¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The history of the book only came to be regarded as a separate subject or discipline of study during the 1950s and 1960s—a period which, interestingly, also saw the first experiments with the electronic book and with digital textual transmission. Although it is only a relatively young discipline, the rise of book historical titles over the last few decades has been considerable, and can be connected to the increasingly interdisciplinary character of book studies. Initially an amalgam of history, bibliography and literary studies, book history today draws its inspiration from a wide range of disciplines and methods, including media and communication studies and even newer fields such as the digital humanities. However, its wide and ever-expanding scope notwithstanding, I would like to focus on a few of the most characteristic features that have structured the discourse surrounding the history of the book. Additionally, I would like to highlight some of the important oppositions that, as I will show, continue to dominate the often highly agonistic debate. The guiding questions that will be used to analyse this debate on book history will be: under what circumstances did the discourse emerge? What has it focused on? What have been its topics of contestation? And which oppositions does it (continue to) embody?
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In my description of the often agonistic discourse surrounding the book and structuring the way it is perceived and how its history is narrated, I will focus on those histories that describe the transition from manuscript to print (and to a lesser extent from orality to literacy), and, in doing so, follow the printed book’s further development until the end of the 19th century. Having this ‘cut-off’ is not only a way to bracket this introductory chapter with its historical overview from the remaining chapters of my thesis, where the latter focus more directly on the present shift from print to digital and on the more recent history and development of the scholarly book. This cut-off point is also meant to emphasise the importance of this specific cluster of print-culture-focused historical studies and discourses—and of the specific theorists and historians it incorporates—for the history of the book as a whole. Furthermore, it is intended to emphasise the continuing influence of these studies on the structure of the discourse that surrounds the future of the book as well as the recent histories of ebooks and digital textual transmission.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 To begin, although the book historical field has been described as ‘scattered in approach’ (Finkelstein and McCleery 2005: 3), and ‘so crowded with ancillary disciplines that one can no longer see its general contours’ (Darnton 1982), there are a few major focal points within the debate on book history that can be discerned. Although it is by now quite dated (especially with respect to the practicalities of digital scholarly communication and book production), Robert Darnton’s highly influential publishing communication chain remains a useful model for capturing the various aspects of the book’s production, dissemination and consumption that the book historical discourse has focused on. First presented in an article for Daedalus in 1982, Darnton’s communication circuit proposes a general model for analysing the way books come into being and spread through society. At the same time, Darnton uses this circuit or chain to make sense of and disentangle the sprawling field of studies in book history. Despite the fact that various attempts at improved versions to Darnton’s circuit have surfaced in the decennia after it was first designed, and even though this model is based on the lifecycle of the printed book, one can argue that it still forms an important element in the discourse on the history of the book as it stretches into the digital domain, if only as a system with which to compare and contrast. Take, for example, those theorists who foreground the disintermediation of functions in the digital production cycle of the book. Often a reference is made to Darnton’s communication circuit—or a more abstracted version of the ‘publishing value chain’—to emphasise which of the traditional publishing or communication functions are now beginning to become obsolete, or have been taken over by one and the same person, company or institution in ‘the digital age’.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The communication chain focuses on the roles played by authors, publishers, printers, distributors, booksellers and readers in the production of the printed book. Readers become authors themselves again—hence the circle—something that is even more apparent within scholarly communication. In addition, the communication chain emphasises the social, political and economic influences on these agents within the process of value production. Book historians mostly focus on one part of this system, but for Darnton it is essential that ‘the parts do not take on their full significance unless they are related to the whole’. Or, as he puts it more clearly: ‘Book history concerns each phase of this process and the process as a whole, in all its variations over space and time and in all its relations with other systems, economic, social, political, and cultural, in the surrounding environment’ (Darnton 1982: 11). One important omission in Darnton’s circuit, which will be focused on in the present study, however, is of course the book itself, an exclusion already remarked upon by Adams and Barker in their revised communication circuit (2001). As they point out, Darnton’s model focuses too much on a social history of communication. The book itself in its material manifestations and its influence on the discourse on the history of the book and hence on society and culture (instead of only the other way around), is not admitted as a form of agency, nor as an agential relation in this model. The importance of including the book as a form of agency within a network of agents is emphasised by book historian Paul Duguid, who argues: ‘Books are part of a social system that includes authors, readers, publishers, booksellers, libraries, and so forth. Books produce and are reciprocally produced by the system as a whole. They are not, then, simply “dead things” carrying pre-formed information from authors to readers. They are crucial agents in the cycle of production, distribution, and consumption’ (1996: 79).
