Philological Quarterly

Editorial Statement

From its inception after the end of the First World War, PQ has published contributions in many genres of literary scholarship and has opened its pages to a wide range of critical methodologies. One constant over the years, however, has been its commitment to the study of textuality in its varied forms, from the creation of scholarly editions to the history of the book trade, from manuscript transmission to the recovery of works by women writers. PQ came of age with the New Bibliography, which had an impact on nineteenth-century historical philology comparable to the effect, decades later, of post-structuralism on the New Criticism. W. W. Greg, Alfred Pollard, Ronald McKerrow, and other scholars of that generation first focused their attention on Elizabethan and Jacobean playtexts, but the new bibliographers soon turned to later authors, applying theories of textual criticism developed for the editing of Shakespeare to writers such as Mark Twain and James Joyce. PQ’s emphases for the most part have fallen on earlier periods and on Britain, but the journal’s scope, in almost nine decades of existence, has also encompassed classical studies, modern European writers, American literature, and contemporary literatures in English. We station no chronological or geographical markers at the borders of our editorial policy, yet having its home in an English Department has encouraged PQ to concentrate its energies on the study of literature in and around the English-speaking world during a period running from the Middle Ages to the end of the nineteenth century. Another departmental journal, The Iowa Review, stepped in to fill a space that PQ never tried to occupy, and its presence has encouraged us to focus our attention on earlier periods. “Philology” has not described the project of PQ for much of its lifetime, yet we do retain something of the core idea that motivated the original project of producing a scholarly journal in Iowa: we publish historically oriented studies of written texts that pay particular attention to questions of interpretation and/or to the status of these texts as material artifacts. The breadth of this definition and the absence of a single theoretical stance by which we evaluate submissions have encouraged us to publish scholars identified with a wide range of critical schools, and we will continue to follow this path in future issues.

The Anglophilia and bibliomania of the early part of the twentieth century, which underwrote a narrative that told of the emergence of a literary canon that begins in Britain and emigrates westward to North America, has long vanished from the academy, although vestiges of it remain in the street names of communities surrounding certain U.S. campuses. Scholars have shown how the linguistic difference studied by philologists in the nineteenth century shaded into theories of racial difference and national identity. Historical consciousness among literary scholars has become a style of cosmopolitanism, a refusal to feel completely at home anywhere, of stepping back from easy identification with any national tradition or mindset. Anglophilic philology disappeared from the American academic scene long ago. Why, friends, colleagues, and contributors might very well ask (indeed, some have asked), continue this long march under the banner of the Neuphilologie, a dead letter from the nineteenth century? Had we forgotten that René Wellek, an Iowa faculty member during the 1940s, dispatched the entire philological tradition once and for all in his and Austin Warren’s Theory of Literature? Should not an acute sense of its history preclude any use whatsoever of the term?

Yet in defining the scope of PQ, philology serves reasonably well in emphasizing textuality as a central analytical category, a realm that includes literary theory, history of the book, codicology, anthropology, and other disparate fields of inquiry. Philology implies an anti-formalism, a method of analysis that shuns generic boundaries, that mixes literary and non-literary texts, that brings literature into conjunction with history, philosophy, religion, linguistics, and other bodies of thought. We share the idea, which Stephen G. Nichols associates with Erich Auerbach, of philology as a critical mode that cuts across disciplines to make textual study a key to historical understanding and discloses the interdependence of multiple forms of cultural expression at any moment in time.1 For all their errors and misconceptions, philologists succeeded in directing attention to problems of interpretation, to diachronic change in language, to “culture” broadly understood, and to the vagaries of textual production and reception. Their distinctive concerns were not always parochial or narrowly Eurocentric. Seventeenth-century theologians viewed philology as indispensable to a critical understanding of the Bible, which had the unintended consequence of promoting the diffusion of Arabic language and culture among astronomers, mathematicians, and natural philosophers, as well as improving techniques for the comparison and collation of manuscripts.2 In the early modern period philological work subsumed what we would call “textual criticism” and addressed itself to recovering the learning of the ancient world; by the late nineteenth century philology had devolved into a series of technical sub-disciplines, employed in the reconstruction of texts according to “scientific” principles.

One of the more surprising developments of the last two decades has been to see how literary theory, sociology, and gender studies have stirred to action the sometimes somnolent field of textual criticism, even while bringing its characteristic concerns to the fore. Where the philological tradition tended to focus on the text as a literary artifact, a theoretically inflected program of textual studies regards it as a field of signifying practices. Still, the discipline of textual studies has always gravitated towards interdisciplinarity and engrossed a large number of subfields concerned with the production, reproduction, dissemination, and reception of texts. Recent experience of types of textuality beyond manuscript and codex, especially digital textuality, has radically transformed how many of us think about literature and had far-reaching effects on our sense of a text’s material ontology. Jerome McGann provides a useful model for re-thinking textuality, drawing a distinction between a book’s linguistic codes, including the surrounding paratexts, and its bibliographical codes, which take in format, typefaces, cover design, illustrations, and many other features literary interpreters have deemed superfluous to the real business of criticism. From his long labor editing Byron, McGann learned that “every text, including those that may appear to be purely private, is a social text. This view entails a corollary understanding, that a ‘text’ is not a ‘material thing’ but a material event or set of events, a point in time (or a moment in space) where certain communicative interchanges are being practiced.”3 The task of editing a text, as earlier generations of scholars were well aware, demands sustained attention to the social conditions of production and reception. More recently, however, this particular mode of scholarly attention, of treating texts as tightly imbricated networks of bibliographical and linguistic features, has moved from the domain of textual criticism to discourse analysis and literary theory.

