures, delivered at Michigan in 1990 and printed in his Return to Essentials of 1991. While LaCapra’s own disciplinary anchoring was in ‘intellectual history’, he positioned his approach with reference to literary criticism—whence his title, History and Criticism.145 His target was what he called a ‘documentary model’ of historical knowledge; Elton served him—or rather, a fragment of Elton’s methodological writing taken out of context served him—as an exemplar of this model.146 But even though his account of Elton’s approach was highly misleading,147 LaCapra’s stance towards the ‘documentary model’ in general, and Elton’s version of it in particular, was by no means one of unremitting hostility. On the contrary, he was seeking to promote a ‘union’ between ‘history and criticism’, and in line with this eirenic purpose he acknowledged that the ‘documentary model of knowledge’ had its merits and was even necessary: ‘Indeed’, he explained, ‘I would readily agree with many of [Elton’s] specific rules-of-thumb for teaching and research.’148 Nevertheless LaCapra claimed that this ‘documentary model’ was deficient in three intertwined respects. In the first place, for all its virtues, the model was insufficient even for its own purposes, because it worked to deny in theory and to constrain in practice the irreducible role of the imagination in the constitution of historical knowledge.149 Secondly, the documentary model was quite inadequate for the specific domain of ‘intellectual history’, since the materials of the latter enterprise were not documentary in type. Rather, those materials—that is to say, canonical texts—required a different kind of reading, which LaCapra characterised as a ‘dialogical model of knowledge’.150 Thirdly, and completing this critical circle, the documentary model served in practice to license an uncontrolled and uncritical use of sources, precisely by ignoring the textual qualities of documents themselves—as LaCapra


showed in detail with a penetrating critique of Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms.151 Hence the ‘dialogical model of knowledge’ was necessary not only for intellectual history but even for the interpretation of (as LaCapra put it) ‘documents in the narrow sense of the word’.152 For he argued that documents themselves, in this ‘narrow’ or realist sense, were in fact ‘texts’, and thus required a ‘dialogical’ encounter.153 The counterposed figures of ‘documentary’ and ‘dialogical’ forms of knowledge, and the privileging of the latter, recapitulated the standard themes of the hermeneutic critique. But LaCapra’s argument was distinctive in certain ways, not least in being pitched against living figures such as Ginzburg and Elton. Notice that LaCapra’s picture exemplified once more the present Proposition 3, that is to say, the self-oblivion of the textual construal; for whereas LaCapra sometimes depicted the figure of the document as a construal (and indeed this was one of the major achievements of his book), he consistently took the figure of the text as referring to a real.154 It was precisely this asymmetrical treatment of the two figures which enabled LaCapra to mount his most radical claim: that the ‘dialogical model’ is required even for attaining the purposes of a ‘documentary’ historian such as Elton. On this view, the figure of the document is absorbed by the figure of the text—corresponding of course to the claim that hermeneutics provides the foundation for historiography. When Elton came to respond to LaCapra’s remarks, that is, in the course of his third and final Cook Lecture of 1990, he began by subtly refiguring LaCapra’s argument, and indeed its very terms, in such a way as to eliminate its more radical claims.155 (This reciprocated a move which LaCapra had already performed upon Elton’s own previous writings.156) Elton’s paraphrase assigned a realist significance to the figure of the document—thereby excising LaCapra’s depiction of that figure as a construal, and burying his associated suggestion that the ‘documentary model’ cannot even attain its own purposes.157 And in a complementary move, Elton restricted the reference of the figure of the text to canonical texts. The effect of these strokes was to delimit the scope of LaCapra’s claims, consigning his argument to the particular sphere of the history-of-ideas or ‘intellectual history’. This complex and potent rhetorical work was all achieved by the following dense little summary: Dr. LaCapra . . . maintains that what I have said may apply to documents but is of no relevance to the historian of ideas who uses ‘texts’. What he calls my ‘model of knowledge’ he

