avant-texte

Avant-texte: l’ensemble constitué par les brouillons, les manuscrits, les épreuves, les ‘variantes‘, vu sous l’angle de ce qui précède matériellement un ouvrage quand celui est traité comme un texte, et qui peut faire système avec lui. Le choix de ce mot en concurrence avec brouillon tient à ce que ce dernier connote des caractères comme ‘résiduel’, ‘informe’, ‘insignifiant’, connotations embarrassantes dès l’instant qu’on veut précisément sortir de la problématique perfectionniste de l’oeuvre littéraire dotée d’un (seul) sens qu’elle recèle comme son secret, changée en elle-même par une (impensable) éternité, obtenue soit par une (divine) inspiration, soit par la médiation (personnelle) d’un esprit supérieur (génial), etc. La difficulté vient de ce que le texte n’est pas le point d’aboutissement visé pendant la rédaction, mais un moment d’équilibre; dès lors qu’on envisage seulement un plus ou moins d’instabilité, où et quand commence cette décision qu’on appelle l’oeuvre et qui n’est pas un achèvement? De là l’intérêt d’un terme forgé sur le signe ‘-texte’, et marqué par lui. On pose donc en principe que l’avant-texte est [dans] le texte et réciproquement (Bellemin-Noël 1972, 15).

During the past two decades, there has been a great deal of activity in French studies centered on the ‘avant-texte,’ that is, the study of drafts, notes, and manuscripts, mostly of nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors (Bowman 1990, 627).

For “avant-texte,” I suggest “foretext”-“pretext” is obviously misleading (Bowman 1990, 628).

Genetic criticism distinguishes between the undifferentiated documentary mass and the ‘foretext,’ that mass transcribed, selected, and arranged in such a way that it can be of use for criticism. For the documentary mass as such – chaotic, often illegible, uncircumscribed – cannot be used for any critical purpose until it has been so organized. A major methodological problem is how to make that move from the documentary mass to the foretext, which has a critical status and can be analyzed by the reader-scholar. Clearly, the foretext is a corpus of signs – mostly words, but including punctuation, crossings-out, at times drawings, etc. It is not, on the other hand, the totality of documents  (Bowman 1990, 634).

Avant-texte: ensemble de tous les témoins génétiques écrits conservés d’une oeuvre ou d’un projet d’écriture, et organisés en fonction de la chronologie des étapes successives. Voir ‘dossier génétique‘ (Grésillon 1994, 241).

ce que nous pouvons maîtriser, c’est le développement de la phase écrite, lorsqu’on possède des brouillons et des premièrs rédactions, ou lorsque l’œuvre a été proposée successivement en plusieurs rédactions. L’ensemble des matériaux précédant l’état définitif a été appelé avant-texte : une notion bien débatue (Segre 1995, 29).

In recent years German editorial discussion has fortunately been increasingly influenced by models from other philologies, such as those of editors in the Romance and the English languages. From the French side the notion of the avant-texte was introduced. Although this concept is not employed uniformly among French textologists, generally on the one hand it means all stages of the text before the publication of a work, and, on the other hand, it indicates only the preliminaries to an author‘s composition that lack as yet an actual “textual structure–or, what we would in part subsume under the concept of “paralipomena.” Whether anything is gained editorially by the concept of avant-texte remains questionable. For it isolates a phase in which the author, not yet engaged with the actual “text” of the work, is occupied with the avant-textes, and at times it even opposes these to the completed and as a rule published texts–that is, tot the work in the ordinary sense. In this way, the basic unity of the course of a work’s development is disrupted or even abandoned. The historical process that pushes ahead and determines the development of a work is denied. This, however, has consequences for the editing of the work itself, especially for editing fragmentary or posthumous works. And of course it has consequences in the (exceptional) case of editing works by living authors, when the editor directly intervenes in the creative process of the author. For every work of an author this process ends only with the author’s death, since the possibility always exists that he or she will unexpectedly take up works that were untouched for many years and therefore dormant, and change their texts (Scheibe 1995a, 194).

[G]enetic criticism opens the work to what preceded it, to that “mass” for which its French practitioners have been obliged to coin the neologism avant-texte, everything–drafts, sketches, outlines, etc.–that comes before the published text (Contat et al. 1996, 2).

