Text, Textuality and Digital Media
Professor. Arjun Ghosh
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Guttenberg and Revolution 15th Century
In our previous lecture we looked at how the printing press emerged through a very long (()) (0:25) duty process through in Europe in the fifteenth century. What we are going to look at today, is the far-reaching effects of the emergence of print within Europe over the next 3 or 4 centuries and this will help us understand how the change of a certain medium of expression of communication can bring about far-reaching social and political changes and cultural changes in fact within the society.
I would like you to refer back constantly while we go through today’s lecture. I would like you to refer back constantly to the lecture on the movement from feudalism to capitalism and where I had explained the precise processes, precise economic changes which brought about far-reaching social and political changes. It needs to be reminded again and again that each of these changes were dialogic in and character, that they interacted with other changes to produce a kind of an avalanche of changes.
No single change stood on its own. You cannot say that this there is one factor which played the major role or the catalytic role. So that is something that we need to keep in mind. The emergence of print played a very important catalytic role, there were other important other factors as well some of which we are going to touch upon today as well. So keep in mind all the previous lectures this is not a stand-alone lecture, this lecture has to be situated within the lectures that have been there before and the lectures that have been there after.
And the most overarching context that we need to keep in mind that our interest really is in understanding or trying to understand approximately the kind of changes that could potentially be brought about by the movement from mechanical reproduction to digital reproduction to the digital media.
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Now before the emergence of print texts were primarily circulated as I have been discussing through manuscripts and the principle repositories of the manuscripts were the monasteries and these monastriesre were linked to the church. Now at that point of time there would have been just a singular church that is the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church would have a certain kind of an institutional network through which various kinds of edicts rules instructions would have passed around and these were the circuits of travel between the various monasteries, the regular circuits which wereare linked by travels of monks through which the manuscripts actually were interchanged among various communities of monks.
The point to be remembered however is that though these monasteries would be spread all across Europe they would be linked with each other not only throughfor the institutional travel circuits but also through language in that the lingua franca of the monasteries would have been Latin this is something that I had also, sort of touched upon in previous lectures and I had sort of compared it to the position of English in India.
English remains a lingua franca of the elite of India who communicate with each other without any much difficulty whereas people from various other regions of India cannot communicate with each other in their own languages or thereir not being a single language through which they talk to each other it's not necessary though but in Europe there was this kind of a lingua franca through which the elite of those times did communicate with each other and that would have been Latin and then most of these documents these manuscripts would have also been written in Latin and therefore people sort of communicated with each other.
Now there is a plus factor and a negative factor in this particular circuit. One can say that the plus factor is something that leads to immense power for the church because the church remains the one institution that is why the church actually wields tremendous political power in Europe till about the thirteenth orf fourteenth centuries because the church is the only institution that could mobilize resources from another geography when it is facing a certain crisis in one particular region within Europe.
As I have already explained that there was a very close linkage between the political power and religious power but the church really wielded the Roman Catholic Church in mediaeval Europe wyielded a lot of political power, right. The legitimacy of the ruler, the king came from within the Papacy(()) (6:17), right. So when there is a rebellion, an act of rebellion or something that occurs in one part of Europe, the church in ordert orders to protect its own interest is able to mobilize allies or support from other regions and crush that rebellion which the rebels could not because they did not have these channels of communication that the church had to its disposal.
In comparison to those times in the context of those times this would have been pretty rapid communicationplication, right. It is (known?)all that the tide turns against the church only when the medium of communication changes that is with the coming of printey that is something that we are going to look at in some time to come. But before that the church remains a very-very powerful institution.
On the cons, the fact that theise manuscripts are start travelling within a limited circuit meant that there was very little incentive for innovation that this circuit cons was a closed circuit it did not open itself up to alternative viewpoints. Certain ideas which were taken to be truths kept on circulating within that kind of a circuit round and round through the centuries and they were not open to challenge to other truths from other parts, other places.
It is not that the entire world believed what mediaeval Europe believed at that point of time. In fact by about the 8th century with the rise of Islam and between the 8th thrill about the 12th centuries, they are big, the Arabic, the Middle Eastern region really was the superpower within the world at that point of time and when we talk about superpower we mean not only political superpower but you know cultural scientific technological superpower as well.
