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The Myth of Print Culture

The Myth of Print Culture: Essays on Evidence, Textuality, and Bibliographical Method

  • Book Info
    The Myth of Print Culture
    Book Description:

    The Myth of Print Cultureis a critique of bibliographical and editorial method, focusing on the disparity between levels of material evidence (unique and singular) and levels of text (abstract and reproducible). It demonstrates how the particulars of evidence are manipulated in standard scholarly arguments by the higher levels of textuality they are intended to support.

    The individual studies in the book focus on a range of problems: basic definitions of what a book is; statistical assumptions; and editorial methods used to define and collate the presumably basic unit of 'variant.' This work differs from other recent studies in print culture in its emphasis on fifteenth-century books and its insistence that the problems encountered in that historical milieu (problems as basic as cataloguing errors) are the same as problems encountered in other areas of literary criticism. The difficulties in the simplest of cataloguing decisions, argues Joseph Dane, tend to repeat themselves at all levels of bibliographical, editorial, and literary history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8179-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    This study deals with the opposition between evidence and discourse in literary and bibliographical studies. The most basic variant of this opposition, one that I will deal with repeatedly in the chapters below, is that between physical materials and those abstractions that we refer to under the name ‘text.’ The first of these levels, the material, is generally regarded as the proper focus of bibliography (the book, the materials of a book, the particular historical acts of readings of particular books). What we must in desperation call the ‘things’ on this level are singularities, and at every moment these singularities...

  5. 1 The Myth of Print Culture
    (pp. 10-31)

    The phrase ‘print culture’ has grown increasingly popular in scholarship of the late twentieth century, with a surge of studies incorporating this term in the last few years. My check of the MLA Bibliography, in what I believe was a keyword search, produced 249 entries for the years beginning in 1963; 191 of these were from the years 1996-2001. Only two of these were prior to 1980 (Eisenstein and Ong); the decade 1981-90 accounts for only eighteen more; 1991-5 add thirty-eight. Many of these focus on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, but others include such seemingly diverse topics as copyright law,...

  6. 2 Twenty Million Incunables Canʼt Be Wrong
    (pp. 32-56)

    The central importance of print-capitalism will be discussed below. It is sufficient to remind ourselves of its scale and pace. Febvre and Martin estimate that 77% of the books printed before 1500 were still in Latin (meaning nonetheless that 23% were already in vernaculars) [ref. Febvre and Martin, 248-9]. If of the 88 editions printed in Paris in 1510 all but 8 were in Latin, after 1575 a majority were always in French. Despite a temporary come-back during the Counter-Reformation, Latin’s hegemony was doomed.¹

    This quotation comes from one of the more influential books in cultural studies of the last...

  7. 3 What Is a Book? Classification and Representation of Early Books
    (pp. 57-87)

    All discussions of books or the idea of books have some tacit definition or understanding of the nature of the material objects that constitute or initiate the matter under discussion. Even such abstract topics as The Book depend to some extent on objects in libraries and how those objects are defined and catalogued. To generalize about The Book requires (does it not?) that we be able to recognize and point to a book when we confront it; when our basic cataloguing systems refer to particular books or classes of books, we can form some general idea about what they are...

  8. 4 The Notion of Variant and the Zen of Collation
    (pp. 88-113)

    The following chapter deals with the definition of ‘variant’ in early printing: in the first section (4.1) I discuss some of the early machines designed to detect press variants, that is, changes introduced into individual sheets and pages during the course of a print run; in the second (4.2) I discuss the definitions of press variants as found in recent editions. The way modern bibliographers discover differences in the corresponding pages of book-copies of the same edition – differences that will define such things as edition, issue, and state or variant – is through the optical collator, a device that...

  9. 5 Two Studies in Chaucer Editing
    (pp. 114-142)

    The issues discussed in chapter 4 developed historically in the context of editing, and the next group of studies (chapters 5 and 6) deal directly with editing. This chapter takes as subject matter Chaucer editing. The first section in this chapter is methodological; it deals with the definition of a term ‘basis of collation’ and how this seemingly technical term has been used in the service of particular editorial assumptions and predilections. The second tests the editorial claims of the new electronic edition with the two earliest printed witnesses included within it. These two sections focus on two editing projects...

  10. 6 Editorial Variants
    (pp. 143-169)

    The following section examines the gap between material and text as it is manifested in certain editions and in the reception of editions. I will be dealing with a number of related problems: the text vs its material embodiment, the difference between colometry and metre, and the often curious divergence of the reception of these editions from the editions themselves. These editions can be understood and even defined as existing on different levels, and these levels are often at odds: critical evaluation of editions proceeds on one level; editorial myth of succession proceeds on another (series of texts); actual editorial...

  11. 7 Bibliographical Myths and Methods
    (pp. 170-190)

    This final chapter is in two sections. The first discusses a popular and amusing myth of book history: that in late nineteenth-century America, paper was manufactured with Egyptian mummy wrappings. It is an extreme example of the resistance of scholarly and bibliographical mythology to the very evidence that scholarly and bibliographical inquiry uncovers — a good case of the operation of ‘urban mythologys’ in bibliographical studies. The particulars of this case may be more accessible than those discussed earlier, but the problem is the same. The myth of the mummy paper persists (as does much of the mythology I have...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-194)

    When I look at the books on my shelf, I see that I have organized them much as a late nineteenth-century auction catalogue might have organized them. I know that I am supposed to be interested in their contents, or at least in the material aspects of their production and construction, of their imprint and date, and yet what I see, materialized on my shelves, are the same categories that appear so quaint in the auction catalogues: folios, large quartos, small quartos, octavos. In that folio section, a few books lie on their sides, too large for the shelf. A...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 195-228)
  14. Principal Works Cited
    (pp. 229-236)
  15. Index
    (pp. 237-243)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)