Mstu4016 f06 session7 wikiwork
"It is one thing to describe how methods of book production changed after the mid-fifteenth century or to estimate rates of increased output. It is another thing to decide how access to a greater abundance or variety of written records affected ways of learning, thinking, and perceiving among literate elites. Similarly, it is one thing to show that standardization was a consequence of printing. It is another to decide how laws, languages, or mental constructs were affected by more uniform texts. Even at present, despite all the data being obtained from living responsive subjects; despite all the efforts being made by public opinion analysts, pollsters, or behavioral scientists; we will know very little about how access to printed materials affects human behavior. (A glance at recent controversies on the desirability of censoring pornography shows how ignorant we are.) Historians who have to reach out beyond the grave to reconstruct past forms of consciousness are especially disadvantaged in dealing with such issues. Theories about unevenly phased changes affecting learning processes, attitudes, and expectations do not lend themselves, in any event, to simple, clear-cut formulations that can be easily tested or integrated into conventional historical narratives.
Please comment on the passage below, from "An Unacknowledged Revolution," the first chapter of E. Eisenstein's The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe.
This Week's Respondent
Ting-Fang (Annie), Cheng
Departing from the oral culture, one entered the era under alphabetical impacts. People no longer lived in the world which was built by the practices of carrying on collective memories, and by repeating the poets’ (re-citers’) lines and going on repeating them. People no longer learned from listening, being installed with memories and moral taboos which sustain the stability of the social structure. Instead, they began to write down things for preservation and memorization, reason what is the essence of truth and challenge the social structure, the prevailing laws, and the state institutions.
We now tried to read, understand, and imagine what was going on from Homer to Plato, while people in the time Homer and Plato lived actually did not read to learn. Then, when sharing the uniformity and the convenient access to print texts, one should think of the time when each book held its own uniqueness and one would have to travel a lot to see a certain book. As we tried to fabricate how ancient people conceived their worlds by the descriptions in book copies, we should be aware that the whole learning process has been revolutionized. The idea of learning shifts from the practical experiences that people involved to repeat after re-citers, the reasoning processes dialecticians wanted citizens to follow, to reading the manual works scribed by monks, the manuscripts scribed on parchments, and the books produced by press. After the advent of print, the power of knowledge do not reserved in religions—to scribe by monks and to preserve in the scriptoria alone. More and more people had openly access to print materials—to become active readers/learners or even able to create some texts to be the commentators or authors. The ways, the places, and the process to acquire knowledge thus changed. Also, the shapers and filters of people’s mentalities shifted.
One should keep on asking: how access to a greater abundance or variety of written records affected ways of learning, thinking, and perceiving among literate elites, and also common people? What is the difference between writing on parchments and printing on papers? What are the difficulties to reconstruct the history before print when historians did not have texts to work on, and when one can never go back to stay in thousands of scriptoria to view extremely diversified scribal cultures?
Moreover, after all, one should keep on thinking linearly and dimensionally what is the impact of different channels— the spoken words, the scribal cultures, print, broadcasting media, and internet—to understand different knowledge acquisition and perception of world over thousands of years.
In this passage, the idea of print being a necessary prerequisite for history is strongly asserted. It seems that the author sees and highlights the difficulty in a historian constructing a story about a time that wasn't captured in standardized print. However, does this necessarily mean that a lack of standardization equals a lack of a story? Is it only through pattern that we can describe a culture? Perhaps, the culture of society affected by the uniqueness of penmanship and the lack of typicality in manuscripts is a story in itself. If so, what is this story? How is uniqueness and atypical works of writing embraced by the society of its time?
For me, the most interesting point from the passage is that an accurate assessment of the modalities and psychological realities particular to pre-print scribal societies seems impossible to achieve because our only means of investigation rely, necessarily, on the technology that is being pre-supposed in the examination. To understand fully the mentality and consciousness present in such a culture would require an ability to identify with those pre-print modes of thought, and our current literary environment has formed within us a mentality that precludes us from doing so with confidence.
