The Originality of Texts in a Manuscript Culture

“Let me embellish this conception of writing as textual intervention with a note on the Grammarian’s Mythology, which is full of rich and contrary themes. One theme is that the letters of the alphabet contain the universal range of words, and these in turn harbor or conceal all that can be said about all that God has created. To write is to penetrate this system of letters and to disclose some portion of the truth that lies hidden therein as though behind a great veil of words or within a Great Book of the kind imagined by the Alchemists. Writing is thus always in some sense hermeneutic, which means that it is never an original activity but is always mediated by the texts that provide access to the system. To write is to intervene in what has already been written; it is to work ‘between the lines’ of antecedent texts, there to gloss, to embellish, to build invention upon invention. All writing is essentially amplification of discourse; it consists in doing something to (or with) other texts.”

–Gerald L. Bruns, “The Originality of Texts in a Manuscript Culture,” Comparative Literature (Spring 1980).

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