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Machan, "Chaucer's Poetry, Versioning, and Hypertext" (abstract)

  • Tim William Machan. "Chaucer's Poetry, Versioning, and Hypertext." Philological Quarterly 73 (1994): 299-316.

Machan uses Chaucer's poetry to exemplify the problems inherent in clear-text print editions of fragmented manuscript works, to envision how hypertext editions could support recent theoretical moves into versioning, and to discuss some of the general limitations of hypertext. Machan begins by noting the lack of "authorial versions" for any Chaucerian text and the persistent attempts of editors to elide over fragmentation and difference in their unified presentations of these works. Recent interest in the decentering of the author and the literary work has led to versioning theory, which "resists hermeneutic foreclosure and empowers, if not compels, readers to compare texts in order to formulate their own sense of the work's historical constitution(s)" (303). A hypertext Chaucer could convert theory into practice by not only supporting a variety of linked critical commentaries and notes (such as are already found in print editions) but also by including any number of versions of a particular text. Machan then qualifies the seemingly "messianic" advantages of hypertext, by noting some of its limitations: the difficulty of reading from the screen, the need for maps to guide one through hyperspace, and the hierarchical nature of embedded links. He concludes by emphasizing that claims of a "new age of medieval orality" (310) ushered in by computer technology are misguided. While this technology is capable of presenting the discontinuous nature of medieval texts, we must remember that the medieval reader--seeing at most a few manuscripts of any one work--was largely unaware of the multitude of different versions. Thus, a hypertext edition with many linked variants can at best "parallel the anonymous compilation of medieval manuscripts only in the abstract" (311). (Stephanie Hill Simione.)
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Michael Hancher

Department of English, University of Minnesota

URL: http://umn.edu/home/mh/ebibshs5.html

Comments to: mh@umn.edu

Created 30 May 1995

Last revised 17 September 1996