Many of the things that we learnt about in fact the lecture on manuscript illumination and decoration and creation, a lot of the techniques were actually emerging from the Middle East, alright at that point of time though we looked at the European context because we know most about the European context and we really can understand the changes brought about by print through the study of European because that is where print historically emerged but we must understand many of the scientific discoveries that are going to come to Europe or we are going to recognize Europe as the birthplace of actually the origins of that would have been elsewhere from the East not only the Middle East but also places like China as well.
So this kind of a bubble is something that we need to be very weary of,(()) (9:51) because this kind of a bubble is something that the digital media is also creating we tweet each other, we like each other’s posts and there is a certain friend circuit within which we keep checking each other’s views and that creates a certain kind of a bubble which is harmful for innovation and constructive thinking.
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Moving on with the lecture, there were monastic libraries but theise library holdings were very modest even the largest sort of libraries typically had the stub out just about a hundred titles. The largest possible library in Avignon, the papaler library at Avignon had about 2100 entries but the number of manuscripts held by each sort of library was pretty small. The largest would have by and enlarge the basic readings of all available, right, and these were monastic libraries accessible to the specific sect or to monks, Christian monks. It was not a general public reading library alright.
However the manuscripts which were there were full of errors because they were manually copied as we have seen. We can see on that slide and there were some places where there would -be errors through elimination they would have removed it and corrected it because you did not have the backspace button in the manuscript world. So now once there are these errors or copying errors, maybe sometimes, you know while copying someone misses a line or misses an entire page, right.
So what happens then is that conversation between scholars becomes very difficult because one of the important points of scholarly debate is that both the scholars are referring to the same material and then working on the interpretation of it but here the textual base itself sort of dries up because different scholars could have referred to different texts, so that became a serious matter of concern.
So one of the incentives as we had discussed earlier of the emergence of print, of the discovery of print was the great demand for books that started occurring between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuriesy through the rise of secular education but another incentive for looking for emergence of print, creating a print structure was of course also to understand to create a way in which there could be exact more reliable copies of books, alright. So mechanical copy leads to exact copies.
Now one point that we need to also understand though these books were largely within restricted circuit, the focus, the gravity of these circuit tended towards Germany and Italy, these were the principle places where these circuits were dispersed in. So they were mostly located within Germany and Italy, this is where the circuit was and with print slowly the circuit is going to distribute andin change and alter.
Now it wouldill also happen that sometimes as I had said earlier that people would basically copy at demand, right. People wouldill walk into a booksellers store and workshop and ask for the copy of a book. Now it would so happen therefore to reduce my cost like when you photocopy books or you photocopy readings for a particular course you need not photocopy the entire book.
You photocopy only those portions that you really need, so you can copy 100 pages of one book, 50 pages from another book, 30 pages from another book and in order to reduce the cost of binding you ask the photocopy shop or whoever it is to actually bind all the 3 together that’s exactly what happened within the manuscript, you know people would create gatherings of different authors and put them together.
So even different manuscripts would not only differ because of copying error but also differ because of the extent or the length of copying that has taken place in a particular volumeaudio, right. So there is a lot of heterogeneity and this heterogeneity is good because it brings in certain amount of pluralism , a pluralism that print kind of kills which is returned in the digital because in the dDigital everybody can post whatever they want to but on the other hand this leads to a lot of confusion, this kind of pluralismty. We should see what pluralism does to the digital world when we come to it. For now we will stay with the emergence of print.
Now when the Renaissance came and there are several theories as to what catalyzed the Renaissance. As I said one of the things that the Renaissance does- Renaissance, the reawakening- (()) (16:43) is that it leads to a contact with a different set of ideas which sparks a series of attempts to be curious about the world alright. To ask questions, to be critical about accepted hand-me-down viewpoints, so the bubble bursts, so thethat Renaissance really happens when that bubble that we were talking about the scholarly bubble of mediaeval Europe really bursts.
One says that most assurancehistorians sort of point towards the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Remember it is at around the same time when Gutenberg was working on the printing machine, so this became a very important catalyst as well, okay. So as I said there are multiple factors for that rapid changes from feudalism to capitalism that happens and here is another fact with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and I was talking about the rise of Islam.
