Title Background

The Logic of Textual Criticism and the Way of Genius: The Kane-Donaldson <i>Piers Plowman</i> in Historical Perspective.

The Logic of Textual Criticism and the Way of Genius: The Kane-Donaldson Piers Plowman in Historical Perspective.

Part I of this essay describes the Kane-Donaldson methodology and offers an encomium to the edition. Part 11 discusses an “inherent contradiction” in that methodology, viz. that its criteria for evaluating individual lections sometimes work at cross-purposes and reflect “two very different views of poetry that are implicit within the traditions of textual and literary criticism.” The criteria in question are 1) that of the “lectio difficilior,” based on a theory of poetic discourse as uniquely inspired, polysemous symbolic language and 2) that of appropriateness of meaning, based on a rhetorical theory of poetic discourse in which meaning awaits embodiment in decorous but essentially separable language. The first of these criteria derives from a romantic, intuitional theory of literature (most recently embodied in New Criticism) and requires the editors to seek out and accept the most challenging and pregnant lections; the second stems from Anglo-American empiricism and pulls them in a contrary direction toward lections that are contextually and historically plausible, granted a “whole structure” of significance that has been apprehended in the poem. The tensions between these two sets of assumptions show through in the contrast between the “editors’ desire to make their data available” and their .unwillingness to provide cross-references that would make the data available in individual instances.” Hence we see “thick band of variants at the foot of the page” but must work through an introduction “that is arranged, not as scientific exposition, but as an elegantly written narrative,” Kane and Donaldson have not manipulated their evidence; rather, the assumption of authorial uniqueness will always produce a text in accord with New Critical aesthetics.


Textual Criticism and Literary Interpretation. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. 55-91.


Patterson, Lee.