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Applying these criticisms and expansions to the model in consideration, we can use this updated communication chain to identify the following book historical topics or subfields. First of all, we can distinguish studies that focus on the book as an individual, material object. Here the focus lies predominantly on the technical analysis of the materiality of the book; on the importance or influence of format (i.e. bibliography or studies on paratexts); or on the kind of uses a specific text or artefact triggers or demands. New Bibliographical studies that aim to establish authoritative texts and correct textual meaning would fall into this category (Bowers 1949, Gregg 1966, McKerrow 2002), as would studies that take the book in a more abstracted form as their starting point by focusing on the agency of the book—and of print and print culture—and its influence on culture and society (McLuhan 1962, Eisenstein 1979, Ong 1982). Secondly, we can distinguish research that focuses on the production of the book and the political economy surrounding the book value chain, which includes publishing, distribution, and sales. This subfield covers studies that analyse the whole system (as Darnton proposed) of material book production and culture and the various agents that play a role in it (i.e. Darnton 1982, Thompson 2005); more materialist traditions such as the Annales school or what has come to be known as the French ‘histoire du livre’ (Chartier 1994, Febvre and Martin 1997); and finally D. F. McKenzie’s extension and reorientation of bibliography to include the ‘sociology of texts’ by looking at the specific conditions under which books were produced (2002). Thirdly, we can discern research that focuses on authorship by, for instance: researching authorial intention in an attempt to come closer to the ‘true’ meaning of a text, or by concentrating on the changing role of the author in the value chain—including the changing author function; or on the development of (authorial) ownership or copyright of texts (Barthes 1967, Foucault 1977, Hesse 1992, Rose 1993, Woodmansee and Jaszi 1993). Finally, we can identify research that focuses on readership, including the history of reading and the role of the reader, and on the historical uses and reception of books (i.e. reception history).
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Alongside these general topics that can be seen to frame the debate on book history (and let me emphasise that this is not an all-inclusive list), we can detect a variety of dichotomies or binary oppositions that have come to structure it. As already stated above, it is important to analyse and explore these divisions in depth as they continue to influence and structure the discourse on book history in the present, as will be shown in the following chapters. A few of the most characteristic oppositions have been put forward by book historians Elisabeth Eisenstein and Adrian Johns as part of their debate in the American Historical Review, which provides a useful introduction to the often highly agonistic nature of this debate. We will explore this debate between Eisenstein and Johns in more depth shortly.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The first opposition or discursive struggle that deserves to be highlighted is related to the intrinsic properties of print. Where Eisenstein (along with Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan) focuses on the establishment of fixity and standardisation as effects of print technology, Johns states that they are the outcome of social constructions and practices. Johns points out that fixity is not an inherent property or quality of print but that it is transitive, acted upon and recognized by people, where Eisenstein argues that the circumstances that determined print culture can be attributed to print. For Johns, a book is the material embodiment of a consensus or of a collective consent, and thus he argues that the development of a print culture was not as direct and straightforward as Eisenstein would have it, but was marked by uncertainty and a shaky integration (Eisenstein 1979, Johns 1998).
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This illustrates a larger division that is visible in the literature between technological determinism and cultural constructionism, or between gradations of both forms. Here the focus is on the attribution of historical agency (Johns 2002: 116). Does agency lie with impersonal processes (triggered by innovations in communication technology, i.e. media or book agency), or with personal agents and collective practices (i.e. human agency)? In other words, is print a result or a cause of culture? Thirdly, we can identify an opposition relating to the perceived speed of the transition from manuscript to print. Should we talk about a print evolution or revolution? Should we stress the continuity of the manuscript book and written textual transmission, or the discontinuous revolutionary character of the introduction of print? Fourthly, a distinction can be made between what is called cultural pessimism or dystopian thinking and technological utopianism or futurology concerning the book and the rise of new technologies. This is clearly apparent in the current debate surrounding ebooks, which has been classified by some theorists as a debate between bookservatists and technofuturists. However, it illustrates a cultural feeling and a depiction of historical change that can already be discerned in the transition from manuscript to print, and even in the introduction of writing. Fifth, we can recognise different viewpoints related to what Eisenstein calls the ‘geography of the book’ (2002: 90), where some theorists concentrate mostly on the effects and practices surrounding technology as a local affair, versus research that focuses upon their supposed international—though in most cases highly Western-centric—reach. The most obvious example is that of the localist methodology followed in Johns’ The Nature of the Book, which focuses on England, where Eisenstein’s work follows a more European-centred perspective. Finally, we can distinguish both teleological and anti-teleological strands in the discourse that surrounds the book. Topics here focus on whether technology (and with it human society as a whole) progresses, or whether there is such a thing as technological advancement or a driving force or prime agent behind it. Teleological strands can also be found in book historical debates that focus on the new (i.e. ebooks or print books) and the old (i.e. print books or manuscripts), and that make a clear division or cut between the present and the past and emphasise a progressive linear development, as opposed to describing histories as plural genealogies, non-linear and cyclical.