Sunday Book-Thought 24

The demise of the marginal¬†tradition might be attributed to the printing press, which used repeatable blocks to frame pages of Books of Hours and limited the newly discovered Grotesque decorations to another ‘modern’ invention, the title page. As Samuel Kinser notes, compared to the manuscript book the printed book ‘has small margins just wide enough for a word or two, an emendation, an exclamation.’ The urge to have clean edges often resulted in medieval manuscripts being cruelly cropped down, a practice typical of the increasing disrespect for everything but the text in subsequent centuries. The great religious upheaval of the Reformation also had its effect on the eradication of the medieval image-world. A great rift opens up between words and images. Language is now in a separate realm, written in discrete boxes or in fields hanging in the picture space.
Focusing all representation in the middle, the centre where man stood resplendent, Renaissance thinkers pretended that they no longer required this space of ‘otherness,’ unless it be the new edges of the World being discovered by Columbus.
Michael Camille

Sunday Book-Thought 18

Literacy is not simply the ability to read, though it is partly that. It is a complex cultural phenomenon with powerful ideological implications, which vary depending on the time, place, and milieu one is looking at. So, for example, literacy amongst the early Christians is not exactly the same thing as the literacy of the late medieval universities. Thus if literacy is, on the one hand, an individual skill, it is also an historically contextualized mentality. Moreover, in any given society, the kinds of literacy acquired by different individuals vary greatly, from the non-reading peasant who witnesses a charter, to the merchant who keeps his account books and the noble woman who reads for edification and pleasure, to the university theology master. And any discussion of literacy must take into account the oral mode of communication which it complemented, substituted for, and often competed with.
– Charles F. Briggs