Dane 2013

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Dane, Joseph. Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

"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 learns Latin by reading Donatus. 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 at its foundation." (1-2)

"Perhaps our book, selected and seen as the epitome of book culture, print culture, literary culture, or some sort of culture (always in the West) can be seen as something else again: not the epitome of this abstraction of culture (however we define it) but its antithesis, the thing that marks the limits of the abstraction, or perhaps the line in the sand where the abstraction loses force. This object defines our abstractions more rationally in a negative sense. To single out a particular book-copy is to define what such a copy is not. It reveals our abstractions only by insisting in its very materiality that those abstractions do not exist “out there” in the culture or history or series of events we claim to be interested in." (2)

"Ca. 1800": What's in a Date?

Pg 39 -- how slippery history of printing is; the books we tend to look at don't prove

Size of sheet of paper determines format in early books; but this excludes playing cards and independent engravings -- machine made paper makes formats a matter of convention -- then becomes a matter of categories for shelving

Stereotyping too "changes what a book or an edition is, and changes too the basic definitions bibliographers use to define these things" (42)

Overimportance of Moxon -- has somewhat arbitrarily become the classic work in the field

Bibliographers of the Mind

McKenzie's "Printers of the Mind"; showing that conclusions of analytic bibliography do not match what historic records we have (e.g. of Cambridge UP)

Easy test: have some make conclusions based on analytic bibliography, others make conclusions from records -- test them against each other; but this hasn't been done, compositorial studies continue to happen

"Bibliographers often invoke science, yet they seem completely indifferent to scientific method and the tedious repetitiveness that method entails: the obsession with performing an experiment once, then performing it again." (60)

Not clear that the distinctions between analytical and descriptive and enumerative bibliography are what we assume! (60-61)

Anglo-American bibliography defined by STC, all books printed in England to 1640, catalogued by editions; how to define the unit "edition" is the question of Bowers's Principles of Bibliographical Description

Descriptive bibliography covers the "ideal copy"

Herman R. Mead's Incunabula in the Huntington Library and the Notion of 'Typographical alue'

Huntington catalogue of 15c books, produced by MEad in 1937 following the Proctor system

Incunabule holdings includ a number of fragments; "precise principles to deal with such items are difficult to define" (75)

"No modern cataloguer would even consider giving the individual leaves in a collection such as Haebler’s or in a leaf-book a separate entry in a catalogue. That Mead would do so bears directly on fundamental questions of what a book actually is, and the nature and function of the repositories (libraries) that house such things. Questions about the development and impact of early printing, about the spread of literacy, and so forth depend on quantitative statements about, say, “numbers of books printed” during a particular period, and depend also on our intellectual systems of organizing them." (76) -- Mead saw Huntington holdings as "type specimens," not book-copies

"More and more during this period, the Huntington collection was seen not simply as a collection of books (texts by authors), but rather as a record of typographical history." (78)

Bradshaw, idea of a "natural history of typefonts"; Procter's history of printing is a development of this; influenced how fragments were incorporated into the catalogue

"But the evidence resists this history: types are difficult to identify; even books cannot be defined. And cata logues finally have competing purposes; like Proctor’s own cata logue, they are indexes, but indexes both of a repository of evidence and of the assumptions about history that serve to organize that evidence both intellectually and materially." (89)

Catchtitles in English Books to 1550

"When the facts are called upon to speak, they often mumble inaudibly." (101)

An Editorial Propaedeutic

On editing: "The richer and more impressive the method, and the more elaborate the set of facts defined by these projects, the farther these methods get from what appears to be the basic task of any editorial project." (106)

"Digital editions have so far only compounded these tendencies. Putting more information in the hands of readers does not make that information more coherent or even usable: facts do not speak, in Bradshaw’s terms, simply because there are more of them." (109)

"at the heart of editing is the assumption that extant texts can be described in terms of what happened, or how they came to be. The editorial arrangement of variants represents the history of those variants: one text was copied from another; two extant texts are to be grouped together because certain events in history (which may not be finally determinable) occurred that linked them in essential ways. Textual details that have no bearing on these questions (Greg’s accidentals) are not editorial facts at all. " (111)

"Editing decisions, because they concern a history external to the editing process, should thus be judged not because they conform to the logic of editing (whatever that is), but rather because they produce results that reflect what happened historically. Th is is what distinguishes editing from most other forms of literary criticism. Editors do not justify what they do simply because their systems are consistent, systematic, or elegant, or because their arguments are persuasive, powerful, or simply belligerent. Editing is not mathematics; it is more akin to counting." (111)

A Practical Exercise -- useful for doing with students

Playing Bibliography

"Perhaps there is no bibliographical community after all; that too is simply an abstraction that we pretend has real existence when it is convenient. And those moments of discovery?—nothing but bibliographical theater to be shushed by a librarian." (129)

Book History and book Histories: On the Making of Lists

Listing out what might be considered foundational or canonical in book history. (131)

Meditation on the Composing Stick

"We simply do not know how type was set in teh 15th and 16th centuries." (146)

Page, not line, as unit of meaning: "The instability of pages I am claiming suggests a method of composition that does not involve galleys or the composing stick, but one whereby the unit of the page dominates, even though the nature of that unit is not the same as the page that ends up in print." (148)

The Red and the Black

Boccaccio's De Casibus virorum illustrium (1476); some copies have large hand-painted miniatures, others have pages rest ot allow space for copper engravings