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 When sketching this general framework in an attempt to capture the debate as it has progressed and is still progressing, we need to acknowledge that it takes place on three levels simultaneously and transversally. The discourse occurs on the level of ‘historical reality’ (primary sources), on that of history writing (secondary sources), and on a third, meta-historical level of ‘writing about history-writing’ (what is book history?). Thus, when we analyse the book historical debate, we need to try to take all three levels of description into account, focusing specifically on the reasoning, the politics and power struggles, as well as the value systems, that lie behind the choices made for a particular perspective. It is also important to remember, as part of this analysis, that a rethinking of our book historical past has a direct influence on—and is a reflection of how we envision—the future of the book, and perhaps more importantly, of how we want to structure, influence and change this future. In other words, the way the past of the book is perceived by a specific thinker or group of thinkers, not only casts a light on how they perceive what the present and future of the book could or should be (as well as which issues will be most important in determining the future of the book); it also influences directly and materially both the object of the book and the discursive practices accompanying it (and with that, it will directly influence scholarly communication in the case of the monograph). For example, if we stress that fixity is an inherent property of the (printed) book, and thus something that has partly come to define and stand at the basis of modern science and scholarship, this can have the effect of positioning this property as essential for the future of the book and (digital) scholarship. This state of affairs comes to the fore in efforts directed toward recreating the fixity and stability associated with the print text within the digital book format (i.e. the continued search to stabilise the book and keep its integrity intact online via DOIs, persistent identifiers, DRM and copyright, author IDs etc.).
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 As I proceed to analyse the debate on book history in what follows, it is important to keep the above in mind. I will now take a brief look at two of the debate’s key players, Elizabeth Eisenstein and Adrian Johns, and the reasons they have brought forward for their specific position-taking within the debate on book history. Both in their separate works, and in their highly agonistic discussion in the American Historical Review, Eisenstein and Johns illustrate very well the main topics discussed within the debate on book history, as well as—and more importantly as far as this study is concerned—the main oppositions that continue to structure it. After my exploration of this debate I will go on to propose in the next section an alternative vision of the history of the book: one that endeavours to go beyond some of the oppositions that structure the debate on the book’s history and that can be seen to function as ‘false divisions’ (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 2). I will instead focus on the entanglement of plural agencies (i.e. technological and cultural, human and non-human, discursive and material) as part of the processual becoming of the book. As I will explain, these entanglements get cut-up as part of the discursive position-taking that surrounds the history of the book. I will focus on how these oppositions can be seen as forms of ethical position-taking, as struggles to try to define (the identity of) the book and with that the future shape of academia. For as I mentioned above, the discourse on the book’s history—and this is especially the case with respect to the scholarly monograph—not only encompasses a fierce debate about how to represent and historicise the past of the (scholarly) book, it can also be seen as a struggle to determine its future.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 As outlined previously, in the next four chapters I will then focus on some of the highly contentious issues and concepts that have arisen out of the debate on book history, in an effort to reframe them. These are: the role of the author; the idea of the book as an object, part of a system of commodification; and notions of fixity and binding, seen as an integral part of the book’s materiality. How have these issues and concepts been envisioned within and developed throughout the debate on book history as part of a struggle to define both the past and future of the scholarly book? I want to explore in what sense these notions are part of, as well as a continuation of, the representationalist and humanist tendencies in the debate (about which I will say more in what follows). These three contested issues and concepts—authorship, the book as commodity, and the fixed and bound book—will play an important structuring role in the remainder of this study, and will be used as signposts to follow the discourse and the future development of the scholarly book. At the same time they will also serve as starting points to reimagine and perform this future differently.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Book historian Elizabeth Eisenstein is well-known for her seminal work The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979). She was influenced by, while also critical of, the vision put forward by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), McLuhan offered an interpretation that sees the technology of the printed book as having a direct influence on our consciousness and with that on society. Eisenstein argues for the importance of re-evaluating what she calls the ‘unacknowledged revolution’ that took place after the invention of print. She does so by exploring the consequences of the fifteenth-century shift in communications, focusing on how printing altered written communications within the Commonwealth of Learning. In this respect she doesn’t look at book history specifically, but at the effects of print culture on modern society. In other words, she studied how changes affecting the transmission of records—altering the way data was collected, stored and retrieved, and how it restructured scholarly communication networks throughout Europe—might have influenced historical consciousness over an extended period of time. In The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Eisenstein is interested predominantly in the scholarly exploration of the socio-cultural impact of both print and publishing on the advancement of science, and on the evolution of the thought of humanists and reformation thinkers.