About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Digitize the Noli?

I don't usually get to read first editions-- I don't visit libraries aside from the physics library-- and it's an expensive task to visit the libraries that do house the various first editions. So it's truly delightful when I was able to read the King James Bible of 1611 (it can be found here at the website of the King James Bible Trust-- note that it lacks the translators' preface and other material, or here at the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Imaging, University of Pennsylvania Library)  as well as a digitized copy of the Codex Sinaiticus.

My interest in first editions can be traced to my confusion as a child at the differences in  the translations of scripture. I noticed (I was an eight-year old) that the Bible verses quoted by our religion textbook (I was in a Catholic school) were different from our copy of the New American Bible. I also noticed that the NAB, in turn, differed from the translation done by the Good News Bible (also known as Today's English Version). This episode sparked my eventual interest in reading different translations, and then in turn to the discipline of textual criticism. 

Textual criticism is a discipline that compares different extant manuscripts of a given work, and then its practitioners try to reconstruct what the original might have looked like. The more  practical goal is to craft a critical text, an edition that in the judgment of the critic, best reflects the lost original manuscript (the autograph), and containing an apparatus where the variant readings, along with their sources are noted.  

The art of textual criticism is not limited to the Bible; any book that has had many manuscripts, printings or editions will fall under its compass. A popular subject of textual criticism is the works of Shakespeare: The common editions now available are smoothed out versions produced by textual critics, due to the need to make choices from the variety of existing editions. Elizabethan printings of Shakespeare differ from each other, sometimes in minor ways, sometimes substantially. If you read Shakespeare, it would not be profitable to plow through this variety, unless you are a textual critic. A casual reader will have other priorities. But for scholarly work, availability of the various editions  and a critical text is a must.

Works that arouse great passions (or revolutions) are vulnerable to expurgation. Shakespeare is not the basis of a religion or national identity, and expurgation is surely not so great an issue compared to the various translations of the Bible. A work like Rizal's Noli Me Tangere is a temptation for the expurgator since it is required reading in schools; passages that are anti-Catholic--and there are many of them!-- would certainly be vulnerable to creative emendation.  

And so I've wondered about the availability of Rizal's work in digitized form. I was able to download Spanish editions of Rizal's Noli Me Tangere, but I've wondered about the extent of expurgation. A digitized copy based on photographs of the first edition (such as the kind I've found at the King James Bible Trust) would be invaluable.     

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