Carefully Corrected / Mutilated Mess: Ossian's Textual Legacies
Barr, Rebecca Anne
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Barr, Rebecca Anne; Tonra, Justin (2015) Carefully Corrected / Mutilated Mess: Ossian's Textual Legacies. Conference Paper
Controversies over legitimacy are an essential part of the literary reception and cultural meaning (Mulholland 394) of James Macpherson s Ossian poems. Many revisionist readings of Ossian attempt to preserve the text from contamination by its author, quarantining the cultural legacy of the first complete edition of the Ossian poems, The Works of Ossian (1765), by disregarding its successor, The Poems of Ossian (1773). Thus, Howard Gaskill, modern editor of Ossian (Edinburgh UP, 1996), characterised the 1773 Poems as a mess which has been bequeathed to us in edition after edition ever since (xxiv). Where Macpherson hopes to have brought the work to a state of correctness, which will preclude all future improvements (1:v), Gaskill laments the authorial vanity which is really behind so many of these revisions (xxiv) and selects the 1765 Works as his copy-text. Though Macpherson described the 1773 edition as [c]arefully corrected, and greatly improved literary criticism has treated it as an illegitimate offspring. In textual terms, then, the choice between these two options equates to a prioritising of the legacy of Ossian or the legacy of Macpherson, mirroring the central terms of the debate about the cultural authenticity of the work. This paper will examine the legacies of the Ossianic copy-texts, arguing that to favour any particular edition perpetuates a limited understanding of many elements--authority, originality, authenticity--which have fuelled interest in Ossian since its initial publication. To circumvent the reification of a singular Works or Poems text, the speakers will present the crowdsourced annotation tool and genetic critical edition of the new social edition (Siemens, et al.), Ossian Online, as a means of unearthing the plural textual shifts and the multiple legacies of this seminal work.