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2. Causal Orientation

The idea of an authorial orientation became a particularly controversial editorial approach in the 1980s. By renaming it the causal orientation we wish to focus attention on the personal involvement of all agents of textual change. Unlike the material or temporal, the causal orientation focuses attention on the author and on other persons involved in the writing, revising, and production of texts. In determining who "did the text" and by what authority the text was created or changed, the documents are treated as merely the surviving evidence and the "moment in time" as a mere concept about a finished product's "moment of completion"—both used to help address the question of textual integrity. Literary works are intentional creations, using the medium of writing in attempts to achieve desired goals. The causal orientation's focus on human action usually acknowledges human fallibility and often seeks ways to identify and mitigate the results of fallibility. However, this orientation also has a rich tradition of facing the pitfalls awaiting those who try to identify and emend lapses in "intentions." And yet, no one disputes that authors and others have or had intentions. Nor does anyone dispute that intentions have physical and lexical consequences in the inscription or transmission of texts. The problem is that the evidence pointing to intention is almost always problematic because speculation about it is difficult and often impossible to verify beyond dispute.

One way to avoid the appearance of attempting the impossible is to shift the emphasis from intentions to effects. Asking "what difference is made by the change?" seems more accessible and may initially seem superior to asking "what


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was the intention of the person(s) who made the change?" This shift in emphasis postpones or avoids the question, "whose intentions are being considered—whether the author's, the publisher's, or the reader's and editor's?" The shift also goes well with a second way to avoid the pursuit of intention, which is to say that the work we are really interested in is the product of a social collaboration and so we do not need to distinguish editorially between flawed and intended texts. The important issue is that a social complex was involved.

On the other hand, "effects of the change" is also ambiguous. If effect refers to how a reader is affected by the change, then the same problem attends assessments of the effects of textual changes as that which troubles the pursuit of intentions, for though a scholar can vouch for the effects a change has on himself or herself, it is difficult to verify that these effects were perceived or felt by other readers. For our purposes, "intention" is restricted to the intention to make a textual change, and "effect" is taken to mean the resulting textual changes—both evidenced by marks on a document and variants in inscriptions. Editors do provide narrative explanations for the effected change, and readers can dispute those explanations. It is important that textual critics restrict their speculation about intentions to the interpretation of ambiguous or illegible or highly improbable inscriptions. For the textual critic, it is a question about what the author intended the text to be—what mark was intended to be inscribed. It is not about what the author intended the text to mean or how the author intended the text to succeed—though, of course, it is impossible to separate completely the questions of what the text is from what the text means. Textual critics agree with literary critics that intentions to mean or intentions to affect are both beyond our ability to recover indisputably; and, even if we could recover them, they would not restrict our own exercise of critical judgment about the success of such intentions.

The causal orientation divides into two subsets for understanding and using textual material: (a) the authorial and (b) the social. Both the individual authorial and the social subsets see the text as a deliberately (or inadvertently) agented work which requires that students and editors address the work, not primarily as documentary or historical, but as a record of human actions. We think of the causal orientation as consisting of a continuum between an authorial approach and a social approach. At any given time and in any given document we might find the work of more than one agent of textual change, with unequal authority or skill to make changes. Should we value the work of one agent over that of others, or should we value all agents equally? It is the authorial end of the scale that is the most difficult and controversial. The social approach tends to accept the work of all who are involved in the production of each form of the work as if the work were a collaborative social and cultural endeavor among equals, whereas the authorial approach seeks to attribute the text to one or more agents whose work must be distinguished and assessed separately—agents of varying skills and authority who participated in creating and changing the text(s). Agents of textual change can fail in palpable ways in their attempts to record the text of the work as the text of a document. The text as achieved by one agent of change (say the author) may differ from the text as revised or as rendered by other agents of change (such as secretaries, editors, and compositors) each of whom was fallible (including the author) in ways that can sometimes be detected. The


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causal orientation asks us to choose whether to focus on the text created by and/or desired by the author or on a text created or desired in concert with one or other or all of the production personnel. Further it asks us to decide whether to focus on the text actually achieved or, if there is sufficient evidence, to discover texts attempted but not actually achieved.

In judging or assessing the variant texts, it would seem legitimate and perhaps even necessary to judge the competence and authority of each agent of change. Are all the compositors at work on a Shakespeare text equally competent—whether apprentice, journeyman, or master typesetters? Is the publisher's editor as good as or a better judge of grammar, spelling, or public tolerance for edgy language than the author? Does the censor have the same kind of authority over the text as has the author? Can the scholarly editor restore the authorial reading when either or both the publisher and the censor have overruled the author?

(a) An authorial approach would tend to favor the work of the author over that of production personnel, but there is no reason that the author's competence should not be questioned as well as that of other agents of textual change.

