Eclecticism and its Discontents

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Thomas J. Farrell


The widely-praised “open” eclecticism of George Kane’s editions of Piers Plowman has simultaneously elicited discontent for its inattention to textual history, its susceptibility to misuse, and its conflicting conceptions of poetry. These evolving attitudes reveal how the impressive methodological rigor that gives Kane’s system strength problematically clashes with the subjective editorial judgment it proclaims as essential. Eclectic editors’s insistence that a textually straightforward Chaucerian line — Canterbury Tales III 838 — be emended either conjecturally or from a late and isolated textual tradition highlights that problem; the accuracy with which several indisputably brilliant Chaucerian lines are preserved in the witnesses
warns us to be wary of eclectic overreach.


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