Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Texts.” Semiotica, (215): 119-141. With Todd Oakley.

What is a book?–a practical dilemma

The ideal of an “authoritative text” is no longer a taken-for-granted assumption among editorial and critical theorists of the literary text. Rather, texts are, and should be thought of as, composites of distributed activities of multiple social agents. This view has many virtues, but it quickly runs up against the deeply entrenched gestaltism of the “underlying work” stance, a perspective that invades some of the most commonplace ways of talking about Anglo-American literary texts. We explain the fundamental tensions that arise from this stance and offer a general ontology of literary artifacts that can account for the ways we habitually conceptualize texts and their effects. We provide a basic cognitive framework for understanding the ontology of the document, in its most generalized form, which can embrace a wide range of practices, literary and otherwise, that have significant implications for understanding editorial, authorial, and readerly behavior.