(b) The social point of view, like the authorial, focuses attention on the agents of change because this view holds that literature is a socialized object. Textual agency consists of many people working in concert to make and distribute a final product. It can be argued, however, that it is not just an increase in the number of people allowed to be agents of change, but rather that the social approach entails a radically different notion of textual authority, one that exists under an agreed contract entered into, usually but not always formally, by the author and a representative of the production process—the publisher. In place of the authority of creation or authorship or of intellectual property, it is the social contract that exerts its authority over the text. Furthermore, it can be argued that this point of view respects institutions and guilds or traditions as constitutive elements in the production of literary works. As is being increasingly demonstrated by book historians, the industries that contribute the materials and skills, the laws that influence industrial practices through taxation and regulation, the laws of censorship, the customs of decency and permissiveness, and technological developments, to name a few, all have an influence on what writers write, what publishers publish, and what readers read. It follows that a social view of the literary work must deal with the actual products of these influences in order to engage with and understand the social dynamics that influenced a work.

In accepting the social product as the object of choice, the social approach ends up with the same "textual condition" shared by the bibliographic view: texts that cannot be edited without obscuring or contaminating the social elements of the historical object. A new edition is, of necessity, the product of a new social dynamic, not a replication of the one claimed by the social "editor" to be the object of interest. The logic of the social orientation, like that of the bibliographic, requires one to deal directly with original materials, and yet much of this type of criticism is based on derived editions and facsimiles—to the detriment of the scholarship.6 Furthermore, if all the agents of change are treated as


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equal authorities over the text, such that the work is seen as "co-authored" by all of its agents of change, much of the power of this point of view is vitiated. The result of the authorial approach, on the other hand, is more often than not an eclectic edition.

A strict adherence to the dictates of either the social approach (one blanket rule covers the actions of all agents of change and we accept the results as a fact of history), on one hand, or the authorial orientation (excluding the actions of all agents of change save those whose ministrations served the author's intentions), on the other hand, might lead to unsatisfactory distortions of the craft of textual criticism. Understanding what the artist has achieved and how that achievement failed or succeeded in the production process requires that we pay attention and respect to both aspects of the causal orientation. Anyone who has studied the genesis of a work of art knows that authors sometimes welcome and sometimes deplore the help they get. Blanket rules and rigid applications of them would seem to undermine the potential achievements of textual criticism.

It could be that the best compromise, particularly in a print edition, is for the text to be edited to reflect the work of art, as an artist's work, accepting the intervention of others only when it supports the artist's conception, rejecting it when it subverts that conception; and to then construct critical, historical, and textual supplements to account for the economic, political, and industrial complex of production, showing the history of that art in the marketplace. This is a compromise well in keeping with Anglo-American editorial traditions, where the object of editorial work has always been the production of a well-edited text and provision of an apparatus that supports and explains the editorial approaches taken to develop the newly edited text.7 But it is a compromise not likely to be acceptable to the historical-critical editorial practice often associated with German traditions. The reason is understandable. The compromise between the social and authorial subsets of the causal orientation presupposes that an editor is to adjudicate among the archival textual elements that vie for the reader's attention in order to produce a clear reading text (a new, never-before extant text), with an apparatus that helps the reader see the work as the editor saw it. By contrast, in the historical-critical tradition, the object of textual criticism is to bring order to the historical evidence by representing the history of the text—not by interfering in the textual evidence to somehow rectify the aberrations of history. In the historical-critical tradition it is the purpose of textual criticism to collect and give coherent arrangement to the record of historical evidence. The narrative of that history is presented both in introductions and collations.


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Information about the sources of changes should be given where possible, but adjudication among competing authorities about what the text "should be" is not admitted by historical-critical editors as part of the textual critic's remit. In fact, the historical-critical approach follows the material orientation, not the causal. By contrast with the Anglo-American tradition, the historical-critical edition has devoted its efforts to creating a comprehensive, coherent textual apparatus which is attached to a historical (lexical) text accurately presented. These are precisely the differences between the material and causal orientations.


Torben Jelsbak, at the 7th conference of the European Society for Textual Scholarship (November 2010) in Pisa, Italy, suggested that the tactile aspect of documents be called their "plastic code," emphasizing the fact that unconventionality in physical makeup (foldouts, flipovers, and popups, for example) calls special attention to the book as book (or as contraption or fetish or art object).


The primary work on the "sociology of texts" is D. F. McKenzie's Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Panizzi Lectures, 1985, London: British Library, 1986). The extrapolation of a sociology of texts into a social contract or social theory of editing is J. J. McGann's in various articles and The Textual Condition. Critiques of the social approach are found in G. Thomas Tanselle, "Textual Criticism and Literary Sociology," Studies in Bibliography, 44 (1991): 83–143; and Shillingsburg, "Social Contracts, Production Contracts, and Authority," chapter 5 of Resisting Texts (Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 1997): 121–149. In "The Semiotics of Bibliography" (Textual Cultures 6.1 [2011]: 11–25), Shillingsburg argues that the social theory of editing was not part of McKenzie's views.


This in fact is the option adopted by D. F. McKenzie for his edition of The Works of William Congreve (Oxford University Press, 2010, 3 vols.), prepared for publication by C. Ferdinand.