There is at least one sentence in the passage, however, that should probably be debated-- "There is nothing analogous in our experience or in that of any living creature within the Western world at present." I can't help but wonder if the digital era of textual communication is causing a similar separation of experience that technological eras define. I don't mean in the sense that we now have instant access to almost any information (though the consequences of that are interesting in themselves), but rather by the way modern man creates compositions: we type, then we cut, we delete, we rearrange, we paste and the new arrangement inspires new thoughts and we quickly start over-- does this new literary process affect the mentality of contemporary literate societies? Are we creating literature now that wouldn't have come out of pre- word processor days.
- Marduignan 22:16, 17 October 2006 (EDT) responding to Tucker:
- As a society we're not precluded - just this last week I was watching a PBS show on an ex-con (who is now a published writer) who taught himself to read and write while incarcerated. After he learned he put his skills to use by writing letters for other inmates(!) who couldn't write or who felt they weren't sufficiently educated to express themselves. In India and Africa where there are large populations of illiterate people - most villages or towns have what we could call a "scribe" who will read and write letters for them. Unfortunately, there ARE enough places on this earth for pre-print modes of thought to be examined. On top of that, I'm an adult literacy and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher with more than 7 years experience, and in the last year I had the most interesting, rewarding, and at the same time heartbreaking opportunity to teach real, live, totally illiterate students here in New York City. You (that's a general everybody "you") don't have to go very far to find specimens of illiterate culture. The author's sweeping declaration and assumption that we can't even have an inkling of a notion of what the transition might have been like really annoyed me.
- Tucker @ Marion:
- To find illiterate specimens, right, you don't have to go far at all (quite unfortunately so, as you mentioned). But I think there's an important distinction to make here between pre-literacy and illiteracy, and it has to do with the environment, the society to which you belong.
- My interpretation of what the author was saying was that as a literate group of investigators examining pre-literate peoples through literature... precludes us in certain ways because the tool through which we study, through which we see beyond the grave, is also the very thing we are trying to isolate for study itself. Can we escape from the lens we use to accumulate historical knowledge in order to accumulate such knowledge about the lens itself? It seems a paradox.
This Elizabeth Eisenstein must have a lot of scholarly foes - (devil's advocate here). She really irked me with the lines: "The conditions of scribal culture thus have to be artificially reconstructed by recourse to history books and reference guides. Yet for the most part, these works are more likely to conceal than to reveal the object of such a search." Okay, she's got a certain point with the artificial reconstruction (a ground for "anything goes") - but on top of what "history books" might or might not say, we still have some physical evidence with what scribes themselves actually wrote and commented on, as well as art historical evidence in the form of stone monuments and the reasons for their manufacture - like the Ogham stones and Celtic crosses of Ireland or the fact that the Romans and the early (Catholic) Church Fathers made use of such monuments as methods of instruction or memorialization that illiterate sections of their population would/could also understand. As I mentioned above in response to Tucker's comment - there is no shortage in this world today for some analogies to be drawn. Without repeating, but introducing another example for transition from illiterate to scribal to printed technology - look at all the public signage that has been designed to accomodate not only multi-lingual populations east and west - but to help those in the same society who might be illiterate - for example: the stick figures used for men and women's restrooms.
- I agree. The author seems to have this sense of western superiority in her definition of literacy. What about older monuments as evidence, as Marion mentioned? Or even, what about cave paintings and the path to get to them as enlightened modes of education between the generations? Iconic literacy, such as Asian languages, also seem to be dismissed. -- Aimee
The selected passage made me think of ideas of bias and objectivity. The argument that Einstein puts forth is interesting. The fact that modern historians, when trying to understand a culture that predated printing, cannot accurately reconstruct what it was like during those times because we now live in a world where printing is abundant and that it is so engrained in our culture. The example of school children who are asked to think about their travels and their "absentmindedness" of uniform maps really resonates with this argument. How can we study a particular objectively when we are already flooded with it within the culture or the environment that we live in? Regardless of what we try, the reconstruction of a world predating printing would become "aritificial" simply because when the availability of printing is so engrained in our culture that it makes it extremely difficult to have an accurate or objective reconstruction or the understanding of the time. I wonder if it is even possible to tease apart aspects of our society to scrutinize its effect more closely?
