One the principal cruxes of my dissertation (and probably most theses) is “so what?” Dissertations are often a chance to collect and curate a large amount of data in new and hopefully meaningful ways. It’s this “meaningful” result which often eludes the writer until the end of the process. I hope that it becomes clearer, or perhaps the true result is often obscured by the lengthy process.
In any case, one of the points I’m narrowing down to in my own work is the process of knowledge transformation as evident in changes in textual format and layout, a meta-textual sort of analysis. A classic problem of looking for evidence of the process in absence of any record of the process itself. Much like the sediment after a flood, the cuneiform texts I work with show remarkably different configurations from earlier versions. The swirling eddies of the editorial process are as ephemeral as the roiling flood waters, but they have left their lasting mark.
But what can we say beyond “See, it happened!” How do we access the meta-textual process behind the evidence? Here’s where I struggle, and I’m sure through more detailed study of the texts themselves and their antecedents some form of analysis will come forward. I’m wary of trying to over complicated the situation by trying to trace all the various threads of textual congruency. This might be productive if all the texts could be weighted equally and accepted as canonical version of the knowledge they represent. However, the real evidence is far from this idyllic situation. In reality, the texts are from many different traditions spanning a huge range of time, written under the influence of different geographical and scribal traditions.
I take some comfort in other scholars work on the para/meta-textual analysis of texts offering up at least evidence of the process and the actors:
” … with this approach we can start seeing the agent behind these bureaucratic devices, the scribes who in such minute ways negotiated their presence and transmitted knowledge.” —C. Tsouparopoulou