That the Islamic power is a superpower, remember those of you who are interested in history can go and look upon the story of the Crusades, the battle of the papacy of the European Roman Catholics, to go and recapture Jerusalem, the holy city of Jerusalem, there were these many-many Crusades that were organized, alright and what we also know is that a large part of the world and in fact southern Europe, southern parts of what we would call or present-day Spain the Iberian Peninsula really, area were they also, came under Muslim conquest in those times.
thehat papacy being from Italy
So the new ideas that was these manuscripts then entered into the monastic network that were there by travelling masters and students and this new learning assisted the scholars, existing scholarsolace to optimize their own careers. They carried new ideas and triedy to create new impact they found that the new ideas helped them explained natural phenomena the world around them much better.
Certain ideas, certain thoughts that they hadve been grappling with themselves or may have never come across before is something that they have a better grip on once theye access this new knowledge. Now one1 point about today’s lecture is that I have put together a set of slides and do at times paythe attention to the images which are there because these images sort of gives you a glimpse of the kind of if I could play through the someum of the previous slides.
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These are Play through some of the manuscripts the books.
That are being talked about, the kind of literature that weyou’re talking about in this periodfield to give you a sense of what is it, what iwas the real material that we are talking about.
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This is an image, this is a much later painting, it’s an image which is trying to capturize in an imaginative (()) (22:22)aisle in a much later work, t. The fall of Jerusalem really to the Turks.
This image is actually one of manuscript which is interleaved with Latin translation. The iImportant point is that though these Greek and Arabic manuscripts were entering or there is knowledge was entering Western Europe or Western European and circuits,. tThere wais a question of access, right and so translation becaome a very important exercise, some of them weare translated into Latin.
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And also there were translations from Arabic, alright. . A lot of scholars from Constantinople who brought in manuscripts and their works would have been translated from Greek, from Arabic. Ssome of the early humanists who worked onut translations were Petrarch and Boccacio.
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And though this was a slow process which was later accentuated through the emergence of print really, wy. Where a large part of Greek literature slowly started to appear by about the sixteenth century. So it took about 150 years for these books toare really flood the market, e. Emerge on the scholarly scene. Aand when we are talking about the sixteenth century scholarly scene, it would be very different from the early fifteenth or the late fourteenth century scholarly scene because late fourteenth century the scholarly scene would have been primarily that of eEcclesiastical scholars- , monks, right in the clergy.
Whereas by the sixteenth century, the end of the sixteenth century, there is lot of secular learning that was taking place, bigger universities had come up in (()) (24:44)Bolola, Sorbonne and Oxford and other places.
So before the coming of print, really by about the 12 or 13 century even the fifteenth century there would at most be 3 or 4 copies of each manuscript, or purported manuscript across Europe. Imagine just 3 or 4 copies across Europe wherea is now in a particular city aof particular book is printed and sold maybe a few thousand copies, right. Even more than that if it is a really popular book and I am not talking about English books, no I mean the vernacular sale of copies would have been far higher, alright.
There were very few copies of all by and large all text even as I said the largest library would have no more than about 2000-2100 books at (()) (25:49), rightAvignon.
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So the availability of texts was very limited and scholars were scattered and dispersed across various locations in Europe, alright and you know they were referring and copying each other and making small changes, the scale of changes were very small at that point of time. 26:24)
And what was happening is by the time all this new learning came in from the Middle East, from Constantinople, there was no real way in which the scholars could grapple with all these different knowledges because the way of distributing theseis knowledges was very slow without print, right. So I may be talking to somebody if I were a fifteenth century scholar, late fifteenth century scholar which just come across some new manuscript that I have just understood or read oron if you have spoken to a scholar who has come ining from Constantinople and I want to communicate with another person who has no idea of what I’m talking about and that person has read something else the communication becomes very difficult.
Today typically within scholarship what happens if I want to have a debate with one of you, I say read this then we will talk about it, so that we have a certain base. You can throw back a manuscript at me or an essay at me and say read this then we will talk about it, right? So that we have a common set of reference. Tthat wasn’t possible even by the late fifteenth century, print had been discovered but print hadn’t really set up a network across Europe.