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 According to Eisenstein—writing in the 1970s—up to then ‘almost no studies were devoted to the consequences that ensued once printers had begun to ply their new trades throughout Europe. Explicit theories as to what these consequences were had not yet been proposed, let alone tested or contested’ (1979: 4). Her moderate form of technological determinism can thus be seen as a revisionist strategy, where she argues that a neglect of the shift in communications, and a continued focus on the prevailing schemes of multivariable explanations, will only have skewed perspectives further in the future, where the issue should be to explore why ‘many variables, long present, began to interact in new ways’ (Eisenstein 1979: xvi). Although accusations of technological determinism were indeed put forward by her critics and successors, Eisenstein refutes any ‘monocausal, reductionist and technological determinist reading’ of her work, emphasising that print was only one factor that was influential in bringing about change (1979: xv). Acknowledging the importance of the human element, she believes impersonal transmission and communication processes must also be given due attention, as that is where print did have special effects. Although it did not cause the developments she described (it was merely an agent of change, not the agent of change), Eisenstein states that they were definitely re-orientated by the communications shift (1979: xvi).
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Eisenstein further points out that the shift from script to print involved a European-wide transition, one that occurred in a relatively short time-span. The adoption of print was not a slow revolution but a remarkably rapid and widespread development (Eisenstein 2005: 318). However, she does not so much emphasise a revolutionary view as envision the transition as a line that was both continuous and broken, simultaneously consisting of continuity and radical change. Nonetheless, Eisenstein’s emphasis within this transition is on aspects of change, rather than on continuity. We shouldn’t underestimate the large cluster of changes that took place, she claims, and the essential role print played in these:
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 One cannot treat printing as just one among many elements in a complex causal nexus for the communications shift transformed the nature of the causal nexus itself. It is of special historical significance because it produced fundamental alterations in prevailing patterns of continuity and change. On this point one must take strong exception to the views expressed by humanists who carry their hostility to technology so far as to deprecate the very tool, which is most indispensable to the practice of their own crafts. (Eisenstein 1979: 703)
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Eisenstein is not interested in a simple ‘impact model’ as she calls it; changes brought about by printing are not easy to grasp, and characterise more a change of phase, where the character of the links and relationships—the cluster itself—underwent change. It is about finding the balance, she states, between saying that print changed everything and that it changed nothing (Eisenstein 1979: 32).
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 In contrast to Eisenstein, historian Adrian Johns—who has proved to be one of her biggest opponents—stresses that it was human, not medial factors, that were at the basis of the changes that led towards increased standardisation and stability in the early modern period. As Johns states, what are often seen or regarded as essential elements and features of print are in fact more contingent, transitory entities. The self-evident environment created by print culture encourages us to ascribe certain characteristics to print and to a technological order of reality. However, the most common conviction, that of print being fixed, stable, identical and reliable, is false, Johns argues, and stands in the way of a truly historical understanding of print. In The Nature of the Book (1998), Johns clearly illustrates the constructivist nature of the book, how the very identity of print has been created and how print culture has been shaped historically (1998: 2). According to Johns, it is not printing that possesses certain characteristics, but printing put to use in particular ways. He emphasises that fixity (according to many of us a common sense assumption of print) is not an inherent quality but a transitive one: ‘we may adopt the principle that fixity exists only inasmuch as it is recognized and acted upon by people—and not otherwise’ (Johns 1998: 19–20). Johns is interested in studying the genealogy of print culture: to analyse how the bond to enforce fidelity, reliability and truth in early modern printing was forged; to reappraise where our own concept of print culture has come from; to explore how print differed from place to place, and how it changed over time when it took hold; and to investigate how books came to be made and used.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In a debate in the American Historical Review, Johns and Eisenstein detailed their respective book historical visions (Eisenstein 2002, Johns 2002). Eisenstein provided a comprehensive overview of their main theoretical differences; differences that, as I argued above, can be seen a good example of some of the main theoretical oppositions that structure the debate on book history as a whole. According to Eisenstein, Johns denies that technology or the press has any intrinsic powers or agency, whereas for her the press affected significant historical developments. Johns downplays the difference between script and print, whereas she sees a big difference and a transition taking place between the two. Divergences in their viewpoints are also apparent with respect to the geography of the book: Johns’ position is local, restricted to England, where Eisenstein’s is cosmopolitan in character. Eisenstein believes the establishment of printing shops inaugurated the communications revolution, whereas Johns—according to Eisenstein, at least—believes the ‘printing revolution’ was a retrospective discursive construct that emerged in the 18th or 19th century (Eisenstein 2002: 90). However, in his reply, Johns stresses that he does not see his view as being opposed to