Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History

Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History

Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History

Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History

Synopsis

"As bibliographers or book historians, we perform our work by changing the function of the objects we study. We rarely pick up an Aldine edition to read one of the classical texts it contains.... Print culture, under this notion, is not a medium for writing or thought but a historical object of study; our bibliographical field, our own concoction, becomes the true referent of the objects we define as its foundation."--From the Introduction

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.

Excerpt

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-themill edition of an Elizabethan play, a fragment of an early grammar book. One of these books, or a set of its characteristics, might epitomize what ever 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 nineteenth-century phrase no longer in fashion, the growth and progress of this thing or entity.

We could single out this book as marking a transformation in the history of printing, a crisis, if that is what our critical language calls for. For the first time, in this singular book, or once again, or now and for all, the function of books or the Book has changed: books are no longer transparent things; they are not these run-of-the-mill repositories of texts (so rarely discussed in histories of printing) to be “looked through”; they have lost their representational aspect and no longer transmit the text, thought, or intentions we once imagined are the raisons d’être of these things we call books. They are, rather, markers in a cultural history that the author and publishers only dimly imagined. Or so we might think.

As bibliographers or book historians, we perform our work by changing the function of the objects we study. We rarely pick up an Aldine edition to read one of the classical texts it contains. No one reads the Bible in Gutenberg’s version, and as for books by Koberger, staples of histories of early printing, we don’t read the texts they contain at all, and perhaps would not even recognize them. Bentley’s Milton has nothing to do with Milton, nor does the mythology surrounding it have much to do with Bentley, and no one . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.