So it created tremendous amount of confusion, so all this new learning is great, it is fantastic but the new learning also brings along with it the potentiality of confusion it becomes very difficult because remember the beliefs ves that the new learning is challenginge, the beliefsves that there are being challenged are long-standing beliefs, protected by aour highly conservative church, a papacy and any challenge to the traditional body of knowledge could be taken as heresy and one could be burnt at the stake or thrown to the gallows, right.
So it’s really very-very difficult, so first of all to fathom all this new knowledge and come to grips with it, second is to stand up against authority and say that no this is a new knowledge that has been discovered, that academic freedom, that intellectual freedom, that most fearatmosphere of intellectual freedom was not there, that it could not have been there because there was not an institutional structure to actually challenge the institution of the Church, alright.
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So it became very very difficult for the scholars of that period to actually work through these confusions, alright. The other point is these are not merely philosophical knowledges, these are knowledge’s related to medicine, through understanding how to work with tools and materials is that-- there was no way in which one could actually have a large view, a kind of a distinct view of what’s happening in other parts of Europe, there was no sense of that. The typical European person would not be aware too much about what larger Europe really is.
One estimate is that till about the emergence of the rRailways, even after the emergence of the rRailways and by that I’m talking about the 19th-century within the Western world, most people would not travel more than a hundred kilometers from the area, where place where they were born, mostly a huge significant fraction of people and their world will just be there village and their district and theirat county and maximum their province.
The understanding of even a country like Spain or France would have been very limited and certainly no understanding of Europe and this was too of India’s true of India as well, within the Indian subcontinent. Someone from let’s say Bedar or someone from Patna or Varanasi
would not really be aware of what the entire subcontinent is, they would be aware of their region, their language, their culture but there would be no large degree of awareness of the overall sweep of politics and culture across aour continent or within the Indian subcontinent.
That was not possible because there was no ability to share experience across this large people, so today it is possible to say that okay when you feel hot what do you do? we have lime water, lemonade. We have lemonade but today’s day and age it is possible to figure out that someone in Mumbai, someone in Chennai, someone in Bhopal all would be having lemonade when it is hot, something to do but that experience would not have been there because there would not have been a vehicle for sharing that experience, it is only with print that there would be documentation of various experience.
Okay I use this tool to make this particular thing and this was my result, someone writes, so the other guy knows that yes this is an I can read 5 different people and say all their experiences are the same, so this must be the right thing to do I can try it out, alright. That possibility was not there, so whenever you have to try something new maybe you use the search engine to search about it, see what various people are saying or you are going to check out certain online videos onare some online platform and see let us figure out how this particular machine that I have bought, this particular appliance that I have bought how to run it.
And you it gathers a certain sense and then with a certain degree of confidence you approach that problem, that was for the first time possible with print where people could actually have consulted each other without each other’s presence, till the emergence of print you could only consult another person of experience through that person’s presence but with print the text moves much faster much quicker.
The manuscript moves much slower, remember I said just 3 of 4 copies of a manuscript across Europe but print can have many copies which spread across Europe, so not only one book is moving across Europe in every spot there were books moving in from various parts, so therefore there is larger availability of books. I want to read about what kind of medicines can treat flu.
I can go to the market and buy maybe 3 or 4 books and read them and learn a little bit more about themit whereas previous times there would be perhaps half a manuscript if I was really lucky and I am only a scholar. Now certainly there are more people who are knowledgeable who can read texts and more texts are available because creating of the copy, the mechanized copyies is much faster- notebooks- and cheaper than creation of the manuscript copy.
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So suddenly what was happening ias a given text was now having to compete for its ideas with a set of other texts wherea s till now there would have been a certain monastery would have one book on a particular topic and that was the authority that book wasat book post, t. That one manuscript was the authority but now you can have multiple things written from all across Europe on a particular subject and you can now consult.
So each text gets exposed to a wider array of alternative viewpoints and this is the basis of scientific knowledge, the emergence of scientific knowledge whereas a when I say scientific I don’t mean science alone.