that of Eisenstein. He regards his position as a supplement in terms of approach, where he basically wants to acknowledge the importance of print in a different way: ‘the deepest difference between us lies in the questions we ask. Where Eisenstein asks what print culture itself is, I ask how printing’s historic role came to be shaped. Where she ascribes power to a culture, I assign it to communities of people. Most generally, where she is interested in qualities, I want to know about processes’ (Johns 2002: 109–110). In other words, Johns does not want to focus on a history of print culture but on a cultural history of print. As he points out, a cultural history of print should be broadly constructivist about its subject, where he sees this as an essentially empiricist undertaking, arguing for the ‘inseparability of social reality and cultural understanding’ (Johns 2002: 123). Johns is thus not saying that print determines history, but that print is conditioned by history as well as conditioning it. As he stresses, the effects or implications of technology are not monolithic or homogenic. They are both appropriated by users as well as imposed on them. The book is therefore the product of one complex set of social and technological processes and also the starting point for another. For Johns, addressing the dichotomy directly, The Nature of the Book is not simply the negative component of a dialectic. It is not solely a critique of print culture and Eisenstein. Rather, it questions claims about print and examines how they came into being, and why it is that we find them so appealing and plausible (Johns 1998: 628).
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 As Johns makes clear, the cultural and the social should be at the centre of our attention. In this sense, the French historian Roger Chartier and the Annales school have been very important in the development of his argument. Chartier recognises ways of reading as social and cultural practices with an historical character. An authoritative text, however fixed, cannot compel uniformity in the cultures of its reception. Accordingly, Johns argues that both print and science are thus not universal and absolute but constructions that need to be maintained. He claims that Eisenstein sets printing outside of history in her definition of print culture: in her account it becomes placeless and timeless and does not pay sufficient attention to how these essential properties of print and print culture as a whole emerged. The Nature of the Book, by contrast, is concerned with the relation between print and knowledge, and its focus is on the history of science. By exploring the history of the book and print in the making we get a better understanding of the conditions of knowledge, Johns claims, and of the ways in which knowledge has been made and utilised. The Nature of the Book is therefore concerned with how early modern Europeans put printing to use to create and maintain knowledge about the natural world. Print culture is, as Johns states, the result of manifold representations, practices and conflicts; it is thus not a cause in itself. In that respect there existed a variety of different (local) print cultures (Johns 1998: 19–20).
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 John’s interest lies with the people and the places that make print possible: the agents of the book trade. As he argues, it is the appearance of print that has veiled real conflict in history. The principles that seem to us most essential to print have in fact been heavily disputed for centuries. Part of the importance of The Nature of the Book lies in Johns’ reconstruction of how, in the 17th and 18th centuries, what print was and ought to be was decided and constructed by looking at its historical origins or by a reconstruction (in the way of a struggle) of the historical origins of the press. What is important here is that print culture is based on practices and conventions, where Johns is interested in how practices came to be shared. Print culture knows specific sites of cultural production, distinct cultural settings or domains. These dynamic localities were constituted by representations, practices and skills. Johns shows that the uniformity exhibited by printed materials was as much a project of social actions and struggles as it was of the inherent properties of the press:
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 In knowledge of the past they sought understanding of their present and future. The result was not a consensus. Such writers produced radically different accounts of the history and impact of printing, using different conventions of evidence to arrive at radically opposed conclusions. From those divergent verdicts they went on to generate violently conflicting recommendations for action. So intense was their disagreement that their work was forced to address the most profound historiographical problems. Most of all, it raised questions about the very credibility of textual evidence. An issue fundamental to the status of historical knowledge now confronted early modern writers, arising from a debate over the very craft that, one might suppose, negated the importance of the topic by rendering records trustworthy. (1998: 324)
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 If we look at the debate between Johns and Eisenstein in more detail, we can see that, although I have outlined and emphasised the main differences between the two thinkers, both are anxious not to be accused of any form of technicist or culturalist determinism or oppositional thinking. Eisenstein, for instance, is very careful to argue that print was only an agent of change, not the agent of change, and that the transition to print was not a revolutionary one, but a rapid, widespread development, both continuous and broken. Nonetheless, Eisenstein’s emphasis is clearly on the ‘unacknowledged revolution’, on change rather than on continuity, and on how print was incremental in bringing about this change. And as stated previously, Johns emphasises that his view is not opposed to that of Eisenstein, but that he just asks different questions. The Nature of the Book is not simply the negative component of a dialectic, he states: he is not opposed to print agency but wants to acknowledge print in a different way, where ‘print is conditioning history as well as conditioning it’ (Johns 2002: 124). Nonetheless, Johns does clearly emphasise the constructivist nature of the book, and that it doesn’t have inherent qualities but only transitive ones. To this end, Johns argues that the cultural and the social should be ‘at the centre of our attention’ (1998: 20).
