Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Order of Persons, Part 1

In the introductory essay to Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture, Gary Taylor explores several different kinds of lists of persons related to or authored by Thomas Middleton, locating the reader in  the early modern textual "situation" as it were during Middleton's lifetime and early modern readership. The Preface lets us know that any definition of "early modern," of "English," of "textual culture," or even of text is always going to represent, at best, a fraction of the reality, the place where something exists "on a continuum between . . . nothing and everything," i.e. between no knowledge and all knowledge. As Taylor tells us, all knowledge about early modern textual culture is impossible, so instead of trying to encompass it all, we enclose and define and seek for "thin description" and "deep focus."

Taylor sees lists of people as indicative of relations between people and nations (citizenship, birthplace), institutions (companies, traditions (church rituals such as baptism and burial), social class (a gentleman or a "base fellow"?), financial obligations (lists of debtors), and other people (geneologies). The first part of his essay is about lists of actual people which include Thomas Middleton's name. Through an analysis of these lists, Taylor deduces that early modern identity was categorized by geography, credit, occupation, geneology, and value. He also says that, while these lists overlap and "mix," they are also partial/fractional and always in motion. They allow us to map the distances between persons but these distances are always relative and the lists themselves are often arbitrary in what they consider important.

Important points:

Texts created geography--a sense of national identity. The texts themselves were also changing as standards of English began to form, become normative, and struggle against each other.

An economy of credit is dependent on names--you must know the name of the person indebted to you to collect on the debt. However, the economy of the theater was not dependent on the names of the playwrights, which were often left off playbills in favor of the name of the theater or company or printer.

Being part of a company (of Drapers, of Stationers, etc.) could help one in London. There was no livery company for poets; however, they held themselves to a code of ethics similar to a livery company by collaborating with each other, by attempting to distinguish, as Jonson did, between poets and those playing-at-poetry (poetasters).

The genealogical mode (seeking for a lineage) and the philological mode (seeking for an origin) are opposed to each other. However, much scholarship (in the Renaissance and now) which seeks for origins is still indebted to genealogical methods of textual transmission.

The rejection of genealogy as a source of textual authority led to a rejection of genealogy as a source of political authority--and thus, to the Revolution.

On to Part II!

1 comment:

Muhammad Arsalan said...

Assalam_o_Alaikum and hi all friends