- Tucker @ Akio
- Yeah, bias and objectivity. I was along those lines in my reading too, and it had me thinking of things like cultural identity again. Is the culture (literate or not) in which we were raised so deeply intertwined with our very perception of the world, of reality itself (let alone values), that we can never see without it lest we start from scratch? In essence this would mean that truth is personal, "an intelligence all our own", sorry Heraclitus.
Valerio Borgianelli Spina.
I think that the history of language is a constant evolution. Even if I agree with Elizabeth Eisenstein’s position about the difficulties that we face in studying the pre and post typographic era, it is also true that the introduction of printed books was just one over hundred landmarks of language history. Orality, Ebla’s archives with more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets (2250 BC!), the alphabet, the use of the paper, the invention of the book, computers, all these elements and many others changed the history of the human symbolic expressiveness. It is extremely difficult to study these changes, but it is also true that all these small revolutions were “lazy revolutions” that took place over decades. So, the slowness of the revolutionary process in the evolution of the language is something that can help us to better understands why an important innovation like typography affected the way we express ourselves or the accessibility to the knowledge.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnerotomachia_PoliphiliLink title== Headline text ==
Like Annie, I think extra consideration needs to be given to the transition from extremely limited access to maybe one book (or possibly none at all) to all of a sudden (or maybe gradually, according to Eisenstein) having the ability to consult many different texts on a large variety of subjects. For me, I think that is one of the most important effects of the invention of the printing press. "Mass" producing greater numbers of books increased access and as a result, literacy and knowledge. Students no longer needed to consult one teacher on a particular topic and memorize his speeches or scribal dicatations. Now people all over could read on their own and learn and compare and develop thoughts of their own. Like Tucker, this made me think of how we have the Internet today. All of a sudden, anyone can access information on virtually any topic at any time. That's really huge when you think about it.
What this passage went over was mainly about the revolution of communication that happened through the big switch from the oral era to the scribed literacy and finally to the significant advent of printing. The main point that caught my attention the most was that print in fact had the great ability to "silence the spoken word". When you come to think of it, this event has such a great impact not only on the history of literacy, or history of communication in general but more importantly on the history of personal human communication. How amazingly over centuries it affected human contacts and connection, emotions and need for personal communication. The whole event led us to a somehow more independent situation, where we could find ourselves in the middle of this hug amount of information being circulated and shared by millions of people all around the world, but which at the same time brings us to face a more isolated state of communication, getting further and further away from the real human connections.
I found this topic and the readings really fascinating, so I'm particularly sorry to have missed the class discussion on this. I didn't initially understand the negative reaction class members had here to many of Eisenstein's statements, partially because I was reading them a bit differently - which is part of the point, since one of those byproducts of text and print-based culture is that the humanness of expression conveyable through oral communication and, to perhaps a lesser extent, through hand copying, is absent in print, increasing the likelihood of differing interpretations.
One thing that really resonated for me in this reading was the comment on the unknowability of the indirect effects of the exchange of "scribal" for print-based culture. While it's relatively easy to see how the rarity and expense of texts produced by scribes would give rise to what Eisenstein calls the "literate elite", it's much harder to imagine how the preciousness of handwritten texts and the "humanness" of written expression might have affected how readers actually perceived the concepts expressed within those texts.
Even before the massive changes being wrought by digital representations of text and online distribution methods, I think that there were analogous indirect changes over the past few decades caused by even more subtle changes in the technologies used in print production and distribution that have similarly gone mostly unrecorded. For example, the change only about 25-30 years ago from production processes that relied on setting metal type to more malleable production methods using lower-cost typographic and duplication technologies -- not to mention the massive changes in the 1960s-1980s in access to communication and distribution outlets for would-be publishers -- certainly affected the kinds of materials that were published (as well as the way existing publishers selected, manipulated, and validated texts) in ways that were likely to have a significant but indirect effect on the learning, thinking, and perceiving of the culture at large. However, even though these changes have been within my own experience, I already find it hard to trace back these effects... and the pace of change in communication technology has been so rapid, it's easy to leave this question to the dustbin of history while we focus on the more immediate and dramatic changes already visible in the digital world.