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 If we take the debate between Johns and Eisenstein and the various positions they adopt as representative of the larger discourse on the history of the book, we can make the claim that this discourse for the most part adheres to forms of representationalism in its depiction of the medium of the book. This becomes clear from, among other things, the technicist (Eisenstein, McLuhan etc.) and culturalist (Darnton, Johns etc.) assumptions that continue to underlie the debate. Representationalism, as Karen Barad defines it, is ‘the belief in the ontological distinction between representations and that which they purport to represent; in particular, that which is represented is held to be independent of all practices of representing’ (2007: 28). In representationalism separations (between words and things, discourse and matter) are thus foundational. On the level of history writing or historiography, both Johns and Eisenstein, for example, do not take into account how their own representations might be (materially) influencing the things they represent (i.e. how their descriptions of the past of the book both shape that past as well as the current and future material becoming of the book). More importantly, they fail to acknowledge their own entangled becoming with the book through their discursive practices and the exclusions they create by cutting these apart in a certain way. In this respect Eisenstein’s technicist-inclined account is based on the presumption that books are real objects in the world—separate from ourselves, society, and culture—that can have certain effects on the world. As Kember and Zylinska make clear, however, from a performative viewpoint, ‘media cannot have effects on society if they are considered to be always already social’ (2012: 31). Similarly, Bolter argues that ‘writing is always a part of culture’. For him, ‘technologies do not determine the course of culture or society, because they are not separate agents that can act on culture from the outside’ (Bolter 2001: 19). Johns, on the other hand, argues from a more constructivist-inclined view that the book has been constructed or represented by the ‘agents of the book trade’, showing a view in which culture is inscribed on the book, making it into a more or less passive entity, limiting the possibilities for the material agency of the book. Where Eisenstein and Johns do give credit to cultural and machinic agency respectively (as a form of limited constructivism or weak determinism), it is important to emphasise that they see both as complementary, as part of a ‘set’ of influences (in which one set is always emphasised as being more influential). As a result they maintain the ontological (and ethical) difference between discursive and media agency, instead of seeing them as co-constitutive and entangled relational and agentic phenomena, as I want to do.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In a non-representationalist performative view there is no simple causality between media on the one hand and culture/society on the other, as these are already entangled from the start. As Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin explicate in their book, New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, in a dichotomy the opposition is already implied in its negation, which implies that both sides of a dialectic are in a relation, where they are part of the same ‘intimate’ framework of thought (2012: 97–98). If we want to reframe the debate we should thus focus on their relationship and co-constitution. Along with bringing forward this performative view of book history, what I want to do here is examine how the representations that are presented by both Johns and Eisenstein and the larger debate on the history of the book, have come to emerge (from what context etc.), and what kind of cuts or dividing discursive practices they have come to promote or exclude through their materialising representations. Cuts or representations, following Barad, have to be made, but it is in the acknowledgement of our own responsibility and contextual entanglements herein that we can make a start in cutting differently, and perhaps more ethically. As Donna Haraway has argued, ‘worlds are built’ from our articulations and from the distinctions we make as part of our entanglements (2004: 127). Here it is our responsibility to enable transformative instead of merely iterative effects to come out of our performative processes. We have to insist on a ‘better account of the world’ (Haraway 1988: 579).
