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4. Genetic Orientation
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4. Genetic Orientation

The genetic orientation offers special opportunities and problems. In Daniel Ferrer's terms, genetic criticism can be defined as the science of written invention ["la science de l'invention écrite"]10; it focuses on "invention" rather than on "repetition."11 Keeping in mind that an orientation organizes what we understand about the factors that produced the documents and guides what we do with textual materials, the special focus that serves this organizing purpose in the genetic orientation is creative invention. Genetic criticism is applied to various art forms, including film, music, architecture, visual arts, as well as to the creative act in science. When applied to literature, the raw material with which the artist works to creatively invent a fictional world is language. However, the composition process is not exclusively linguistic in nature. Drawings of characters, sketches of the setting, schematic representations of the plot, doodles, etc. are important pre- or metalinguistic elements in the process of creation. Still, any literary project entails linguistic composition in some form or another.

The genetic orientation has a natural affinity with the documentary and temporal orientations, for it focuses its attention on the documents as sources of evidence of textual development and change through time. It also has an affinity with the causal orientation for its purposes require assessment of changes in accord with the individual agents of change. In particular there is a link with the social approach, for the writer may ask a friend, a wife or husband to copy the manuscript; a publisher's editor prepares the manuscript for typesetting; the compositor may misread the manuscript and cause the author to revise the misreading to something new; a censor may delete a passage; the genesis of a work may continue after the first publication and often involves more than one agent. From the viewpoint of the social subset of the causal orientation, for which authority resides in the institutional unit of author and publisher, this multiple agency is an aspect of the past that needs to be secured; from the genetic viewpoint, the discrete acts of invention by discrete individuals must be unpacked for study. So, in spite of the affinities, there is a difference in focus, also with reference to the material and temporal orientations. Whereas for a material orientation, authority resides in the historical document and for a temporal orientation it resides in periods of inscription or re-inscription, the genetic orientation's focus is on the actions of invention as implied by the chronological succession of documents and the transformations within and between them.


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A genetic edition, according to French genetic critics such as Almuth Grésillon,12 contains the complete facsimile reproduction of the documents pertaining to the genesis of a work. There is, however, a variant form which is referred to as an "édition critico-génétique," rather than an "édition génétique." This type of edition tends to present the transcriptions of the manuscripts at the service of a critically edited text ne varietur. The link with this edited text bothers committed genetic critics. After all, one of the merits of genetic criticism is its suggestion that the study of modern manuscripts does not need to be reduced to a subservient role at the service of the establishment of an edited text ne varietur. Whereas, in scholarly editing, manuscript analysis is often seen as a means to an end, that is, a tool to make an edition, genetic criticism reverses these roles and sees the making of an edition as a tool to facilitate manuscript analysis.

The publishing market's demand for a single reading text is hard to reconcile with a theory of the fluid13 or mutable text, but such a reconciliation is not impossible, as for instance John Bryant and Haskell Springer have shown by interrupting the reading text with 'revision narratives' in their edition of Melville's Moby Dick).14 Even though many genetic critics tend to insist on the difference between textual criticism and critique génétique, it is possible to establish a rapprochement because the definition of orientations to text is not necessarily geared towards the production of an edited text, but conceived as a way of identifying how we read the materials in order to understand the work.

A genetic orientation focuses on the trajectory or trajectories of creative development, including sources of inspiration. It does not have to, but may involve a form of scholarly editing. If it does, it implies an editorial strategy that displays creativity in motion rather than settling on a final version as the main object of editing. It aims to produce a narrative of genetic development. And unlike many scholarly editions, the genetic orientation includes source texts and their transformation into the work as a part of the process of invention. It comprises all the stages and facets of a work's genesis, for which Raymonde Debray Genette15 coined the terms "exogenesis" and "endogenesis," and to which a third category could be added: "epigenesis."16 These concepts will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

(a) Exogenesis. The work's genesis often starts in the margins of other authors' books. This link with external sources of information is referred to as "exogenesis." The stereotypical river metaphor, suggesting that a text developed from a single source, or went through a sequential and orderly set of changes to reach


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a final product, requires deeper exploration, for many creative histories have more resemblance to a complex fluvial system arising from many tributaries and branching into a delta of many outlets. To facilitate manuscript research, a genetic edition could offer an author's personal library, where it is still extant. It is evident that this type of edition benefits hugely from new possibilities created by digital media. Since the limitations of print demanded that (long) works be represented by only one text at a time, the establishment of a single reading text was presupposed in the original definition of orientations to texts (although notable exceptions were taken into account, such as Wordsworth's two Preludes or Shakespeare's King Lears). Since "the business of editing" was seen by many editors of print editions as "the elimination of error and the selection of the authoritative readings for the new text, which supersede all other authoritative alternatives,"17 a selection needed to be made by attributing authority, located variously according to the editor's critical orientation. This selection can still be very useful, but in the meantime, electronic forms of presentation have eased the limitations so that it is possible to present several edited texts alongside each other, and combine them with digital facsimiles and transcriptions of all the paralipomena, notes and drafts preceding the first publication, including marginalia and reading notes.