Elton (1967), pp. 81–113, e.g. pp. 93, 100, 102, 103, 111; Elton (1970) pp. 73–111; Fogel and Elton (1983), pp. 91–5. LaCapra (1980), p. 273 (1982 reprint, pp. 78–9); cf. above, at n.16. 145 Notice that both ‘intellectual history’ (or history-of-ideas) and literary criticism (in certain of its historicist forms) can be seen as Anglophone cognates of hermeneutics. 146 The book as a whole was not framed around Elton; rather, Elton was specifically invoked as the focus of its conclusion: LaCapra (1985), pp. 135ff. 147 In particular, LaCapra focused upon Elton’s claims for the achievements of ‘historical method’ (ibid., p. 135), referring only allusively to Elton’s account of the method itself (this in the remark quoted immediately below, from p. 136). For some of the consequent ironic elisions see n.151 below. 148 Ibid., p. 136; and similarly p. 138. It was characteristic of the LaCapra-Elton exchange that LaCapra did not specify what any of these sites of agreement actually were. Notice too the figure ‘rules-of-thumb’, which consigned Elton’s methodology to a sub-theoretical status. 149 Ibid., p. 18 and passim. 150 Ibid., p. 36 and onwards. 151 Ginzburg (1980), LaCapra (1985), pp. 45–69. Ironically, LaCapra’s critique of Ginzburg was entirely in keeping with Elton’s precepts: see for instance pp. 62–3. The same was true of his criticisms of le Roy Ladurie and Chevalier (pp. 119, 125–6); on the former, cf. Elton (1991), p. 55. 152 LaCapra (1985), p. 38. 153 Ibid., pp. 38, 141; cf. also pp. 19–20, 126. Paul Ricoeur, too, assimilates the figure of the document to that of the text, though with the very different intent of glossing over the conflict between Hermeneutik and Geschichte (cf. n.135 above). But this eirenic attempt (which proceeds by way of the linking concept of the trace) is unsuccessful, for Ricoeur acknowledges that the alleged ‘equivalence’ between ‘a hermeneutics of texts and a hermeneutics of the historical past’ has to be heavily qualified: it is only ‘partial’, it applies ‘largely’ and ‘with all the necessary reservations’. Strikingly, these ‘reservations’ are left unspecified; thus a work which proceeds by an aporetic method leaves this particular aporia unexamined. See Ricoeur (1983-85), vol. iii, pp. 401–2, 413; translation adapted from that in Ricoeur (1984-88), vol. iii, pp. 221–2, 229. (The fact that Ricoeur uses the phrase ‘the historical past’ is fortuitous, for he does not discuss Oakeshott.) 154 In its concrete reference, nevertheless, the figure of the text had three different meanings in LaCapra (1985). The textual sometimes coincided with the verbal (pp. 21, 128); usually it amounted to the quality of rhetorical efficacy (pp. 19–20, 38, 126, 141); and occasionally it denoted literary texts (p. 129 and n.6). 155 The three lectures, which broadly speaking comprised a riposte to discourse analysis and deconstruction, formed a tightly-constructed unity; amongst the themes I am necessarily suppressing here is the pivotal role which the figure of LaCapra played in this larger and carefully-crafted structure. 156 Cf. n.147 above. Elton gained some polemical mileage by drawing attention to the fact that LaCapra had misrepresented his views, without of course noticing that he was returning this favour. 157 Elton betrayed no awareness that LaCapra’s argument was akin to the hermeneutic critique of historiography: cf. n.132 above. 144