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 It must be granted that Johns does acknowledge that a re-appraisal of a social history of print culture in the making is consequential and can contribute to our historical understanding of the present conditions of knowledge. However, Johns does not seem to acknowledge his own involvement in print culture in the making in this respect—the specific cuts that he makes, for instance, by abiding to the publication practices of scholarly publishing by presenting his ideas in a fixed, objectified, printed scholarly monograph, although he is from a ‘historical’ viewpoint very attuned towards the construction of these specific forms of fixity. It was McLuhan who was actually more attentive to this issue, as he actively experimented with the form of his own representations, taking into account the entangled nature of his words and the medium in which they were represented.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Both Eisenstein and Johns, as part of their representationalist accounts, are thus not able to evade oppositional thinking, and can in fact even been seen to enforce it. Kember and Zylinska provide further detail on this continued use of binary oppositions in media studies. They argue that ‘even where these false divisions have been identified as such—and of course many writers are aware of their limited currency—it has been difficult to avoid them.’ This is partly due to the ‘residual effects of disciplinarity’ and its embracing of sets of essential key concepts, but also to the predominance in media studies of social sciences perspectives, bringing along with them what could be classified as an inherently positivist and humanist outlook (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 2). To explore what might be behind the continued emphasis in the debate on the book’s history on (different forms of) oppositional binary thinking, it is important to take a closer look at its disciplinary history, and the specific developments literary studies and historiography went through during the rise of book history as a specific disciplinary niche.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 As I mentioned earlier, book history has its roots in bibliographic and literary studies and in the study of history. In the 1970s and 1980s there was an eagerness in these disciplines to get beyond earlier historiographic and literary traditions. What is important is that these traditions (history and literary studies) started to merge increasingly during this period, a period that also saw the rise of book studies as initially an amalgam of the two. What we see in the development of book studies, for instance, is clear traces of new historicist thought, which emerged in the 1980s as a literary theory mostly reacting to the formalism of structuralism and certain strands of poststructuralism (mainly the forms of deconstructionism developed within the Yale school of literary criticism) as well as older forms of historicism (Colebrook 1997: 139, Pieters 2000: 21, Mark Nixon 2004: 6, Newton 2013: 153). New historicists can be seen to argue that the latter theories focus mainly on the textual object for meaning extraction, whereas they state that we need to understand a text or work through its historical context too. In the famous words of Louis Montrose, new historicism’s concern is with ‘the historicity of texts and the textuality of history’ (1989: 23). Especially in literary criticism, new historicism is therefore seen as a theory that focuses on the relationship between a text and its context (Lai 2006: 9). New historicism critiques the text/context divide that it claims has been upheld until then, as well as the focus on dominant readings of classical works. By contrast they argue for a renewed emphasis on neglected readings and dissonant voices and for the study of a variety of historical documents, not just the canon.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 In the 1970s and 1980s new movements also emerged in historiography or the philosophy of history. These movements were mostly placed under the heading of ‘new cultural history’ (Hunt 1989) or ‘new historiography’ (Ankersmit 1994). They include new forms of cultural studies, such as the histoire des mentalités, and the nouvelle histoire of the third generation of Annales scholars in France (i.e. Jacques Le Goff, Pierre Nora). These ‘new cultural histories’ distinguished themselves from the earlier analytical philosophy of history by means of their focus on narrative, subjectivity and a plurality of interpretations rather than on historical objectivity and facts. This meant doing away with positivist perspectives of objectivity and the possibility of truthfully representing the past, in favour of poststructuralist theories of representation (De Certeau, Foucault), and the focus of historians on their own historicity (i.e. the way historians cannot exclude themselves from their investigation: instead, the present subject is seen as directly influencing the representation of the past) (Pieters 2000: 21). Related to this, Attridge et al. have argued that poststructuralism can be seen as an attempt to reintroduce history into structuralism, but this naturally also poses questions to the concept of history as such. Under the influence of poststructuralism, and most importantly Derridean deconstruction, history became différance, whereby the assumptions of ‘a history’, a single objectified, final and absolute reading of history, came under attack (Attridge et al. 1989: 2).
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 It is interesting to note that there are a lot of similarities and overlap between the literary forms of new historicism and these new cultural histories, where the former can be seen as wanting to put history back into literary studies and the latter as wanting to put literary studies into history. It has even been argued that new historicism can ‘be taken to be the literary-critical variant of what Frank Ankersmit has termed the ‘new historiography’ (Pieters 2000: 21).