Binder's waste, printer's waste, used on endpapers; "What is important about fragments such as this one is that they reflect not so much on the history of books in general (how could one possibly make a comprehensive study of endpapers?), but rather on the relation between chronological history (that is, events that occurred over time) and the perception of that history by the modern bibliographer. A book fragment is difficult to abstract into the realm of bibliographical categories such as editions, issues, states. When a leaf from a book is used for something else (an endpaper), that instance of use remains stubbornly singular as well: the leaf is no longer part of a book; it is rather a feature of a unique copy. The fragment, or bit of binding material, might be a witness to or index of certain abstract things such as bibliographical states and editions or the conventions of a bindery, but it is rarely a perfect exemplar of them." (156-7)

Fragments -- "They are interesting not because they are representative, but rather because they can serve as allegories for something beyond themselves." (158)

What's the use of cataloguing all fragments? Don't really cohere as a corpus

"Thus, this group of fragments has no noteworthy coherence as a unit or as a corpus. They are individuals, and each in its way points to a problem in determining what a book is and the relation of that book to “things we put in cata logues.” They are thus signs or allegories of general bibliographical problems, not exemplars of specific bibliographical principles or rules. The most prominent question I can formulate from these concerns the “names for things.” To what extent is the mere existence of these things connected with or even dependent on the bibliographer’s ability to give them names, that is to say, proper entries in a cata logue?" (159)

What should we put in a catalogue?

Fragments -- hard to shelve; come in envelopes attached to books whose bindings they were in; "strain between bibliographical and ontological identity (that is, books vs. book-copies)

Printer's waste used as binding -- not really part of a book, not just a section from a complete edition; sometimes just mistakes made by the printer, or an abandoned project; "To catalogue these rubrics, even as containing typographical vlue ... may well be to catalogue a nonexistent book. Or perhaps to create one, that is to say, bring a book into real existence that had only theoretical existence forthe printer who began, then apparently abandoned, the project of printing it." (163)

Sometimes "becomes a repository of documents that have nothing whatsoever to do with the text included by the printer or binder." (163)

"The point of all of it is that there are no general principles that can apply to what seems the simplest of decisions: how to make accessible what exists in the archive. To make the decision, we need to have all the answers in advance. And we must have all examples ready to hand, since our decision regarding one of them has implications for them all." (163-4)

"None of the above examples would be regarded as unique in a bibliographical context: you find these whenever you begin to look for them. The Huntington Library has a Sammelband of Whittinton grammars in a blind-panel stamped contemporary binding (RB 61711-20; see Figure 4 above). The pastedown on one of the boards has been removed, leaving behind visible offsets of an early printed leaf. That leaf was apparently of enough value for someone to rip it from the book (the other blank pastedown is intact). I can identify the type (95G, a de Worde type). It would not be all that difficult to identify the edition. Does the Huntington thus own a copy of this edition, identified only by the offsets in this binding? And if so, is it thus possible for a single exemplar of an edition to be in two places at once? One of my own books has visible binding material, part printed, part manuscript. Do I own the books or texts they record? Or do I own them only after I have identified them? There do not seem to be any convenient principles to apply." (164)

The Nature and Function of Scholarly Illustration in a Digital World

"The photograph above in my Figure 7 is about the best I can do, or even want to do. The camera is hand-held, the light imperfect. The image is consequently and very obviously of a particular book; there is no way I can disguise that, nor do I want to disguise that. Mr. Sullivan’s images, by contrast, are works of art, often abstracted from the particular books in which they appear.  On his and other commercial photographs, you will not see the ripple of the pages and the distortions you see in mine. He of course knows absolutely what this means in relation to the book. But I’m not sure his viewers know this or even want to know it." (171)

"What professional photography does is transform these book-copies into books. This is not a result of what photographers want: it is the result of what scholars want." (172)

"Our machines have seemingly improved our access to books. But the better our investigative machinery becomes, the farther away we move from the objects we claim to investigate. We don’t need books, because we have their sanitized and largely aestheticized images, which now decorate, rather than constitute, our scholarly arguments. Not only do they establish our basic discourse, they even unsettle the counterdiscourse, such as I intend my own to be here, daring it to wax nostalgic over the smells and textures of the objects as do the dilettantes we might claim to despise." (173)

Art of the Mind

"I was lucky to be once with a rare book librarian in the stacks of the Huntington. He was brilliant but disorderly, lost amid the heaps of books, discoursing on particulars. We discovered a set of early printing fragments in an incunable binding, and found it quite remarkably because we had been surveying the collection looking for just this sort of thing (see above, III.4). The fragments had been cut out from the binding, in the early twentieth century I am certain, and sandwiched in cardboard inside the cover of the book, left there to be discovered seventy years it must have been in the future. The first thing my guide did was throw the cardboard away, and all I could think of, dumbly standing there, was that as that cardboard hit the wastebasket, with it went all but the most speculative of histories concerning how those fragments happened to be discovered, recognized, and placed there, unidentified by some hardworking but anonymous librarian of the 1930s, to be forgotten entirely until we chanced on them. Now there is a history worth thinking about!—the intellectual world of the bibliographers who would first ignore, then recognize, the value of such things, deface the book to remove them from the binding, and leave them there without so much as a note on their existence— all that alluring history to be teased out of the cardboard, with its evidence of who these early librarians were. Gone. Instead, the only history that seemed of interest to us was that very “originality” I am disparaging now. Hey, get a look at this, Louie. Pontanus Type! From 1460!" (178)

"The same principle applies here as applies to cata loguing. It is very difficult to use a cata logue, or even a library, without internalizing to some extent the principles that brought it into being. You are examining this material because someone else determined that it was worth examining. You are recording this evidence because someone earlier decided that it would be evidence. You are looking through the author or printer list in a database because someone earlier determined that this was the way the evidence they defined and presented to you should be organized." (178)