Echard 2008

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Echard, Siân. Printing the Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Coda: The Ghost in the Machine: Digital Avatars of Medieval Manuscripts

Example of Sherborne Missal being digitized, party thrown in 2001 to cele rate

1565 or 1566, Matthew Parker writes William Cecil offering to counterfeit some portions of the Vespasian psalter, add a psalm that is missing and move image of David -- "many manuscripts in his own collection sho signs of similar interventions"

"Where missing texts could not be provided, Parker might wash out incomplete leaves, and where composite manuscripts had irregular edges, he would cut them to uniform size. In a real sense, then, the archbishop was making manu- scripts: filling in or covering up textual lacunae; taking care to ‘‘counter- feit antiquity’’; making the books that passed through his hands look the way he thought a medieval manuscript should. But this counterfeiting involved effacing traces of real antiquity: as R. I. Page noted in his lec- tures on the Parker Library, ‘‘The manuscripts—whatever their origin— are in a sense sixteenth-century ones.’’" (200)

"While our current notions of restoration would regard many formerly common practices as something closely akin to counterfeiting in the pejorative, even criminal sense, earlier bibliophiles such as Parker or Cecil clearly had no such concerns, and collectors of all manner of antiquities routinely ‘‘restored’’ their possessions to their own understanding of original states." (200)

19th century examples -- some people argue that a turning point was reached with respect to restoration after the decision not to restore Elgin Marbles in 1816, but book restoration continued throughout the century

in Parker's day, "authority and value both were aligned with completeness," but by 19c, "there is more going on. The facsimile as he [Dibdin] understands it offers a direct line, however ghostly, to the past: the re-creation of medieval books is understood as a way to communicate with a world long gone." (201)

"As technology has enabled ever more exact reproduction, the cheerful refashioning pro- posed by Parker has been replaced by an emphasis on the photographic, on the exact, with at times an accompanying confidence that perfect reproduction can approach the revelation of an object’s truth." (201)

cites Bolter and Grusin 2001 on remediation

"The persistent desire to make connection with the medieval past as, simultaneously, foreign territory and familiar ancestor, framed as it has been in a need both to touch and to refashion the materiality of that past, is the ghost that continues to direct our contemporary encounters with medieval books. The ease with which that attraction to the material slides into bibliophilia and even the fetishization of the manuscript object poses a particular challenge for our encounters with the texts so materialized. The dispersal of that attraction into a non- (or differently) tactile, digital format, shifts the grounds upon which the fac- simile stands." (202)

Cerquiglini -- computer can "free" the medieval manuscript from 2d page to bring together different elements -- "Cerquiglini imagines the computer as a means by which to pry medieval texts from the object-contexts in which they are trapped; screenic presences is a kind of liberation from materiality." It is also, oddly, a different kind of authentic representation" because "its processes actually mimic the processes of variance and mouvance said to characterize medieval manuscript culture" (202-3)

"Thus the early theorizing of the place of medeival texts in a digital age seemed to point away from the physical object and away from the potential dangers of an excessive focus on the object at the expense of the text which it delivered." (203)

"There are, however, two problems with this attempt at reimagining our relationships with medieval texts. The first is that itunderestimates the powerful need to forge a tangible link with the past, even with all the dangers of fetishization such object-=links entail; the second is that it fails in the end to imagine the degree to which the impuls to facsimile would come to govern even this new technology. The digital world has in fact multiplied the number of facsimile representations of medieval texts, and yet in the absence of the affective power of the material book, these facsimiles are often as alienating as they are, apparantly, exact." (203)

image not that important in early moves to computer, like Canterbury Tales project -- thorough examination of how that project began with text and slowly moved toward providing full-color facsimiles

"It often seemed in the early days of digital imaging that there was a sense that a digital version of a manuscript could somehow be more transparent than a traditional edition. That belief in part expresses a tension between edition and facsimile." (205)

Electronic Beowulf project -- brings together facsimiles of transcriptions spread around the world but doesn't offer translations so difficult case to be made that it offers more "access"

Sherborne Missal, "turning the pages" technology -- "presents a conventionalized 'medieval' scene that culminates in a conventionalized approach to the book, so that digital technology is used to fulfill traditional expectations" (207)

"The British Library’s realization of the missal is about marketing, and about entertainment, and not about paradigm shifts: this approach means marrying traditional ‘‘bookish’’ assumptions with a particular take on audience expectations of the medieval world, books, and computer technology." (207)

public is thought to want to open pages, turn them, get virtual illuminations -- but not to read (209)

disorientation of having no clues as to size, mispagination (digital pages, not folios)

"This study has examined how authenticity has been at once a persis- tent claim in the postmedieval production of medieval texts, and a fluid reality dependent on the limits of various historical imaginations. To authenticity the digital age has added accessibility, yet this concept is equally plastic." (213)

"The particular problem attached to medieval texts is that the objects to which we are increasingly offered digital access are themselves all but untouchable; indeed, a desire to define access through the digital is, as noted above, often spe- cifically aligned to a protective desire to remove the artifact from even the limited exposure it may now have.63 The avatars for these rare objects have, in the history traced in these pages, been books them- selves—manipulable, tangible, physical." (214)

"the physicality of the book is part of its cultural role, whether as public object or private delight. The digital facsimiles I have discussed here all attempt in one way or another to offer these medieval and early modern books to the fulfilling of both roles, and yet I would argue that they are ultimately stymied by the requirement to disembody the objects they display. The resulting tension, between access and absence, creates the ghosts that haunt the digital realm." (214)