When I seesay the scientific approach towards knowledge I mean knowledge which is put to test, knowledge which is weighed with different possibilities and then you realize that this is has survived various arguments, various tests, various experimentationsexperimentation s may be thought experimentations, you know that this is a certain truth that you (()) (36:33) but that truth also is subject to further enquiry, this is the basis of critical thought that is developing that you do not take a hand-me-down ais given, unquestioned. The process of querying and questioning is the very basise of scientific knowledge.
However in the very first few decades of the emergence of print the first books that were getting printed, remember the one of the things about printings was that to just hasten ornot, to make the process of copying more efficient the same books which are in demand they continue to be the books that are the first printed books, right. It is only later that books start getting commissioned.
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But the point is that the number of books, availability of books increases. So if we imagine that about every particular print of a particular book which a printer prints has about 200 copies, prints about 200 copies, right. Then it will lead to about 8 million books which are published in the first 50 years of printing and that number is more than the total number of manuscripts that were produced from the eighth till about the fifteenth century.
Since 700 years of the manuscript writing matches 50 years of printing, the availability of books just becomes geometrically and this is just the first 50 years when printers were still struggling with ways of more and more efficient means of printing. Remember printing technology also keeps on improving, it becomes much faster till you come to the modern day newspapers which are able to churn out lakhs of copies, millions of copies of a declaredparticular newspaper every day.
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So the point is not that the kind of knowledge in the very first early days, it is not firstly thate new kind of knowledge was getting created, before the creation of new knowledge it was just the availability of knowledge or knowledge texts which leads to a geometric progression in the availability of ideas. Just because I as a scholar now have access to a whole lot more ideas and remember this is not near livingmerely the ideas that were available to the standard Christian scholar in a mediaeval monastery.
Now you have scholarship coming in from other parts of the world primarily from the Middle East from Asia which are getting translated. So the sheer availability of ideas is so much that it leads to a spurt of a spirit of enquiry, the critical enquiry that I was talking about, alright. 39:469)
Now by about the sixteenth century, now I did talk about earlier that you hadve the bookseller. The bookseller was the person who was acquiring parchment, who was getting the ink put together, had copies, who had copyists who would copy, who also did the binding, who also sold thea books, the bookseller was like a one-stop shop but with the coming of printing because printing required a machine which is a very different kind of setup, now there was a distinction between the bookseller and the printer.
Because the printer was very occupied, printer was producing a whole lot more number of books and therefore the job of the bookseller was different because the reach of the book was much more because in the manuscript world what would happen is, that the point of sale was the point of copying it’s like very much like a photocopy shop. You do not photocopy texts at one place and sell them at some other place.
The cCustomer walks in ask for a copy, you copy it and give it straight away its custom-made whereas with print you’re producing 200 copies of a book and maybe if there are 5 or 6 books that you are printing through the year then a 1000 copies which is a lot in those times, you cannot be selling those 1000 copies to yourself within the town that you are in. If youYou have to sell it far away, so you have to work on distribution channels. So the job of the book, there is a distinction that comes about now, the job of the printer publisher and the bookseller is a bifurcation now.
The other thing that happens is that by about the end of the sixteenth century printing and publishing had spread to every corner of Europe, various parts of Europe, alright.
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What also happened is that the penetration of theseis available texts was increased through this availability of translation and one thing that was happening also is that theise translations, since they were understood by, these translation activities were undertaken by scholars they were mediated through a certain degree of scholarship and brought in a certain kind of authority.
What we must understand, what was driving the printers? Yes certainly as I told you ultimately the process of printing is a capitalist process, it is a capital intensive process, the machine, the printing machine was expensive it required investment of capital, remember Gutenberg went into debt producing that printing machine. Merely ideas are not what produces a machine, you require capital inputs, right.
And that process of capitalist production centers around profit, alright.. So certainly the printers were motivated by profit. What kind of books will sell the most? Which many manuscript will sell the most if I put it in print? There wais a lot of intrigue also which was happening. If a particular printer gets to know that another rival printer has printed a book which is doing very well he will procure a copy of it and try to produce it himself and that would lead to a certain kind of rivalry, a certain kindthat of war between various printers., alright.