By examining prominent theories of the ontology of the literary work the study reveals a tradition of a monolithic conception of the literary work within Analytic Aesthetics that considers the literary work to have only one stable text. In this tradition different phenomena of textual variation are marginalised as inessential to the identity of the work. By the same token, textual criticism is cast out from the field of literary criticism as being aesthetically insignificant. The study criticises the monolithic tradition for its historically limited conception of the work, one that is grounded in the invention of print and the modern conception of the author. This conception does not take into account the historically and constantly changing media of production, recording and transmitting that affects the relationship between the concepts of work and text. The monolithic conception is wholly unsuitable for the thinking of the works of oral literature, medieval manuscript culture and contemporary hypertexts.
Neither does it work well with printed literature. This study demonstrates how this conception of the work supports a blind faith approach to the stability of the printed text that gives a completely false impression of the historical nature of the literary work. According to this study literary criticism should be based on an aesthetic of suspicion that approaches every text with a critical attitude. The literary critic should examine the history of textual transmission of the work under study and only then determine and justify from the viewpoint of the given research frame the selection of which text versions the work's interpretation is based on. By examining unpublished as well as published versions of Aaro Hellaakoski's Me kaksi, the present study demonstrates in practice how taking textual variation into account produces interpretations of the work that would not otherwise be possible when working only with a single text version.
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