Echard 2008

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

Preface: The Mark of the Medieval

… every reader rewrites its texts, and, if they have any continuing life at all, at some point every printer redesigns them.’’ 2What I will argue, in the pages that follow, is that there are particular imperatives at work in the redesigns of medieval texts.


Even as the book is stamped with the aura of the past, it profoundly reimagines that past.


… 1848, but what Hornby evokes through his colophon is both the craftsmanship of early books and, what is perhaps even more important, the connec- tion between the book and its hand-makers, a connection increasingly alienated in the world of steam printing.


The colophon thus encapsulates the two senses of re-creation—as dupli- cation and as making anew—that dominate the printings to be explored in this study.


They aim to show that scholarly attitudes toward the Middle Ages are, and always have been, part of the web of popular perception and recep- tion, a web in which the physical object and the imaginative response are inextricably linked.


Introduction: Plowmen and Pastiche

…from an early period, the texts of the Middle Ages have been understood at least in part in terms of their appearance. This study attempts to articulate why the aura of the past should be so particu- larly desirable in printings of medieval texts, why that aura should so often be particularly tied to the visual, 5and what it might mean to understand medieval texts in this way. In the pages that follow, I will argue that any reading of a medieval text, past or present, amateur or professional, floats on the surface of a complex sea of expectations and desires which both governs, and is governed by, the books that mediate those readings…


11That suspension is performed here, I would suggest, because a mid-nineteenth-century reader of a text like Piers was looking, consciously or unconsciously, for what I am calling the mark of the medieval.


Facsimile reproduction was one such mark, but there were others, more concerned with what might be called emulation or hommage than with exact reproduction.


It is characteristic of these procedures that the same materials that are used to claim connection to an authentic past should be routinely redeployed to match the tastes and ideas of the present about that past.


Shaw’s Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages (1843) draws on manuscripts, sculpture, objects, windows, and effigies, carefully identifying sources and commenting on the character of the medieval objects. Both text and image strive, then, to offer as faithful an account of their medieval originals as possible. And yet at the same time, Shaw sometimes combines elements, producing what we might see as pastiche out of facsimile parts.


The key words here fall into two groups: authenticity is guaranteed both by the antiquity of the sources, and by the technical expertise of the copying. These twin assurances—of antiquity and its accurate representation through facsimile—characterize many postmedieval presentations of medieval texts.


Lacroix’s book is one of many late nineteenth-century French printings that made a particular point of profuse, facsimile-style illustration based on medieval models. The Preface to Moeurs, usages et costumes stresses the use of chromolithography in the effort to ensure exact reproduction: ‘‘engraving and chromolithography have come to our aid, reproducing, by means of scrupulous facsimile, the most rare impressions of the fif- teenth and sixteenth centuries, and the most precious miniatures from the manuscripts preserved in the principal libraries of France and Europe.’’


Paris in the latter part of the nineteenth century had seen a rise in popular medi- evalism, reflected in and fed by the World’s Fairs, and as Elizabeth Emery and Laura Morowitz point out, the rise of chromolithography made it possible to expand the possession of medieval objects from the cabinets of collectors to the living-rooms of the bourgeoisie. 28Not every- one could own a medieval manuscript, but the new technology put con- vincing versions of those manuscripts within reach of many more people.


The comparison shows, then, that even when copying is claimed to be exact, the facsimile in fact constitutes a kind of translation.


To return for a moment to Strutt, it is clear that his reliance on original objects was not accompanied by any belief in the integrity of the original page. He commonly seized bits and pieces from different images to combine them into collages of ornaments, or even to overlay them to create new pictures. The companion volume for the recent exhibition Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age argues that Strutt ‘‘was doing in the simulacral realm of print what some collectors were to do a decade or so later to actual manuscripts—cutting them up and pasting them into new collages more compatible with their own contemporary tastes.’’ 32Shaw’s pages, too, are collages which typically draw on several manuscripts at a time to produce handsome composi- tions in which modern text is framed by hand-painted initials and line- drawn illustrations.


This conflation of the plowman with the poem and its tradition rap- idly becomes a critical as well as an illustrative practice. The place of the Trinity R.3.14 image in the Piers tradition opens a window onto the operations which ultimately manage and channel our reception of the medieval textual past…


…val texts in later periods is so important: for most medieval texts, the small number of books which convey the text acquire heightened significance, and if those books emphasize visual markers of antiquity, that emphasis weighs heavily on their traditions.


I hope to show, by tracing ideas of authentic representation from medieval printers through later editors, publishers, and scholars, the extent to which medieval book- texts are inextricably and perhaps uniquely embedded in all those worlds of work—in their own production and transmission histories, both deliberate and accidental.


… facsimile is important because Shaw and his audience need and want to know what authors look like: the selection and repro- duction of the manuscript image both fills and perpetuates that need and the associated understanding of what literary tradition is.


What I am trying to suggest is that reproduction is considerably more complicated than the mechanical production of cop- ies; and that the motives driving reproduction are equally complicated. The limits on facsimile are as much mental as they are technological, and it is in fact the attempt to recapture ‘‘aura,’’ as part of a drive to make a genealogical connection, which drives the understanding of the process of making-like. For the medieval textual object, the problem is precisely that it is understood as object—that it is contained in artifacts that are first understood physically, tactilely, visually.


Chapter Five Froissart’s not French (or Flemish)

…l, the impression offered to a casual observer is certainly that of facsimile, and the book is an example of a typical nineteenth-century presentation of Froissart’s text in the degree to which it mimics the medieval, and sells itself through this mimicry.

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)