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declares to be ‘necessary but not sufficient for historical research’, and it will not suffice ‘in a field such as intellectual history’.158 Thus the LaCapra-depicted-by-Elton, far from claiming that the ‘dialogical model’ was required even for attaining the purposes of the ‘documentary model’, had adopted a policy of semi-peaceful coexistence—rendering unto Elton the things that were Elton’s, namely document-based historiography. But even this displaced and diluted rendering of LaCapra’s argument did not satisfy Elton himself, who was unwilling to make the reciprocal gesture. On the contrary, Elton now turned the tables on LaCapra: as Elton depicted the matter, in a precise inversion of LaCapra’s argument, the figure of the ‘source’—effectively equivalent to the figure of the document—absorbs the figure of the text. Elton achieved this delicate coup by reiterating and extending the methodological approach for which he had been arguing since the late 1960s. Elton’s methodology comprised a document-genetic version of source-criticism: under this rubric, as he had put it in 1970, ‘the first question’ which historians ‘must ask of all evidence’ is: ‘why and by whom was this material produced?’.159 Elton now took the further step of portraying the ‘history of ideas’ as falling within this rubric. In riposte to LaCapra, or rather, to his own refiguration of LaCapra, he asserted (with my emphases): The error here lies first and foremost in the failure to realize that the sources used by the historian of ideas are like all other historical sources inasmuch as they were produced in the past, survive into the present, and require instructed analysis before they can be understood and used . . . The specific techniques involved in understanding them may well be peculiar to themselves, even as the techniques for correctly understanding private letters differ markedly from those needed to comprehend legal proceedings or archaeological finds. Yet the same basic rules—the questions how and why they came into existence—apply to them all equally.160 In effect Elton thus mounted the novel claim that it is Geschichte which provides the foundation for Hermeneutik, rather than the other way around. On this view, his own methodology bridged the divide between the hermeneutico-canonical and historiographic disciplines, in such a way as to install history as the dominant partner. Within the frame of Elton’s rhetoric, then, the creative synthesis for which LaCapra had been striving had been realised in an entirely ironic form. Now the concept of textuality developed here offers a different perspective on Elton’s picture, and indeed upon the LaCapra-Elton exchange as a whole. In order to make this point it will help to have an example (for Elton, perhaps significantly, did not offer any); I shall use Locke, who was mentioned earlier, and specifically ‘Locke’ the political theorist, author of the Two Treatises of Government.161



We may take it that Elton’s formulation requires us to see Locke’s Two Treatises as responding to (for instance) the conjunctures of the 1679-80 Exclusion Crisis in which they were written, and the Revolution of 1688 which led to their publication.162 Translated into this concrete case, then, Elton’s claim would be that the Two Treatises were generated by these specific historical contexts, and by Locke’s particular insertion within those contexts (for instance, his own political allegiance and discursive framework); and that it is this context-of-genesis into which the historian must first of all enquire. But on the present argument, the Exclusion Crisis and the Revolution were only the beginning of the context-of-genesis of what we read as Locke’s Two Treatises. For in fact we encounter the Two Treatises (or any other canonical work) specifically in the form of a text: that is, the Two Treatises are profoundly enmeshed in textuality before they reach us, and indeed it is only in that condition that they can ‘reach us’ at all. More particularly, as James Tully has observed of the Two Treatises:163 It is now well known that Locke’s immediate audience received his work predominantly with silence and, when [they] noted [it], with abuse. The first point at which it became an important element in an English political movement was in the early nineteenth century. Locke was read as the father of modern socialism . . . The second major wave of interpretation is the liberal one, which can be said to have been securely established in the 1930s . . . Thus the virtual author whom we call ‘Locke’-the-political-theorist, embodied in the textuality of the Two Treatises, was constructed by a complex intervening tradition whose most important moments began over a century after the death (1704) of the mortal being named John Locke. It is precisely as a result of this tradition that— as our unreflective use of language revealingly puts it—‘we read Locke’ today, and that Locke’s Two Treatises are available for reading in the form of modern editions. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the works of any and every canonical author.164 Hence the context-of-genesis of the Two Treatises—that which Elton’s formulation would require us to reconstruct—is not confined to 1679, to 1688, to Locke’s lifetime. Rather, that contextof-genesis necessarily includes the ‘context’ which generated their twentieth-century textuality. Thus to reconstruct the genesis of the Two Treatises would entail attending not only to the setting of Locke’s actions but also to the entire intervening tradition which has deposited the Two Treatises upon our own bookshelves. Furthermore, since this tradition by definition extends inclusively to the present day, this radically enlarged definition of ‘context’ would also include a reflexive moment.165 Seen from this standpoint, Elton and LaCapra were in hidden and ironic agreement; for each of them was suppressing just this point, though they achieved this shared effect in complementary ways. (a) By assimilating canonical texts to ‘sources’,166 by describ-

