investigation of the plurality of texts

“Edit and translate. Mobility and materiality of texts (XVIe-XVIIIe century) ”, by Roger Chartier, EHESS / Gallimard / Seuil,“ Hautes études ”, 300 p., € 24, digital € 17.

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In 1827, the French were able to attend a performance ofHamlet given by an English troupe at the Odeon theater. Voltaire, following his stay in England in the 1720s, was the first to recognize the genius of Shakespeare, not without strong reservations, however, with regard to pieces in genius. “Full of strength and fruitfulness” but marred by all kinds of vulgarity. In one of the Philosophical letters (1734), he translated the beginning of the monologue of the Prince of Denmark contemplating the skull of the jester Yorick: “Abode, you have to choose, and move immediately / From life to death, or from being to nothingness. “ Difficult, we see, to restore the density of English « To be or not to be, that is the question. » Voltaire tried it a second time in 1761 with a more striking formula: “To be or not to be, that is the question. “

After multiple interventions

The translation of a single verse perfectly illustrates this mobility of texts to which Roger Chartier *, professor at the Collège de France between 2006 and 2016, as a historian of publishing and reading in Edit and translate. Because a literary work never exists as a pure object, independently of the multiple supports which allow its distribution. Made accessible in the form of texts, in other words editions and translations, it comes to us at the end of multiple interventions – handwritten copies, censorship, printing, illustrations, adaptations … – which each time engage the value that we attribute to it. .

Extension of a reflection which had found its culmination in a magnificent essay (Cardenio between Cervantes and Shakespeare. History of a lost coin, Gallimard, 2011) on a work performed in 1613, with uncertain attribution, and whose text is irremediably missing, Edit and translate proves that history is not limited to establishing indisputable facts, but in itself raises important issues on the interpretation of works. Where in About Racine (Seuil, 1963), Roland Barthes limited this both auxiliary and competitive discipline to describing literary institutions, mentalities or reception, reserving the study of the work for theory, Roger Chartier shows that by focusing on to the materiality of the written culture, one also reaches the heart of the texts.

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