Reading In and Around Piers Plowman
In their Athlone edition of the B text, Kane and Donaldson confer “classical” authorial and literary status on a work which more resembles McGann’s “modern scriptures,” in which authorial production and intentionality are interlaced with scribal practice and habit. To reconstruct a putative “original” form for the B version, the editors must demonstrate that the scribal may be distinguished from the authorial, must show that the differences between the two are culturally or aesthetically significant, and must provide a procedure by which the success or failure of the first two operations may be adjudicated. The editors insist that scribal presence can be determined by the degree to which a lection complies with the poetic transcendence they require for the author, and their belief in the corruption of the B archetype requires them to cite error as contextual negative evidence to validate a text which the documents do not support. The Athlone project ignores PPl’s status as a scriptible “text,” which opens itself to rewriting and recomposition, as opposed to a lisible “work,” closed and complete. The most effective approach to teaching PPl must therefore involve comparison of possible readings of the text.