Elton (1991), pp. 59–60. Elton (1970), p. 88; notice here the figure of ‘evidence’, implicitly construed as a real. On the relationship between Elton’s methodology and traditional source-criticism see Wilson (1993b), pp. 301–11, particularly pp. 304, 309. 160 Elton (1991), p. 60. Significantly, Elton did not at this point invoke the one historian of ideas whose work he had endorsed, for a different polemical purpose, in his previous lecture: Quentin Skinner. Had Elton cited Skinner here, he would have been faced with a series of embarrassments, for Skinner deploys the figure of the text, not the document or source; he works to reconstruct contexts of utterance, not contexts of genesis; he has never aligned himself with Elton’s method; and on the contrary, his approach rests upon the speech-act theory of J. L. Austin, whereas Elton consistently resisted any recourse to present theories in the interpretation of past materials. Hence, perhaps, the fact that soon after praising Skinner’s substantive work, Elton had subtly distanced himself from Skinner’s theorizing—as if in preparation for the move in Lecture 3 which I am considering. See Elton (1991), pp. 37–8, 42, 63, 65; Austin (1962), Skinner (1969), Skinner (1988). 161 See above, at n.45. 162 Laslett (1960). 163 Tully (1993), pp. 96–7. Tully goes on to depict two further and subsequent ‘Whig’ interpretations, as well as a fifth school to which his own work belongs; the latter is associated with Skinner’s approach, on which cf. n.160 above. 164 Hobbes and Boyle offer further examples: cf. n.115 above. 165 All this converges with Gadamer—particularly his stress on tradition and on the hermeneutic Vorentwurf—but from a non-Gadamerian angle; cf. Gadamer (1975), Gadamer (1976). 166 As I too have done, in a different way: Wilson (1993b), p. 327 n.14. 159


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ing these as ‘produced in the past’, and by means of the deceptively simple phrase ‘survive into the present’,167 Elton assigned the genesis of such texts solely to their contexts of first origin.168 Relatedly, he treated the figure of the source in turn as a natural kind—eliding the role of the historian in constituting remains-of-the-past as sources, and thereby fixing the figure of the source in its requisite temporal locus, that is, within the past-to-be-studied. The result of these moves was to suppress the distinctive character of the canonical text, and so to erase the role of intervening tradition—which is precisely what constitutes canonical texts, assigning them the very property of textuality. (b) In contrast, LaCapra rightly distinguished between the figure of the text and the figure of the document; and indeed he went still further, by noticing from time to time that the figure of the document is itself a construal. Here, however, his approach reached its limit, for he treated the figure of the text as a natural kind—just as Elton treated the figure of the ‘source’. The effect of this move was again to elide the historical origins of textuality; but LaCapra’s elision worked in the opposite direction to Elton’s. One might say, drawing once more on Oakeshott’s conception, that Elton had collapsed the practical past into the historical past, and that LaCapra had performed the complementary manoeuvre. It thus emerges that the very space which separates LaCapra’s conception from Elton’s—and more broadly, which divides hermeneutics from historiography—holds out the prospect of uniting them, of comprising the ground upon which they might meet. For what we have just seen is that textuality, being a historical product, can be taken as a historical explanandum. In the history of science, this would entail reconstructing (for instance) those processes of transmutation which turned ‘the Honorable Robert Boyle’ into ‘Boyle’, the not-so-honourable Thomas Hobbes into ‘Hobbes’; which separated these two figures from each other, assigned them new companions, installed them as members of distinct disciplinary families; in short, which conferred upon them those mantles of canonical identity in which we encounter them today.169 The same applies in the allied field of the history of medicine, where canonisation also invites reconstruction. Consider for instance the figure of ‘Sydenham’, to be distinguished of course from the bodily Thomas Sydenham who died in 1689. The virtual author ‘Sydenham’, perhaps first constructed by Herman Boerhaave,170 has a history of his own, a history which largely remains to be written. By the 1750s that history would already take us not only to Boerhaave’s Leyden but also to Sauvages’s Montpellier, to the Edinburgh of Monro primus, to the Lichfield and London of Drs Swan and Johnson, to Huxham’s Plymouth, and doubtless to many other places besides.171 Yet this would only be the beginning: we would have to traverse further distances, crossing the threshold of la clinique and reaching the two Sydenham Societies of nineteenth-century Britain, in order to reconstruct that textualisation of ‘Sydenham’ which installed him in medical history’s pantheon, conferring the quality of timeless presence which—paradoxically—makes him and his works an object of historical knowledge today. What we might envisage, then—for the history of science and medicine just as for the history of ideas, for Boyle and for Sydenham just as for Hobbes and for Locke—is the project of writing