To this day PQ remains opens to many types of literary criticism, yet not equally to all. Setting strict parameters, however, poses a serious problem for a discipline marked both by constant change and unexpected continuities. In a 1988 article, Bill Kupersmith—who guided this journal through multiple transformations of the profession over thirty years—noted that the verb to edit “is a back formation from editor, apparently coined in the 1790s and thus barely within the horizon of eighteenth-century scholars.”4 The absence of a category so much taken for granted in our professional lives suggests that those of us who perform tasks associated with “editing” would do well to consider the historical contingency of our trade. Circumstances conspire daily to remind us of a truth well known by book historians, that the production of knowledge in print cultures functions as a collaborative enterprise, with authors, printers, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and readers all playing a part in the circulation of texts. The coming of the book projected writers into a realm where the influences of technology and the marketplace transformed literature into a saleable product, subject to regimes of regulation and control. Nobody who has functioned as an editor can long maintain an unproblematized notion of proprietary authorship or a view of scholarship as a lofty pursuit untouched by material and economic conditions.

As editor of PQ, Bill Kupersmith set for himself the goal of maintaining the continuity of the journal while doing his utmost to publish new voices that would keep it current and lively. At no point did he issue a manifesto, always preferring pluralism to prescriptivism. Too often, the task of circumscribing a journal’s ambit in a mission statement resembles a sort of inquisition or symbolic bonfire—Diocletian consigning Christian writing to the flames, or Augustus exiling Ovid and banning his work. Ovid’s response to his rough handling by the authorities was to write in the Tristia that readers make of texts what they will, and can turn even the most innocent of them into sources of infection: “posse nocere animis carminis omne genus” [it is possible for the soul to be injured by every kind of poem].5 Interpretation, according to Ovid’s theory of reading, has nothing to do with the canonization or proscription of texts, and attaching a warning or advisory will have no effect whatsoever on an audience’s understanding. Readers zealously guard their prerogatives and can deflect, if so disposed, any sort of didacticism or designs upon them by watchful authorities.

In this spirit, we would like to emphasize that the subject matter of articles we publish counts for less than the rule of thumb for evaluating submissions we describe to our readers and contributors thus: “To be published in PQ a manuscript should be readable, informed by current scholarship in its field, persuasive in its claims, and careful in its handling of evidence.” Mario Biagioli has argued that the institution of peer review, apparently intended to bring manuscripts into line with disciplinary standards through a process of editorial intervention, had its origin in book licensing and censorship.6 Biagioli’s Foucauldian genealogy of the peer review system in the sciences (and, implicitly, the humanities) reminds us how expertise and rational judgment have legitimized themselves in the past. Most of the specialist readers who referee for PQ today (and without whose assistance we could not publish at all) would make very poor state censors, royal licensers, or servants of the Holy Office. Rather they perform the roles of ideal readers and much admired colleagues, who through their advice and critical interventions point us in the directions that the journal will move in the next few years.

To signal PQ’s commitment to renewal and continuity as we approach our centenary, we have planned several special issues, and in the next volume will roll out a cover design featuring our vintage hand-made logo reconfigured with the aid of computer graphics. With our last number we published the first in a series of issues intended to bring together articles that put contributors in productive dialog with one another. We plan to facilitate several such conversations in print and have sought the guidance of guest editors to mark out the terrain of these topics. Our inaugural special issue, “Rethinking New Formalism,” edited by Rajani Sudan, represents the confluence of two subjects long of interest to readers of PQ: eighteenth-century studies and the critical tension between historicism and formalism. The essays in this volume make a compelling case against any understanding of aesthetic judgment as disinterested and apolitical, capturing the complex interplay between literary form and material history that Roland Barthes evokes in his dictum “that a little formalism turns one away from History, but that a lot brings one back to it.”7 A forthcoming special issue, edited by Kathy Lavezzo and Susan Phillips, assembles articles and review essays that explore emerging trends in scholarship on the Middle Ages. In 2011 we will bring out another special issue, under the guest editorship of Florence Boos, on “Nineteenth-Century Working Class Writing.” We also have solicited essays on interlingual translation, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British women writers, and “The Book Culture Industry,” which will appear in future volumes. In these and other issues readers can expect to see renewed interest in questions involving the transmission of texts, especially during the handpress and early machine-press periods, and an awareness of the historical forces that condition the production of literature and of textual scholarship itself.

—Alvin Snider




1 Stephen G. Nichols, “Philology in Auerbach’s Drama of (Literary) History,” Literary History and the Challenge of Philology: The Legacy of Erich Auerbach, ed. Seth Lerer (Stanford U. Press, 1996), 63–77.

2 See G. A. Russell, ed., The ‘Arabick’ Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England (Leiden: Brill, 1994).

3 Jerome J. McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton U. Press, 1991), 21.

4 William Kupersmith, “An Editor’s Perspective on Literary Scholarship,” The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 29 (1988): 48; and see Rob Iliffe, “Authormongering: The ‘Editor’ between Producer and Consumer,” The Consumption of Culture, 1600-1800: Image, Object, Text, ed. Ann Bermingham and John Brewer (London: Routledge, 1995), 166–92.

5 Ovid, Tristia, Ex Ponto, trans. Arthur Leslie Wheeler, 2nd ed. (Harvard U. Press; London: Heinemann, 1988), 2.264.

6 Mario Biagioli, “From Book Censorship to Academic Peer Review,” Emergences 12 (2002): 11–45.

7 See the discussion in Susan J. Wolfson, Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford U. Press, 1997), 18–19, where Barthes is quoted.