The Function of Annotation at the Present Time, with Specific Reference to the Editing of Hume's Essays

M. A. Box
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This paper takes up a question where I left it in a paper to be delivered in. In the new paper I will address the question of what at this point in history scholars want from annotations of texts of historical importance. The tangible experience on which my thinking is based is my work in annotating David Hume's Essays Moral, Political, and Literary for the Clarendon Edition of the Philosophical Works of David Hume. The answer that I offer will clarify the logic beneath a commonsense view of annotation that is now under duress. To describe that duress, I will survey criticisms of annotation starting with the eighteenth century and ending at the present hermeneutical skepticism.

These criticisms can be divided into those aimed at failings that are remedial and those that are inherent to annotation. Remedial failings are those made familiar in Scriblerian satire: poor judgment, bad taste, ignorance, vainglory, and other faults arising from the deficiencies of the editors. Two failings that are inherent to annotation are identified by Samuel Johnson: annotations (a) interrupt reading and (b) atomize reader's experience of the text by focusing attention narrowly on one aspect of what the author is trying to say or on something tangential to it. A third sort of failing is unnecessary or inherent depending upon one's point of view: annotations that encroach on the readers' purview by interpreting the text.

This third failing poses the greatest challenge to annotators. My conclusion will be that if we apply a commonsense distinction between interpretation and fact, the problem is manageable. It is not manageable if we apply the hermeneutic skepticism of our day according to which there are no facts and annotations cannot escape being interpretative. The choice in that case becomes either to forbear annotating at all or unapologetically to compose interpretative annotations. In fact, whatever the hermeneutic consensus is today about the illusory nature of fact, no one wants texts to go unannotated or to be annotated with wilfully interpretative notes. This discrepancy reflects the familiar difference between theoretical commitments and practical needs.

Keywords: Hume, Editing, Annotation
Stream: History, Historiography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Function of Annotation at the Present Time, with Specific Reference to the Editing of Hume's Essays, The

M. A. Box

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Ref: H05P0249