Smyth 2004

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Smyth, Adam. "'Rend and teare in peeces': Textual Fragmentation in 17th-Century England"

A discussion of John Gibson's commonplace or miscellany, showing how he used fragmented prints and printed texts, anagrams, and collecting practices to express a pro-Crown agenda.

"Most fundamentally, Gibson’s compositional techniques suggest a striking attitude to reading and, in particular, to the printed text: there is a willingness to fragment, literally, the printed book. The manuscript implies a reader dismantling books and using excerpts within his own text. If Samuel Johnson said he ‘read like a Turk by tearing the heart out of a book,’11 Gibson was enacting a literal version of this plundering. Consequently, Gibson’s manuscript implies a conception of printed books as resources from which excerpts might be taken; as collections of potential fragments. The manuscript suggests an interest in moments of a text, much more than a coherent whole – and a conception of the printed page as unfinished: Gibson augments print either by intervening directly and adding his own notes on to the printed page, or by aligning print with manuscript notes which complicate, nuance, or rework our reading. Significantly, within Gibson’s manuscript the printed pages do not generally recall the book from which they came: there is little sense of looking back to origins. Instead, Gibson’s manuscript appropriates excerpts within its own composition and generates new meanings." (43)
"Implicit in early modern notions of reading is the idea of extracting parts: not always tearing the pages, perhaps – and probably not literally biting them – but certainly removing sections, and dissecting texts. In a reading culture in which authorship was yet to establish itself as the primary variable of literary definition; in a culture in which such emphasis was placed on isolating commonplaces; in a context in which books were sold as unbound and implicitly incomplete objects, many readers surely operated in a fashion similar to Gibson. Not cutting and pasting, perhaps, but certainly consuming a text through fragments and reworkings. If we, as contemporary readers, are interested in studying texts as they might have been read in early modern England, then the exclusive pursuit of textual coherence, or linear readings, may, in some cases, be an anachronistic way to think about these books." (44)