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 We can clearly detect the influence of new historicism and new cultural histories on the rise of book history and the book historical debate, where book history can be seen as an example of a new cultural history, especially in how it developed from within the Annales tradition. Furthermore, book history has been at the fore when it comes to arguing that it wants to collapse the text/context distinction, as well as the literary studies/history distinction. However, as I will argue below, although new historicism and new cultural histories embraced poststructuralist perspectives, both with respect to doing literary studies and history, and related to their object(s) of study, they haven’t been able to embrace ‘difference’ (in so far as it is possible to embrace difference), nor to get beyond thinking in binary oppositions. As I will show in what follows, this is especially the case with new historicism, and its neutral position taking in the text/context (as well as object/human agency) debate as well as in its inability, especially within book historical studies, to fully take into account its own historical position.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Literary theorist Chung-Hsiung Lai argues that new historicism does not get beyond the binary text and context, where she states that it is faced with an ‘insoluble predicament’: how to deal with the perceived poststructuralist focus on textuality and the historicist focus on contextuality. This double claim (on both textuality and contextuality) and its claim of neutrality between the two, becomes impossible, resulting in a situation where it ultimately remains focused more on textuality and in its intended neutrality remains more closely allied with formalism (Lai 2006: 17–18, Liu 1989: 754–755). As Judith Newton puts it from the standpoint of feminist critique, new historicism thus ‘produces readings of literature and history that are as marked by difference as by sameness’ (1988: 87). This focus on neutrality leads to, as Lai calls it, new historicism taking in an apolitical posture. This partly has to do with new historicism’s focus on a theory of power based on the early work of Foucault, as both Lai and other feminist critics of new historicism, such as Newton, claim. Here power is seen as over-dominant, and there is no way to perform it differently (i.e. constructionist thinking). In this respect new historicism created a universalisation of power and is lacking any politics of resistance and/or subversion. Thinkers such as Newton and Lai have tried to write feminist scholarship and theory into the history of new historicism. Lai suggests that in order to get beyond its textual focus, new historicism should focus more on plural socio-historical dimensions, and on dynamic forms of power that enable forms of subversive resistance. This includes a different reading of Foucault. As Newton puts it, ‘while feminists have drawn upon Foucault, they have also been insistent, for the most part, upon identifying those who have power and asserting the agency of those who have less’ (1988: 102). Lai uses an exploration of feminist genealogy to reconcile new historicism and feminism and to lift new historicism out of its textual formalism and early Foucauldian power theory. Both Lai and Newton point out that new historicism needs to give up its apolitical condition and take material conditions seriously, to provide channels for the voices of the oppressed in order to really go beyond history as usual. The focus should be on plurality, diversity, and difference, so that new historicism can become otherness-driven (Lai 2006: 22, Newton 2013: 166).
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Following a vision similar to feminist critics of new historicism such as Lai and Newton, I will propose a strategy that might lift the debate on book history beyond an overtly simplified binary thinking, by reading it with, alongside and through the discursive-materialist and performative practices of the materialist feminist Karen Barad. And, like Lai, I will be focusing on the later work of Foucault and its emphasis on resistance and interventionism. As stated previously, I will argue that we need to see discursive and media agency as entangled agential processes instead of a property that an entity (be it a machinic or human one) has. On the level of history writing, I want to emphasise that book historical studies (as well as new historicist ones) need to take their own historicity, as a form of performativity, into account more. For example, although Johns narrates the way 17th century publishers struggled over the construction of the origin of the book—and through that struggle partly came to define the future of the book—there is not enough acknowledgment, both within The Nature of The Book, and in Johns’ debate with Eisenstein, of how his own history writing and his position taking within the debate can be seen to influence and shape both the past and future of the book. For instance, as Bolter has pointed out, we should see the utopian and dystopian discourses on the past and future of the book as belonging to and shaping the materiality of our writing technologies:
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 The technology of modern writing includes not only the techniques of printing, but also the practices of modern science and bureaucracy and the economic and social consequences of print literacy. If personal computers and palmtops, browsers and word processors, are part of our contemporary technology of writing, so are the uses to which we put this hardware and software. So too is the rhetoric of revolution or disaster that enthusiasts and critics weave around the digital hardware and software. (2001: 19)
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Book historians, I will argue, need to be more aware of their own discursive agency. In this respect they currently do not focus enough on how they produce the object of their study and, with that, structure its future. Furthermore, they should pay closer attention to how this object, the book, both in its materiality and as a metaphor, is and has been influencing their discursive practices. What the debate on book history is missing is a clear focus on its own publishing and scholarly communication practices as structuring entities, as well as a more feminist-oriented perspective that tries to go beyond simple binary thinking. To what degree are book historians taking responsibility for their own choices and focal points in this respect?  As with new historicism, although the discourse on book history is in many ways critical of and aware of the dichotomies sketched above, it can be argued to still uphold them. Furthermore, it runs the risk of, as Lai describes, taking an apolitical position, when its main focus is on describing and analysing instead of critiquing, changing or intervening in society. Book historians should therefore be more aware of the parts they play in the struggle for the future of the book. So what can be the ‘beyond’ of book studies in this respect? How can we get beyond this kind of oppositional thinking that, as I argue, still structures the debate?