4016 Fall07 Questions and Discussion 10
This week's respondent: Will and Emily
The linked text for the Eisenstein reading is from "The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe", a revised/abridged version of "Printing Press as an Agent of Change". Notable differences in the revised book include the second chapter title, which was originally “defining the initial shift” rather than “defining an initial shift” , and the removal of a number of references to McLuhan in the first two chapters.
“Any technology tends to create a new human environment. Script and papyrus created the social enviornment we think of in connection with the empires of the ancient world... Technological environments are not merely passive containers of people but are active processes that reshape people and other technologies alike... Printing from movable type created a quite unexpected new environment – it created the PUBLIC. Manuscript technology did not have the intensity or power of extension necessary to create publics on a national scale. What we have called 'nations' in recent centuries did not, and could not, precede the advent of Gutenberg technology any more than they can survive the advent of electric circuitry with its power of totally involving all people in all other people” - Marshall McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy p.0
- Print Culture
- Print Logic
(1) What is Johns' most important critique of Eisenstein and why is it of significance?
(2) What is the nature of the influence of McLuhan on Eisenstein?
(3) Did printing make possible the transformations of the the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution? According to Eisenstein? According to Johns?
(4) What are the implications of these readings on today's issues of textual (or new media) veracity/piracy, and on the potential for communications technology shifts to trigger broader revolutions.
Eisenstein's project grew from a reading of McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy, which introduced the concept of revolutionary changes in communication having revolutionary implications for culture, but she brings a more traditional historian's methodology and linearity to the project, and rejects both McLuhan's technique and many of his conclusions.
Eisenstein finds that while many specific histories of printing and process have been written, the broad influence or effects of printing on culture been ignored, hence 'the Unacknowledged Revolution'. This oversight on the part of historians is due to the complexity of the challenge of fully identifying and exploring the revolutionary consequences.
Eisenstein attempts to follow Bacon's injunction to “take note of the force, effect, and consequences of Gutenberg's invention” or to discuss directly the influence the printing press exerted on all areas of history, political, economic, etc. These effects “are by no means self evident” though they are “far reaching effects; that, by common consent, left no field of human enterprise untouched.”(p7) It is notable that her work began in the 1960s, in a significantly different period of scholarship from today, and that much of the text we read remains unchanged from the 1980 version.
Beginning her exploration of the technological shift and its implications in chapter 2, Eisenstein emphasizes the lack of verifiable information prior to the press in terms of readership, sciptoria output, or versions. She sets of a strong contrast between the cloudy history of the scriptoria and the more organized codified work of print shops.
The text explores differentiation between the culture of the scribe and that of the printer along many lines. “There are many points of possible contrast between the activities of the Mainz printer and those of the Paris scribe.”( p28) Lines include the size and difficulty of versions, the importance of advertising and marketing, and the way in which images were used. This last is notably a point on which the two sides are completely opposed - the scribe's inclination to avoid including or providing detailed copies of images (and charts) due to time demands contrasts with the print shop's inclination to use these devices as selling points, and its ability to reproduce images from plates or wood blocks cheaply and reliably.
Underlying the initial exploration is an acknowledgment that the shift, while revolutionary from the perspective of text production and availability, did not immediately revolutionize the culture of reading and readers, though the overall thesis of the text is that changes set in motion by the initial revolution set in motion changes which were increasingly felt in all aspects of European culture.
Fixity: Johns primary critique calls into question Eisenstein’s understanding that print provided a “fixity” to writing. Fixity, in this sense, “meant the mass production of precisely the same text, repeatable on subsequent occasions and in different locations (10). In the human sense, fixity means that two people living far apart from each other could examine and compare a chart or some information and then they could exchange comments, thus contributing to the advancement of knowledge. Johns states that “we may consider fixity not as an inherent quality, but as a transitive one” (19).
Print Logic: Johns works from a perspective of local history as he argues that there is no such thing as print culture; rather there are print cultures. This presence of what Johns refers to as print logic is the construction of different print cultures in particular historical circumstances. Johns argues, “an apparently authoritative text, however ‘fixed’, could not compel uniformity in the cultures of its reception. Local cultures created their own meanings with and for such objects” (29).
Credit: In destabilizing the idea of fixity, the crucial issue for Johns is that of credit or credibility of a book. Early modern printed texts had to be established as trustworthy through social negotiations conducted in particular historical circumstances and in the context of specific practices and conflicts. According to Johns, book piracy, played a much more central and more complex role in the early modern book trade than has generally been acknowledged. “Its (piracy’s) apparent prevalence affected the economic and cultural conditions of all printed and written communication” (35). Johns argues that credibility only arose from newly created forms of sociability, and these structures, neither natural, nor inevitable, owed nothing to technology, but resulted from “hard work.”
Elizabeth Eisenstein and Adrian Johns participated in a dialog in The American History Review (VOLUME 107• NUMBER 1- FEBRUARY 2002) entitled AHR Forum: How Revolutionary Was the Print Revolution?
Journal link (requires login): http://www.historycooperative.org.arugula.cc.columbia.edu:2048/journals/ahr/107.1/
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