Confucius and the Contributor

The other day the Feral Cataloger was consulted on a severe case of reaction to AACR2 rule 21.1C1b. A colleague who had been working with catalogs for decades suddenly discovered that editors cannot be main entries. She was in pretty bad shape–afterwards she described the experience as “a habit of the brain, completely blasted apart.” A calming manatee was summoned to stabilize her mood, and I was able to dispense some advice about cuttering in the 800s to reassure her that title need not be the last word in DDC subarrangement. In order to inoculate her and other unsuspecting colleagues against the future shock of editors in RDA, though, I felt I should write another entry in my dissertation series and discuss the most significant finding of my research: the relationship of editors to authorship.

It was probably my friend’s familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style that lulled her into thinking that editors are always treated like authors. The editors of Chicago style leave none of their fellow editors behind when it comes to citations in a bibliography. Even if editors do not merit the first place in a full citation, they can always be included in the third place. The only requirement is their appearance on a title page. It is true that the earliest American cataloging rules had a similarly expansive view of authorship. In Cutter’s 1904 Rules, you need only look at the list of definitions and read  “Editor, See Author” to know where he stands on the matter.

It seems so simple, but even Cutter could not accept that all editors were authors. A “collecting editor” merited the place of author in Cutter’s catalog, but not the editor of a periodical or editors of collections “known chiefly by their titles.” Rules 4 and 5 in my copy of the ALA 1949 cataloging rules are filled with underlines and scribbled annotations from the cataloging students who once owned it. “Don’t get confused between author of introd. and editor!” wrote one. By the time of AACR1, many words were needed to explain exactly what made an editor or compiler worthy of main entry. Goaded by Akós Domanovsky’s lengthy and scathing analysis of the subjectivity of editors as authors, the AACR2 editors defenestrated their sundry fellows from the main entry, and it has been that way in cataloging ever since.

It seems like Chinese editorship has nothing to do with Cutter’s American habit of seeing editors as authors.  The position of the first Chinese editor, Confucius, is stated flatly in the Analects: “I transmit but do not create; I believe in and love the ancients.” (Lunyu 7:1, trans. Wing-tsit Chan) The first part of that quote, 述而不作,  is a classical catchphrase so embedded in literate culture it was immediately suggested by the character dictionary as I typed the pinyin just now. Scholar-editors throughout the millennia have always taken the stance that they, like Confucius, do not “make” (“作” zuo, the literal meaning of the last character in the phrase). The Confucian editor faithfully transmits the texts he finds, making judicious changes that only perfect texts and restore their author’s original intent. Certainly the Sikuquanshu bibliographers believed that they were doing just that as they reconstructed damaged texts for the emperor’s library.

In the bibliographic summaries, though, more specific words describe the transmission work that the editors did. In one case of a reconstructed work, the editors reveal that they consulted, compared, sought, collected, supplemented, put together, copied, and revised the text. This evidence shows that the editors’ work is an example of the conundrum of “activist judges” versus “strict constructionists”: it is easy to find activism in any editorial judgment even if the judge does not admit it himself. But the Sikuquanshu bibliographers would never refer to themselves as editing (編 bian)  in the bibliographic description, even though their handiwork is found throughout the library.

Bian–editing–as a relationship designator is most common (second only to the word 撰 zhuan “written by”) in the Collections (集  ji) class, where it is used in two different senses. One is for a compiler of an anthology. Editors of anthologies “collect,” “transmit,” “collate,” and “select,” (輯,述, 較, 採), as explained by the bibliographers in the summaries for such works. These are the collecting editor functions that Cutter also privileged, so it is easy to see the reason why they merit a relationship designator in the bibliographic description. The more common use of bian with regard to editing collections is in conjunction with zhuan as a relationship designator. These are cases where a personal author’s works are collected posthumously for publication, and the editor’s name does not appear in the description, only in the summary. These editors are essential to the survival of the author’s works, and the Sikuquanshu bibliographers tell many tales that show the devotion of the author’s relatives, friends or students in preserving written legacies, even in one case the tenth-generation great-grandson of a Song scholar who performed the service. In traditional China editing is a natural by-product of a personal and familial relationship. But the bibliographers would not elevate the status of the word bian when the editor’s role was to transmit the works of the writer-author. 

When I consider the relationship designators in RDA for editors, I think it is a happy thing that the word editor has been reconsidered from the days of AACR2 when s/he was out in the streets, merely preparing “an item not his or her own” for publication. The RDA editor now has a home at the expression level, that is, at the point when the author’s ideas become specific in the realm of language. In RDA, you can be designated as editor or editor of a compilation or editor of moving image work. (RDA I.3.1 Contributors) Editors plain and simple revise or elucidate content, or prepare a work for production; editors of compilations select and put together other works (by a single person or multiple ones); and editors of moving image works assemble, arrange, and trim films and videos. Interestingly, the first two designators ask the cataloger to judge whether the editor might not actually be operating at the work level, as an author who makes a new work out of an old one, or as a compiler who creates a new work out of data or information rather than from other writer’s texts. These distinctions that require a cataloger to judge the true nature of the word “editor” ensure that a new generation of cataloging students will be highlighting and making personal notes just as they did in the 1949 ALA rules, but to me they speak to the cross-cultural commonalities of editorship. The disparate situations of Cutter, the Sikuquanshu bibliographers and today’s catalogers all acknowledge that certain conditions must be met before an editor ascends to the status of author.


About Cheryl Boettcher Tarsala

author, researcher, educator in the realms of cataloging, bibliography, and authorship
This entry was posted in authorship, China. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Confucius and the Contributor

  1. Thanks so much for revealing the ancient history of the relationship of the editor to the work. You have caught my experience exactly.

  2. T. Edmunds says:

    I am new to the cataloging way of life and find all the nuances to detailed cataloging very intriguing. I did not realize that author and editor and the location of these credentials has such an impact on how they are represented when cataloging. I hope that these become clearer as I progress in my study of cataloging.

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