In this essay I examine the disruption to the textual order caused by reprinted texts, arguing that the American tradition of textual editing can help us identify some of the invisible forms of repetition that structure the literary field. Pioneering figures such as W. W. Greg and Fredson Bowers developed sophisticated technologies for understanding and managing reprinted texts, and yet the scholarly tradition they founded, and that of their most vocal critic, Jerome McGann, have both ignored the ideality of the literary text—how the claim to textual identity across variation is a signal property of literary works. Taking up Michel Foucault's challenge to study the “mode of existence” of literary discourse, I argue that in order to write literary histories that are attentive to the history of literariness, scholars need to question both their commitment to preserving the integrity of the text and their attachment to organizing and reading literary works in the order of their composition.

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