genetic criticism

While textual criticism is concerned with repetition (it studies the ways in which one stage in the writing process develops, with varying degrees of accuracy, in to the next one), genetic criticism could be defined as the study of textual invention, and thus it is concerned precisely with what is not repetition. Such a statement must be immediately qualified: there can be no such thing as pure invention (if there were, it would lie outside the scope of any science or criticism), so genetic criticism actually confronts a dialectic of invention and repetition. To put it simply, a textual critic will tend to see a difference between two states of a work in terms of accuracy and error or corruption, whereas a genetic critic will see meaningful variation. Although both scholarly activities deal with manuscripts and textual versions, their aims are quite different. Rather than trying to establish texts, genetic criticism actually destabilizes the notion of “text” and shakes the exclusive hold of the textual model. One could even say that genetic criticism is not concerned with texts at all but only with the writing processes that engender them. From this point of view, texts could be compared provocatively to the ashes remaining when a fire is consumed or to the footprints on the ground after a dance is over. But there is nothing mystical in the activities of genetic criticism, which pursues an immaterial object (a process) through the concrete analysis of the material traces left by that process.

Contributed by Wout. View changelog.