The avant-texte designates, in the work of the writer, the chain of writing operations that have preceded the appearance of the text proper. The pre-textual stage therefore designates that of the work’s process of production, insofar as it can be pieced back together by the analysis of the author‘s working manuscripts, and then interpreted following a defined critical method. In order to piece this evolution back together, however, these documents must first of all be inventoried, classified, dated and deciphered, since they are neither legible nor interpretable in their raw state. The avant-texte does not therefore designate the material manuscripts (a typological inventory of them makes up the fourth column [of the table on pages 34-35 in the paper], Document Type), but rather the critical discourse by which the geneticist, having established the objective results of their analysis (transcriptions, relative dating, classification, etc), reads them as successive moments of a process (de Biasi 1996b, 38).

the value of the prefix “avant” (“pre”) does need a few words of clarification. I do not endorse a sort of primitivism in which anteriority would imply clumsy sketch (as it does in Lucien Levy-Bruhl’s nonchalantly baptized “prelogic” [prélogique] in his 1922 La Mentalite primitive). Nor would I give to preliminary writing the prestigious and inaugural character of being a text’s first intuition, localizable in a native state, such that the later work would amount to a mere embellishment upon it. No, what is before the published text is already text and already the text. The text in the imperfect tense can be read; it is not devoid of structure and it is not a paraphrase of the text in the future tense. Of course, one can also see preliminary writings as texts in the conditional or in the subjunctive, but one must nonetheless treat them in their present tense.

Let us examine this. I am calling “avant-texte” the totality of the material written for any project that was first made public in a specific form. Since the term “textual” designates the closed field where a reading meets a writing so as to make the latter signify its unexpected and unpredictable possibilities, regardless of the author‘s intentions and the pressure of social and biographical history, I will say that to attend to an avant-textual document is to read, continuously with the text and without any presuppositions, the totality of formulations that, as previous possibilities, have become part of a given work of writing (Bellemin-Noël 2004, 30-31).

An avant-texte (or a study of genesis). This represents a certain reconstitution of the genetic operations that precede the text. The avant-texte is no longer a set of manuscripts but an elucidation of the logical systems that organize it, and it does not exist anywhere outside the critical discourse that produces it. It lies in the jurisdiction of the critic-geneticist who establishes it using the results of the manuscript analysis (de Biasi 2004, 43).

Such an ambitious program required a new critical vocabulary. It seemed especially important to do away with the philological notion of “variant,” which implies owe text with alternative formulations. To make a clean break, Bellemin-Noël used the neologism “avant-texte” to designate all the documents that come before a work when it is considered as a text and when those documents and the text are considered as part of a system. This proposal has been generally and enthusiastically accepted: the term “avant-texte” has become the hallmark of the new approach and is used by geneticists of all persuasions. They use the term in somewhat different ways, some more precisely than others, but “avant-texte” always carries with it the assumption that the material of textual genetics is not a given but rather a critical construction elaborated in relation to a postulated terminal–so-called definitive–state of the work (Deppman et al. 2004, 8).

To distinguish the published text from the preceding versions, Jean Bellemin-Noël introduced the notion of avant texte (pre-text) in 1972. Archives often arrange the manuscripts teleologically according to the final narrative structure. A genetic study, however, may require a chronological (re)arrangement of the manuscripts. In order to do so, a decipherment is necessary, and a transcription advisable, both to facilitate one’s own work and to make the material more accessible to others. All these acts of interpretation turn the documents into an interpretable complex of avant-texte. Pierre-Marc de Biasi defines the avant-texte as the result of the critical analysis and organization of all the extant documents relating to the writing process one intends to examine (Génétique des textes 30-31). The avant-texte does not denote the materiality of the manuscripts nor their actual interpretation, but the critical reconstruction of the documents (Van Hulle 2004, 4-5).

Jean Bellemin-Noël coined the term avant-texte in 1972 to describe all the material evidence of what precedes the moment when a (literary) work is finally “treated as a text” (Van Hulle 2004, 35).

On dit parfois qu’un avant-texte est lui-même un hypertexte. Il est intrinsèquement composé d’objets hétéroclites tangibles – ou interprétés car les traces ne sont pas toujours attestées  (l’exactitude du temps des corrections notamment) – qui renvoient à une cohésion d’ensemble intimement liée à l’idiosyncrasie de l’écrivain. Le rôle du généticien est de faire émerger cet hypertexte – que je dirais ‘latent’ – en actualisant des relations elles-mêmes constructrices de parcours (chronologiques, d’hypothèses d’interpretation, etc.) (Crasson 2010, 45).

Nella filologia d’autore applicata in Italia […] con “avantesto” si intende solo l’insieme dei dati materiali relativi a tutto ciò che ha preceduto il testo. In questa accezione è possibile distinguere:

– materiali che non hanno relazione diretta con il testo (come gli elenchi di personaggi, i progetti letterari, gli elenchi lessicali, ecc.);

– materiali che hanno una relazione immediata con il testo (come le prime stesure e i successivi rifacimenti che precedono il testo vero e proprio).

Da questa differente considerazione discendono i due tipi diversi di edizione critica: quella francese (più nota come édition génétique) e quella di tipo tedesco-italiano (generalmente definita “edizione critica” o edizione “critico-genetica”) (Italia and Raboni 2010, 26-27).

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