In an essay published in a recent issue of Essays in Criticism, 58(4), James Stephen Murphy discusses the history and future of scholarly editing.
He begins with a quote from Roland Barthes‘ The Death of the Author (1968/1977): “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (p. 148). Following the trend in electronic publishing, and the ease with which readers can seek out a text, he then wonders if the birth of the data-miner must come at the eventual cost of the death of the Editor.
Much of the most advanced contemporary theorising about editing has suggested that the editor should follow the author into his grave. The vision of the scholarly editor as a steward of the text, entrusted with the establishment of an authoritative edition, the collection of variants and errata, and the creation of apparatuses to guide readers to a more profound understanding of a work and its history, has increasingly given way to another image: the editor not as expert guide, but as a brutish interloper forcing his interpretation on the defenceless text. This attitude towards editing has had and probably will continue to have deleterious effects on a craft that is already under threat both from dwindling university and university press budgets and from the declining numbers of university teachers and programmes capable of passing on the skills of analytical bibliography and editorial practice. (pp. 289-290)
Since many of the issues Murphy examines are paralleled by similar concerns discussed at the past several PsycInfo meetings, to say nothing of the challenges faced by editors of new scholarly editions (or translations), your comments would be particularly welcome.
I have spoken with Dr Murphy about his essay. He has graciously offered to respond to questions, or comments, posted here below.