John Bryant, in his essay “Witness and Access: The Uses of the Fluid Text,” argues that virtually every literary work exists in multiple versions that are both materially and textually distinct. One major source of such variation is revision, whether by authors, collaborators, or editors. Bryant urges the critical community to witness writers’ revisions, by turning away from “a single, non-variant text” (26), to read instead “the text of the history of the book” (21). This is what Bryant calls the fluid text.
I am currently researching S.T. Coleridge’s process of revising and representing the radical poems of his youth, poems that mortified him as his political views developed. I share Bryant’s concerns, and I am only too ready to agree with him that revision is a worthwhile object of study.
However, “fluid text” is a odd term for describing the diachronic and plural existence of literary works. Read more