Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer

Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer

Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer

Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer

Synopsis

In "Forms and Meanings," Chartier explores what effect changes in form will have on the way we come to know texts in the future, placing his projections within a larger historical perspective that spans from stone tablet to Guttenberg bible and beyond.

Excerpt

The four studies brought together in this volume (three of which were given at the University of Pennsylvania as the 1994 Rosenbach Lectures) have very different topics, scopes, and approaches. They pose a common question, however. How are we to understand the ways in which the form that transmits a text to its readers or hearers constrains the production of meaning? the appropriation of discourse is not something that happens without rules or limits. Writing deploys strategies that are meant to produce effects, dictate a posture, and oblige the reader. It lays traps, which the reader falls into without even knowing it, because the traps are tailored to the measure of a rebel inventiveness he or she is always presumed to possess. But that inventiveness itself depends on specific skills and cultural habits that characterize all readers, inasmuch as everyone belongs to a community of interpretation. This dialectic of imposed constraint and invention occurs where conventions that put genres in a hierarchy; that codify forms; and that distinguish between discourse that is literal or figurative, historical or fabulous, demonstrative or persuasive, encounter the schemes of perception and judgment inherent to each community of readers.

Awareness of that dialectic leads to bringing into the same history everyone who contributes, each one in his or her own place and role, to the production, dissemination, and interpretation of discourse. This is the project that gives unity to this book. the two studies that make up its heart— the first dedicated to the act and the economy of the dedication, the other to the performance of a comedy on the occasion of a festive event at court— focus on the relationship between writing and political power in the age of princely patronage. Two things are important here. First, we need to grasp how dependence on royal largesse was translated into the very practice of literature. There were constraints inherent to the practice of writing—a preference shown to literary genres that lent themselves best to praise; a need to write quickly, under pressure, to satisfy the patron; a need to dispute the role of “author” with other claimants, beginning with the bookseller-printers—in a time when the market for books could not ensure . . .

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