Sunday Book-Thought 133

The whole position of the book as a medium of communication in modern industrial society is being challenged and even conventional ways of producing conventional books may be completely altered by new means of composition and what is now called ‘on-demand publishing’ whereby individual copies of books may only be fabricated as a need for them arises. The importance of technological developments in the media of communication cannot be ignored and the role of the book in modern society undoubtedly will be changed by new technology.
Yet, when one looks around the world and recognises that many countries are still only at an early stage in working towards total literacy, the role of the book becomes even more confusing. Some developing societies, especially in, for example, Africa and Asia, are still moving towards the use of the book, whereas others, especially in Europe and America, are wondering if they are moving beyond it. The ability to read is, of course, so obvious int he use of the book that those of us who live in advanced societies sometimes tend to overlook not only the widespread illiteracy  in many countries of the world but also the relatively recent development of what we like to think of as ‘literature societies’ and the non-use of literacy skills by many people in these societies.
Peter Mann, From Author to Reader: A Social Study of Books (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), pp. 2-3.

Sunday Book-Thought 127

My interest in these matters is not so much in the final editorial decisions which one would have to make about these different readings, nor even in the reasons for such eventual choices. Rather, I want to draw attention to the structure of the situation which such a procedure reveals. Here certain relations are prevailing between author and copyist which are not purely mechanical. Furthermore, both author and copyist understand and operate within the accepted terms of the relationship: Byron and Mary Shelley continued to work in this way from 1816 until he left Italy for Greece in 1823. Indeed, their relationship is nothing less than a paradigm which operates through all periods of Byron’s literary career, and with all persons in his literary world who had a hand in publishing his poetry.
Furthermore, all the historical evidence suggests that this is the structure which normally prevails between authors and the literary institutions within which they operate. From the (mostly) anonymous scribes of the Middle Ages to the famous cases of the twentieth century – Maxwell Perkins, for example, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X – authors and their literary agents (or employers) have collaborated to varying degrees in the transmission of literary works. Sometimes these relationships operate smoothly, sometimes the author will struggle against every sort of intervention, and between these two extremes falls every sort of variation. Nevertheless, as soon as a person begins writing for publication, he or she becomes an author, and this means – by (historical definition) – to have entered the world of all those who belong to the literary institution. Blake’s decision to seek complete freedom from that institution, though futile, is nonetheless an important limiting case, for it sharply underscores the determining authority of the institution.
Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 52-52.