(b) Endogenesis. The genetic orientation's special fascination is with documents that bear the evidence of multiple efforts, often by more than one agent, over extended periods of time. It is less absorbed in the documentary aspect than in what can be extracted from it about the sequence of discoveries, inventions, and actions of the writer(s). Again, the digital medium offers new possibilities to produce a display of textual history for a work that will help focus attention on the acts of writing—the acts of invention—so that they can be studied. This genetic textual instrument does not substitute for other kinds of editions but serves as a tool for studying the work in the genetic critical way. At the level of the endogenesis, a rapprochement between scholarly editing and genetic criticism can be mutually beneficial.

From an editorial perspective, the focus on invention underlies the rationale of a genetic edition, designed to show process but taking product into account as an often crucial element in the dynamics that drive the process of invention. Even if a particular writing project was eventually not finished, the author usually did need a projected end to write toward, in order to start and continue writing in the first place. The difference of merely one letter between "invention" and "intention" is deceptively small.18 Writing a text generally implies an intention, but the study of manuscripts usually reveals a plurality of intentions. Similarly, the notion of invention often implies a succession of inventions. But the main difference


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is that the notion of invention is directly related to the traces of this creative act on the extant manuscripts, whereas the link between an intention and the materialized result is somewhat less direct and it is notoriously hard to figure out if or to what extent this result corresponds with an intention. The documents, warts and all, bear witness to the efforts of an agent of change (usually the writer), in the first place, as a reader of him- or herself and as an active participant in a process of rewriting. Interpreting this process of invention constitutes the "critical" component of critique génétique. The "genetic" component focuses on the genetic dossier, which can now be conveniently presented in a digital environment, as the recent addition to the Text Encoding Initiative's (TEI) guidelines for genetic editions testifies.

From a genetic perspective, a shift of emphasis from motives to effects also involves an attempt to regard variants not necessarily as textual elements that necessitate emendation or purging, but to understand them as elements of inventive development. For that reason, French genetic critics often prefer to speak of "rewritings" (réécritures), instead of variants.19 The argument is that one can only speak of "variants" if there is an "invariant" against which they can be compared. Some authors' writing methods, such as Marcel Proust's, proceed in relatively large textual units that were shuffled around and for which a hypertextual electronic architecture might be a suitable form of presentation. In such cases, it is indeed difficult to work with the notion of a variant. Other writing methods, however, do show patterns of relative stability in terms of the text's structure. In these cases, one does not need to insist on a rejection of the term "variants." Some works' genetic dossiers do consist of versions that can be compared, not merely in general terms, but even at the level of small textual units such as a segment or sentence. In such a case, it is possible to speak of compositional variants, since every version can serve as a temporary invariant for comparison against the subsequent version. Such a relative calibration can be applied in an electronic genetic edition by identifying segments that correspond between different versions, allowing the user to compare a segment in one version to the same segment in another version or in all the other versions simultaneously (synoptically). In such a synoptic survey of all the extant versions of a small textual unit (for instance a sentence), the syntactical context of each segment can remain intact, which results in a form of "versioning" that allows for detailed comparison of stages in the writing process.

Depending on the author's writing method, for instance in the case of Samuel Beckett's late writings (, it is possible to allow for a form of digitally supported collation20 by highlighting the variants between versions. If a manuscript or typescript shows clear signs of different writing tools or different handwritings, a version can be subdivided into several stages, which would allow for an even more refined collation of compositional variants or réécritures.

(c) Epigenesis. The genesis often continues after publication. About changes made by the author after publication, Pierre-Marc de Biasi once noted: "How-ever


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ever important, these modifications (or "variants") [...] do not have exactly the same status as the transformations to be observed in the genetic documents" because "the mutations of the avant-texte took place in a private writing domain," whereas "postpublication modifications are made in a public sphere where the book's reality cannot be ignored."21 In broad outlines, such a division between an individual authorial creative trajectory and a social production trajectory may be useful, but often the transition from "private" to "public" sphere is marked by a continuum rather than a clear boundary. Before publication, an author may "try out" a particular chapter by reading it to a circle of friends; or the political climate may be so dangerous that it enters the private sphere in the sense that it may lead to self-censorship during the composition process, to the extent that certain creative ideas do not even reach the stage of the roughest draft.