the history of canonisation itself. Such a historiography, which has already been undertaken for the English literary canon,172 would necessarily employ the methods of both Hermeneutik and Geschichte. And while grounded in particular cases, it could also extend to the phenomenon of textuality as such, reflexively embracing the history of the canonically-based disciplines themselves.173 An inquiry of this kind would pose anew, concretely and historically, the question: what is a text? Acknowledgments For help with this paper I thank Marina Benjamin, Mike Beaney, John Forrester, Richard Francks, Graeme Gooday, Mark Jenner, Chris Kenny, Sharon Macdonald, Peter Millican, Gregory Radick, Simon Schaffer, Jamie Stark, Roger White, and a reader for Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. I am particularly indebted to John Christie, Marina Frasca Spada and Nick Jardine, for a wealth of advice which has enriched the argument in many ways. All errors are my own responsibility. References Austin, J. L. (1962). In J. O. Urmson (Ed.), How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Banfield, A. (1985). Écriture, narration and the grammar of French. In J. Hawthorn (Ed.), Narrative from Malory to motion pictures (pp. 1–22). London: Edward Arnold. Barthes, R. (1968) La mort de l’auteur, reprinted in Barthes (1984), pp. 61–67; transl. as The death of the author, in Barthes (1977), pp. 142–148. Barthes, R. (1971) De l’oeuvre au texte, reprinted in Barthes (1984), pp. 69–77; transl. as From work to text, in Barthes (1977), pp. 155–164. Barthes, R. (1977). Image music text (Transl. S. Heath). London: Fontana/Collins. Barthes, R. (1984). Le bruissement de la langue. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Benjamin, A. E., Cantor, G. N., & Christie, J. R. R. (Eds.). (1987). The figural and the literal: Problems of language in the history of science and philosophy, 1630–1800. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Bennett, T. (1987). Texts in history: The determinations of readings and their texts. In D. Attridge, G. Bennington, & R. Young (Eds.), Post-structuralism and the question of history (pp. 63–81). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bennett, T. (1990). Outside literature. London: Routledge. Biagioli, M. (1993). Galileo, courtier: The practice of science in the culture of absolutism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Biriotti, M., & Miller, N. (Eds.). (1993). What is an author? Manchester: Manchester University Press. Bleicher, J. (1980). Contemporary hermeneutics: Hermeneutics as method, philosophy and critique. London: Routledge. Bloch, M. (1954). The historian’s craft (French original 1949) (Transl. P. Putnam). Manchester: Manchester University Press. Bloom, H. (1994). The Western Canon: The books and school of the ages. New York: Harcourt Brace. Booth, W. C. (1961). The rhetoric of fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Booth, W. C. (1979). Critical understanding: The powers and limits of pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Booth, W. C. (1988). The company we keep: An ethics of fiction. Berkely: University of California Press. Bradley, F. H. (1874). The presuppositions of critical history. Oxford: Parker. Brannigan, A. (1981). The social basis of scientific discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brewer, J. G. (1973). The literature of geography: A guide to its organisation and use. London: Clive Bingley. Bruns, G. L. (1992). Hermeneutics ancient and modern. New Haven: Yale University Press. Burke, S. (1992). The death and return of the author: Criticism and subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

167 Compare the use of ‘transmitted’ by Gadamer, or by his translators (n.84 above), which made the same elision but to a very different purpose. Yet another version of this elision, again with its own distinctive rhetorical work to perform, was made by Foucault with respect to ‘the statement’ (l’énoncé), the basic unit of analysis for his ‘archaeology’. Formulating the ‘survival in time’ of the statement as what he called its ‘remanence’, Foucault asserted that ‘remanence is of the nature of the statement’: see Foucault (1972), p. 124. This confirms, if confirmation were needed, that canonical texts were the materials for ‘archaeology’ (cf. n.106 above); note also that the figure of the énoncé assimilated the written to the spoken. 168 Compare, ironically enough, Bennett’s ‘originating conditions of a text’s production’ (above, at n.98). 169 Cf. Jardine (1991), pp. 130–45, and see Graham et al. (eds.) (1983). 170 Cunningham (1990), pp. 40–66, at pp. 47–50. 171 See for example Lawrence (1985), p. 155; Cunningham (1989), Cunningham (1990), Martin (1990). 172 Cf. n.111 above. 173 This can be seen as a ‘longue-durée’ aspect of the ‘knowledge in transit’ programme, for which see Secord (2004).

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