Presented by: Wayne De Fremery
Abstract: This paper concerns copies and lists. Bibliographers are also a focus. The English noun copy descends from French and Latin predecessors that suggest “abundance, plenty, and multitude.” A focus on copies and what people of have cared enough about to reproduce promises the opportunity to suggest the abundance, plenty, and multitude of ways that the humanities have been practiced and can be conceived. The English word list is etymologically associated with “borders,” especially the borders of clothes and textiles. List is not entirely distant, therefore, from the weave of the word text, that catch-all for much of what humanists are said to study. List’s etymologies suggest the power of lists to articulate and contain, as well as exclude. The list in the Oxford English Dictionary that enumerates the historical meanings of list also suggests the recursive centrality lists play in delineating meaning and what counts. In the case of the word list, we learn from the OED’s list that the English noun can also connoted “art, craft, [and] cunning,” as well as “wisdom” and “wile,” which we might associate with making the boundaries that lists enforce. “Pleasure, joy, [and] delight,” “appetite, craving, desire, and longing” are also etymologically affiliated. List’s historical associations help to clarify that lists are crafted and strategic, and, as objects and ideas, indicative of the appetites and delights of those who have drawn them up. Lists as objects of study provide the opportunity to consider the art and cunning, joy and cravings associated with giving bounded shape to the world’s plenty through enumeration. A focus on copies and not originals productively doubles our vision so that we can reach for an understanding of what may have inspired the work of reproduction while attending to the particulars of what has been made to count again. Bibliographers as powerfully marginal people attending to the abstractions used to guide what counts, the abundance of particular objects, the complexity of the people and processes that enable things to recur and be recounted inhabit the borderlands of humanistic practice. As copyists they are not often thought of as creators, although surely, they are. As list-makers and practitioners of the “lower criticism,” bibliographers only infrequently participate directly in what is valued as “higher criticism,” although their accounts make the business of higher criticism possible. Importantly, bibliographers, when they are counted as database managers, librarians, or information scientists, to name only a few recent exclusionary designations, are selectively eliminated from discussions of who counts in the humanities despite the work they do to facilitate contemporary humanistic work. With their marginal status in the humanities and as people who frequently transgress the boundaries used to distinguish humanistic from scientific or theistic concerns, for example, bibliographers helpfully reveal humanities’ borders and the identities valued by those who count themselves as humanists. They do so even as they contribute to the fortification of bounded distinctions that facilitate humanistic, scientific, and theistic modes of knowledge and specific perceptions of value through their work as copyists and list-makers.
A discussion of copies, lists, and bibliographers from East Asia, North America, and Europe will frame my intuition that a discussion of copies, lists, and bibliographers may usefully contribute to thinking about how the humanities count around the world and the ways that we might count them. Most of the objects and people discussed will be associated with the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. My hope is that the discussion will begin to suggest methods for productively considering our own craft and cunning, pleasures and appetites, wisdom and wile as we attempt to enumerate humanities in different places and times and carefully recount their connections and distinctions. We might hope that our careful list making will help to illuminate the abundance of all the many things made to recur again through the work of copying and caring for what has mattered so that the copie does not, to borrow from Ben Johnson, so thoroughly confound.