In 1972, while genetic criticism was only just establishing itself in France as a discipline in its own right, James Thorpe already drew attention to "the status of multiple versions of a work of art," referring to important examples, such as Valéry's urge to keep modifying his texts and Yeats' "drive to revise."22 Four years later, Thomas Tanselle suggested that "two types of revision must be distinguished: that which aims at altering the purpose, direction, or character of a work, thus attempting to make a different sort of work out of it; and that which aims at intensifying, refining, or improving the work as then conceived (whether or not it succeeds in doing so), thus altering the work in degree but not in kind."23 The first type was called "vertical revision," the second "horizontal." In some cases, it may be hard to decide whether a modification alters or intensifies the work, i.e., to make a distinction between "vertical" and "horizontal" revisions, but what is important to note in the context of textual orientations is that this distinction does not coincide with the distinction between endo- and epigenetics. The latter distinction corresponds more to the example of Tennyson, which Jerome McGann refers to in A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism: "This was a poet who frequently revised his work on the basis of the responses he received from a small circle of friends (at the trial proof stage) as well as from reviewers and the larger audience (at the publication stage)."24 The first type of revisions is endogenetic, the second type is epigenetic; in both cases the modifications by Tennyson were inspired through confrontation with an audience.

In his typology of genetic documentation, Pierre-Marc de Biasi ("What Is a Literary Draft") gives due prominence to the moment the author decides the text is ready to be printed and presented to the public (bon à tirer). By the time of the bon à tirer moment, however, the initial target may have shifted during the process of writing, and once the target is reached, the process of writing is


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not necessarily finished. If the author is a self-translator, for instance, the work becomes a "source text" that is translated into a new target, which in translation studies is referred to as a "target text." In the case of playwrights who direct their own plays, their practice as directors may lead to additions or cuts during rehearsals. Almuth Grésillon drew attention to the special treatment of "genèses théâtrales"25 and she wrote a foundational article with Jean-Marie Thomasseau in a special issue of the journal Genesis devoted to the topic.26 Thomasseau, who focuses on non-contemporary theatre, duly points out that "non-contemporary theatrical genetics discards the idea of a single author by focusing as much on the process of transforming a play, and on those who perform it, as on the author who wrote it. It begins with the recognition that in the theatrical process the authorial role necessarily fractures and becomes shared."27 The genetic study of theatrical performances involves different kinds of documents, such as visual and aural recordings of rehearsals, director's notes, lighting designs, prompt books, actors' notes, set designs, sketches, scale-models, stage managers' notebooks. These traces may be of help in analysing the dynamics both of the theatrical performance and of the dramatic text.

The epigenetic changes require an adequate editorial approach that treats variants as réécritures. For although scholarly editors may frown at de Biasi's observations on the term "variants," the term réécritures does invite them to look at variants, not only in terms of emendation, but also as elements of inventive development. On the other hand, genetic critics should also realize that, to some extent, the rejection of the term "variants" was part of the discourse of the early days of genetic criticism, when it strongly felt the need to distinguish itself from textual criticism. In the meantime, genetic criticism has clearly established itself as a discipline and we have arrived at a point of mutual, interdisciplinary respect for, and openness to, each other's different priorities, techniques, and approaches.


See G. Thomas Tanselle, A Rationale of Textual Criticism (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1989).


Daniel Ferrer, Logiques du brouillon: Modèles pour une critique génétique (Paris: Seuil, 2011): 184.


Daniel Ferrer, "Critique génétique et philologie: racine de la différence," Genesis 30 (2010): 21–23 (21).


Almuth Grésillon, Eléménts de critique génétique: Lire les manuscrits modernes (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994): 189.


See John Bryant, The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen (Ann Arbor: The Univ. of Michigan Press, 2002).


Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. John Bryant and Haskell Springer (New York: Pearson/Longman, 2007).


Raymonde Debray Genette, "Génétique et poétique: le cas Flaubert," Essais de critique génétique, textes d'Aragon, Raymonde Debray Genette, Claudine Quémar, Jean Bellemin-Noël, Bernard Brun, Henri Mitterand (Paris: Flammarion, 1979): 21–67.


See Dirk Van Hulle, "Modern Manuscripts and Textual Epigenetics: Samuel Beckett's Works between Completion and Incompletion," Modernism/Modernity 18.4 (2011): 801–812.


Peter Shillingsburg, Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice (Duntroon: English Department, UNSW, 1984; 2nd ed. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1986; 3rd ed. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1996): 13–14.


In the context of textual genesis, they are both related to the notion of a creative agent. This creative agent regains center stage in Louis Hay's book La Littérature des écrivains, whose main premise is that literary critics have generally put more emphasis on reception during the last few decades, but that literature is a matter, not only of readers, but also of writers. Louis Hay, La Littérature des écrivains (Paris: José Corti, 2002).


Pierre-Marc de Biasi, La Génétique des textes (Paris: Nathan, 2000): 20.


Dirk Van Hulle, The Making of Samuel Beckett's Stirrings Still / Soubresauts and Comment dire / what is the word (Brussels: University Press Antwerp, 2011): 117.


Pierre-Marc de Biasi, "What Is a Literary Draft? Toward a Functional Typology of Genetic Documentation," Yale French Studies 89 (1996): 26–58; esp. 40.


James Thorpe, Principles of Textual Criticism (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1972): 42–43.


G. Thomas Tanselle, "The Editorial Problem of Final Authorial Intention," Studies in Bibliography 29 (1976): 167–212; esp. 193.


Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983): 48.