McKenzie 2002

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McKenzie, D. F. "Printers of the Mind: Some Notes on Bibliographical Theories and Printing-House Practices." Making Meaning: "Printer's of the Mind and Other Essays. Ed. Peter D. McDonald and Michael F. Suarez, S.J. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002.

inductively-derived knowledge is fundamentally unsound, since no finite number of observations ever justifies a generalization

  • cites Russell, Popper, Hume (15)

"To observe at all is to bestow meaning of some kind on the thing observed; to gather particular pieces of evidence is to seek those relevant to some preconceived notion of their utility." (16)

we must recognize "the present situation of multiple 'probabilities' as the desirable one and regar[d] them as hypotheses to be tested deductively" (17)

implication of the evidence McKenzie presents: "that the very fixity of the physical bounds within which we are asked to work is inimical to the development of a sound methodology" because:

  1. "if the stress is laid on 'proof' then the small number of paradigms available to us unreasonably restricts the subject;"
  2. "in the present state of our knowledge the finite particulars with which we must work are too few and therefore permit too many alternative generalizations to be induced from them;"
  3. "the conception of 'normality' as a corrective to the undisciplined proliferation of generalizations misrepresents the nature of the printing process;"
  4. "induction is necessarily an inconclusive method of inquiry" (18)

shouldn't impose our post-industrial assumptions about "careers" and "labor" standards

for example, performance contracts: meant journeyman could not be counted on as regular labor (perhaps a reason printers were taking on more apprentices), and workman wouldn't work harder than they were contracted to do (22-3); this "normality of non-uniformity" has uncomfortable consequences for bibliographic methodology (23)

we generally assume at least one compositor and one press-crew worked fairly consistently on any printed book; however, numbers show that the Cambridge and Bowyer presses followed the principle of concurrent production;

  • individually, books took longer to print
  • smaller earlier presses seemed to use concurrent printing as much as larger 18c houses
  • compositors would have been setting more than one book at a time
  • formes could/would be sent to any press-crew ready to take it -- not necessarily assigned to one book
  • we shouldn't underestimate the flexibility of the common press as a machine; each press had several friskets cut to common formats, and didn't have lengthy make-ready of 19/20c machines (30)
"If we are correctly to reconstruct the detailed operations of a printing house -- even a very small one -- or a true account of the printing of any one book, we must therefore do it in a way that shows the complete pattern of work in its full complexity." (30)

concurrent production forces us to rethink our hypotheses regarding bibliographic evidence; e.g.:

  • change in the measure of a compositor's stick doesn't necessarily mean a new compositor began working at that point, because compositors would have been changing their measures all the time to accommodate the needs of the multiple different books they were working on (31-2)
  • although we rely on theories of staggered presswork based on reconstructed skeleton formes, it's difficult to correlate the use of multiple running headlines to the use of a particular number of presses
  • fonts would be depleted, leading to setting in formes; but would allow some progress to be made on all work (46)

an incorrect account of the printing process can lend "massive authority to the erroneous assumption that a book was normally put into production as an independent unit" (42)

"I know of no evidence that obliges us to think of one sheet (or forme) being followed immediately on the press by another of the same book." (47)

"productive conditions were constantly changing, not just from century tlo century in different houses, but from day to day in the same house, wimply because concurrent printing has been the universal practice for the last 400 years. If I am right, this fundamental fact poses more problems for analytical bibliography than any minor period differences. These there certainly were, and they must be carefully charted, but we must beware that ostensibly sophisticated historical relativism which insists on making fine distinctions between periods when virtually nothing certain is known about either element of the comparison." (53)

"whatever the variables, labour was always predetermined, controlled, and properly recorded, whether on piece rates or not" (53)

press figures might be associated with a press or with a man -- using this as "empirical evidence" can falter (54-6)

"primary evidence definitely restricts the generality of many statements hitherto made about the interpretation of press figures; yet it reveals such diversity of conditions in their use that almost any answer might well be true for any particular book" (56)

McKenzie wishes to argue that "the integrity of the subject can best be preserved and a sound methodology evolved only if we stress the similarity of conditions in all periods. Then fine distinctions may be entertained, not as period differences but as the inevitable result of variables which will differ from day to day and house to house." (57)

the central paradox of this paper: "that all printing houses were alike in being different. Despite my misgivings about 'norms' I have tried to suggest that all printing houses were more alike over the years than many bibliographers are prepared to allow: in size of plant, variability of work force, edition quantities printed, use of standing formes, proofing procedures, and most important of all in printing several jobs concurrently." (62)

  • use primary evidence, don't rely on erroneous inferences / inductive method

feels "a mild despondency about the prospects for analytical bibliography: limited demonstrations there may certainly be, although they may require a life-time's devotion to make them; wherever full primary evidence has become available it has revealed a geometry of such complexity that even an expert in cybernetics, primed with all the facts, would have little chance of discerning it" (63)

need to:

  • move from induction to deduction
  • "use multiple and ingenious hypotheses" (63)
  • impose methods of falsification on premature generalizations