Blind Impressions

Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History

Joseph A. Dane
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Blind Impressions
    Book Description:

    What is a book in the study of print culture? For the scholar of material texts, it is not only a singular copy carrying the unique traces of printing and preservation efforts, or an edition, repeated and repeatable, or a vehicle for ideas to be abstracted from the physical copy. But when the bibliographer situates a book copy within the methods of book history, Joseph A. Dane contends, it is the known set of assumptions which govern the discipline that bibliographic arguments privilege, repeat, or challenge. "Book history," he writes, "is us." In Blind Impressions, Dane reexamines the field of material book history by questioning its most basic assumptions and definitions. How is print defined? What are the limits of printing history? What constitutes evidence? His concluding section takes form as a series of short studies in theme and variation, considering such matters as two-color printing, the composing stick used by hand-press printers, the bibliographical status of book fragments, and the function of scholarly illustration in the Digital Age. Meticulously detailed, deeply learned, and often contrarian, Blind Impressions is a bracing critique of the way scholars define and solve problems.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0869-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    To write on print culture, one might start by selecting a monumental book from the presumed history of that culture: it might be the Gutenberg Bible; it might be an edition of Aldus Manutius, Shakespeare’s First Folio, the French Encyclopédie. We might choose less grand things as well: a run-of-the-mill edition of an Elizabethan play, a fragment of an early grammar book. One of these books, or a set of its characteristics, might epitomize whatever print culture is. The book might mark a point in the history of print culture, a stage in its development perhaps, or, to invoke a...

    • CHAPTER 1 Paleography Versus Typography
      (pp. 11-36)

      In 2011, in an introductory section entitled “No Leaners,” I made a simple observation regarding the distinction between type and script. However we define type, it is distinguished from script by the discrete nature of the type-case: a typesort either is or is not in a type compartment of a typecase; a typefont has a finite and identifiable number of letterforms.¹ In this chapter, I will consider that in terms of the descriptive language used to apply to each field. To what extent does the language of typography exploit this distinction? And does the essential difference between the objects of...

    • CHAPTER 2 “Ca. 1800”: What’s in a Date?
      (pp. 37-57)

      When Rabelais and others characterized their own period as involved in “la restitution des bonnes lettres,”¹ they created what we now know as the Middle Ages, a period between two points of interest, Roman classical times and contemporary times, with both periods romanticized through a Renaissance or Early Modern perspective.

      The medieval period was equivalent to the Dark Ages: inaccessible, empty, barbaric, devoid of interest. Even what should have been seen as its literary achievements were defined out of existence: humanists saw Carolingian script as classical. Gothicists invented their own version of medievalism, but for modern scholars interested in what...

    • CHAPTER 3 Bibliographers of the Mind
      (pp. 58-72)

      One of the most influential articles written on bibliography in the past half century is D. F. McKenzie’s “Printers of the Mind.”¹ It is likely the compelling nature of the title and the implied thesis that have prevented me from reading or re-reading it as closely as I should, and I assume I am not alone in this. That title suggests there are two kinds of printers: (1) printers who existed and worked in the real world, slovenly, dirty, messy, inconsiderate and inconsistent, inefficient, and self-contradictory—more or less like all of us—and (2) Printers of the Mind, products...

    • CHAPTER 4 Herman R. Mead’s Incunabula in the Huntington Libraryand the Notion of “Typographical Value”
      (pp. 75-91)

      The Huntington Library catalogue of fifteenth-century books was produced by Herman R. Mead in 1937.¹ The catalogue and collection were to be organized according to the Proctor system, also the basis for a number of contemporary incunable catalogues; items are organized under country, town, printer, and date of printing within each printer, and the order of entries in the catalogue is determined by the “sequence of Proctor numbers.”² Each entry in the Mead catalogue has two numbers. The first, in the left margin, is the Mead number: each book receives a number in sequence, so that the last number in...

    • CHAPTER 5 Catchtitles in English Books to 1550
      (pp. 92-105)

      A little-noted feature of early sixteenth-century English books is what Victor Scholderer refers to, in reference to fifteenth-century Italian books, as “catch-title.”¹ Catchtitles are abbreviated forms of the book title printed on the direction line, that is, the line used for printed signatures and catchwords just below the text block. They appear generally on the first page of a quire, indicating the book or volume that quire belongs to. A typical example Whittinton’s grammar is shown in Figure 4 (“Syntaxis VV.” on the direction line of the recto).

      In early English books, their form is various. In some books (Yearbooks...

