Texts on the Move: Textuality and Historicity Revisited

The last time texts were brought onto the general theoretical and methodological agenda of the human and social sciences, they were reintroduced into history in terms of an indefinite set of indefinitely complex contexts, which gave every text a specific date and location in a network of other texts and events. A couple of decades later, however, a more prominent feature of texts seems to be that they are permanently on the move: they circulate, have effects on other things, change and transform realities, and are at the same time themselves translated and modified. In the literature exploring the textuality of history, these dimensions have been under-theorized and often ignored. To meet this challenge, we need to develop concepts and approaches that enable us to place the mobility of texts as well as their mobilizing force at the center of our current historical concerns. In this article we will explore what the consequences of this move could be, and what resources are already at hand in different scholarly traditions. Exploring the entanglements between actor-network theory (ANT in the version of Bruno Latour), on the one hand, and literary criticism, linguistics, and book history, on the other, enables us to focus on how texts move and how they move others. We will proceed in this essay by identifying three decisive moments in twentieth- and twenty-first-century textual scholarship, often conceptualized as “turns,” which are linked to the works of three path-breaking authors and which at the same time represent three different stages or forms of textuality: the linguistic turn (Saussure), the turn to writing (Derrida), and the turn to print (Eisenstein). Our discussions of these three moments and forms of textuality aim at uncovering how they also represent seminal moments in Bruno Latour's development of the theoretical and methodological complex now referred to as ANT.