Revisionist History

I recently came across a website with academic papers available on it.  Although the internet has yet to achieve its promise as a locus of solid academic material, such sites are becoming more common.  I’ve been uploading my own papers onto Academia.edu since they seem to be old enough not to impact anyone’s sales aspirations.  In any case, this particular website I found noted that a paper had been updated at such-and-such a time, and that anyone who had downloaded the previous version should delete it and use the new one instead.  This is a dilemma.  I know of publishers who make corrections without issuing new editions.  When I buy a book, what it actually says will depend on the printing rather than on the edition.  I wonder if such retractions are really fair.  How does one know when she’s reading something outdated?
 
Picture this: a young kid, perhaps an unknowing fundamentalist, reading his Bible.  Then he gets a newer copy of the same translation.  But soon he notices that there are differences.  Although the example may sound overly Talmudic, it is factual.  Bibles, being printed in large quantities, are especially susceptible to error.  When did the printed word become something that’s negotiable?  I’ve been pondering clay tablets and their apparent immutability.  Contrary to popular belief, most clay tablets weren’t fired—it was a lot of effort for something that had limited value.  Some tablets show signs of erasure or additional words being added.  In the case of clay, this is often very clear.  Besides, the readers were few and specialists.  They knew what they had.  But for a modern person staking the salvation of her soul on a document, is it not problematic to change a jot or tittle (of which not the least shall pass away)?  Has technology made us immune to fixed texts?
 
Back to the website I found.  What if I downloaded the faulty paper and wrote my own paper based on it?  How would I know to go back and check to see if a new version had been uploaded?  Am I to spend all my time revisiting web pages to see what has changed?  Knowledge itself seems now to have become whimsical.  What is true depends on the date and time you accessed it.  Perhaps I’m just a dreamer, but there was a time, it seems to me, before post-modernism, when you might purchase a book and be fairly certain of what you had.  Errata sheets (or the more fancy addenda et corrigenda) didn’t intrude into the typeset page.  You could still read correctly, assured that someone had spotted and acknowledged the mistake.  We have, I fear, outlived the need for sic.  And it is only a small step from siclessness to truth that changes second by second. Is this the siclessness unto death?

IMG_1363

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s