    • CHAPTER 6 An Editorial Propaedeutic
      (pp. 106-124)

      Bibliography as understood or defined by Anglo-American bibliographers has always been closely associated with editing, and the following chapter focuses on what appears to be the most basic function of traditional editing—organizing and evaluating extant variants (a set of facts) in such a way as indicate an original reading, or perhaps the source of error in these extant texts. A danger common to many of the editorial projects I have dealt with is their very complexity and sophistication. The richer and more impressive the method, and the more elaborate the set of facts defined by these projects, the farther...

    • Playing Bibliography
      (pp. 127-129)

      Most of the scholars I know settled into their fields by accident. As a would-be medievalist, I found myself, through no doing of my own, in Los Angeles. Medieval resources there, primary and secondary, could not compete with those of New York or large European libraries, but materials in book history and bibliography were abundant. I could claim almost convincingly that I decided to redirect my interests from the abstractions of criticism and literary texts to the more solid and now readily available material objects known as books. But things were actually much simpler. I saw no compelling reason to...

    • III.1. Book History and Book Histories: On the Making of Lists
      (pp. 130-138)

      Most of us have at some point been commissioned or required to compose a “Survey of Scholarship,” perhaps as a free-standing monograph, perhaps an introduction to a scholarly article, or even in the opening meetings of class. On the one hand, the allure is irresistible: that perfectly designed lecture or schema, making sudden sense of the conflicting, contradictory, and too often repetitive voices in a scholarly field. On the other hand, the very thought can lead to despair: there seems no way to accomplish this without giving a superficial and uncritical view of everything being surveyed. Even in a survey...

    • III.2. Meditation on the Composing Stick
      (pp. 139-148)

      The composing stick is an essential piece of equipment in traditional printing. It is the basis for most of what Moxon says about the “Compositor,” who in turn is the basis for much of modern bibliographical discussion, both in analytical bibliography and in the textual criticism related to it.

      Though every Compositerby Custom is to provide himself a Composing-stick, yet our Master-Printerought to furnish his House with these Tools also, and such a number of them as is suitable to the size of his House; Because we will suppose our Master-Printerintends to keep some Apprentices, and they, unless by contract...

    • III.3. The Red and the Black
      (pp. 149-155)

      With that, I am pretending to concede that I have given up methodological strictures and shifted to the personal. In fact, that concession is a gambit. I am conceding this in order to enforce the argument I have made all along: that bibliographical arguments must be made in the context of particular problems, particular settings, and finally particular researchers with their own unique and mysterious histories and personalities. I am sitting in a rare book library, and I am about to discover that one more example of my grand musing is erroneous.

      This time it is the Museum of Fine...

    • III.4. Fragments
      (pp. 156-164)

      Bowdoin College Library has what I call a run-of-the-mill early sixteenth-century psalter in a cheap contemporary binding.¹ Bound in as an endpaper is an equally routine sheet of another nearly contemporary psalter or breviary.

      There is nothing unusual about this. Loose sheets or leaves of books are routinely used as pastedowns or binding mterial, whether originally printer’s waste (that is, proofsheets or unused sheets) or binder’s waste (leaves from books that have been in circulation).² Binder’s waste, that is, leaves with evidence of having been used or read, are less likely to appear as visible flyleaves or endpapers. I don’t...

    • III.5. The Nature and Function of Scholarly Illustration in a Digital World
      (pp. 165-173)

      A recent scholarly book I reviewed has a number of illustrations, twenty-eight by my count.¹ Of these, most have the requisite permissions, all written in formulaic phrases, “Reproduced with the permission of the President and Fellows of Saint John Baptist College in the University of Oxford.” This must have been composed by the institution owning the image, as this is not a phrase others would come up on their own, nor one that would be formulated at press. All appear in a list of illustrations in the front matter, where eleven have such attributive notes. And that means, of course,...

    • III.6. Art of the Mind
      (pp. 174-182)

      A recent Getty Museum project involves the restoration of a Roy Lichtenstein piece, reported in the Los Angeles Times in “Lichtenstein’s Three Brush Strokes gets a Brush Up.”¹ The project is a poster-child for restoration. The artist/restorer is James DePasquale, “a longtime Lichtenstein assistant who manages the late artist’s studio in Southampton, NY.” The Getty received the sculpture in 2005 and displayed it in 2007 “after relatively minor repairs.” Since Lichtenstein’s sculpture was often repainted in his own lifetime, moralistic arguments against repainting, based on some strict and unworkable sense of the integrity of the past, hardly apply. The work,...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 183-208)
    (pp. 209-214)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 215-218)
    (pp. 219-219)