Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Literary Cultures and the Material Book

Okay, so after a two-month hiatus (during which I was studying Shakespearean original practices in Staunton, VA, moving to a new apartment, and planning for my class this semester), I'm back. Yay!

And we're starting off big this time, with Literary Cultures and the Material Book. This afternoon I read several essays in this book, edited by Simon Eliot, Andrew Nash, and Ian Willison. I was instructed to pay special attention to the final essay of the book, so I read the introductory materials, the essays that dealt with medieval and early modern book traditions, and the final essay, by David McKitterick.

In his essay "Some Material Factors in Literary Culture, 2500 BCE-1900 CE," Simon Eliot lays out very clearly three ways in which the materiality of the book affects and is affected by literary culture. The first is the physical form of the book which, in scrolls, in a codex, written on stone or wood or cloth, in a way chooses who gets to read it, what order they read it in, how they can manipulate the book (or not), and how long it sticks around. The second is the issue of copyright and ownership. Because I own a copy of a book, does that mean I own the content? What does that content ownership allow me to do? Cultures and periods differ on this, and the laws in-between countries can be especially confusing. The third is aspect of materiality hides in the wallet; how much does a book cost? How many people can afford to read it? For this, he takes the history of the Victorian novel as his exemplar. Three-volume novels, first edition, could cost as much as a weeks salary. Even depending on a circulating library, a lower-class citizen might not read a popular novel for years. However, when the novels began to come out serially, they were cheaper and more people could read them. Furthermore, second and third editions were even cheaper and more affordable for the lower class when they came out.

David Ganz, in his article "Carolingian Manuscript Culture," lays out several of the ways in which the Carolingian renaissance in medieval Francia (800-900) laid the foundation for later medieval book traditions. A new, simplified script was invented and adopted, the Caroline miniscule, which was easily read and easily learned. Collaboration and group production of texts occurred in the monasteries, a practice which allowed many more books (more than twice as many extant) to be made in this century as compared with the prior. Many monasteries began copying old Greek and Latin and patristic texts to keep them in circulation. Ganz says, "without the 280 ninth-century manuscripts of classical authors, we would not be able to read any Latin author except for Virgin, Terence, and Livy" (154). They began to copy books in vernacular languages, too. During this period, Walahfrid Strabo invented chapters, so that a reader could look for a specific place in a book. Some contemporary readers also added indices of notable words or topics to some of the classical manuscripts.

Brian Richardson contributed a very interesting article, "The Diffusion of Literature in Renaissance Italy: The Case of Pietro Bembo." He points out that the history of literature and the history of the book in Italy have long had nothing to do with each other. However, when looking at the history of the work of Pietro Bembo, an Italian poet, we see that Bembo had a hand in how his works were formatted, published, and distributed, working closely with the publisher.

So, good work, everybody!

No comments: