Febvre & Martin: The Coming of the Book

This is a classic from the Annales-school, published originally in 1958. It sets out to meticulously describe the impact of printing, based on empirical/archival research, combining the perspectives of technology, economy, culture, politics, sociology. It’s a bit dry, not only because of the Annales-style of socio-economic history, but also because a lot is well-known from later studies. Well, it’s a classic…

I am not enough of a book-historian to assess the actual importance of this book as I do not really know how much has been made even clearer or is refuted by the subsequent research in this field. But Febvre & Martin ask the right questions, the research is thorough, claims are backed-up by numbers (that is the real power of this work), and there are some sobering thoughts for those who’d like to believe that printing meant an immediate ‘revolution’ — with positive effects — for our ‘mentality’ and culture.

They write:

“(W)e hope to establish how and why the printed book was something more than a triumph of technical ingenuity, but was also one of the most potent agents at disposal of western civilization in bringing together the scattered ideas of representative thinkers.” p. 10


“We propose (…) to examine the influence and the practical significance of the printed book during the first 300 years of its existence.” p. 11

Compared to a McLuhan the quotability of this book is not very high. But this is an interesting thought:

“From time to time writers turned printer — to print their own works, see them through the press ensuring their accuracy and good appearance, supervise their distribution and so have a direct influence on the reading public. This was and always will be an ambition common to many intellectuals. At times of intellectual crisis and of conflicts over questions of conscience, when polemical literature flourishes, this will be particularly the case.” p. 143

The last chapter is entitled “The Book as a Force of Change”. From their research it becomes clear that there was a swift change (p. 249): about 20 million books (copies) were printed before 1500 (p. 248). Then they ask:

“What was the result of it? What kind of books did the public want from its printers and booksellers? To what extent did printing ensure a wider circulation for the traditional medieval texts? How much of that heritage did it preserve? In making a sharp break with in the material conditions of intellectual work did the press promote the growth of a new type of literature?” (p. 249)

A digest from this (long) chapter:

“One fact must not be lost sight of: the printer and the bookseller worked above all and from the beginning for profit.” (p. 249)

“(T)he immediate effect of printing was merely to further increase the circulation of those works which had already enjoyed success in manuscript, and often to consign less popular texts to oblivion.” (p. 249)

“By multiplying books by the hundred and then thousand, the press achieved both increased volume and at the same time more rigorous selection.” (p. 249)

(In the beginning, before 1500, most books (77%) were Latin, and the majority were religious books).

“The reading public was extended by the sheer number of books which reached wider and wider audiences with increasing ease.” (p. 252)

“Printing also made for a more exact knowledge of the Latin language and of the authors of classical antiquity.” (p. 252)

“At the same time we must also note that the Latin classics which were the greatest success for publishers undoubtedly continued to be those which had been most popular in the Middle Ages, those which had most frequently been adapted and translated into the vernacular.” (p. 253)

“It is fairly evident at the outset that printing brought about no sudden or radical transformation, and contemporary culture hardly seems at first to have changed, at least as regards its general characteristics. But selection soon became imperative as the decision had to be made which of the many thousands of medieval manuscript were worth printing. (…) (B)ooksellers were primarily concerned to make a profit (…) and consequently they sought out first and foremost those works which were of interest to the largest possible number of their contemporaries. Hence the introduction of printing was in this respect a stage on the road to our present society of mass consumption and of standardisation.” (p. 260)

But things change too:

“Contemporary writers who had their names attached to hundreds and thousands of copies of their work became conscious of their individual reputations. This (…) was also a sign of a new age when artists began to sign their works, and authorship takes on an altogether new significance. Rapidly, under the mounting flood of new books written for an ever increasing public, the heritage of the Middle Ages lost its hold.” (p. 261)

“(B)y the 16th century the printed book (…) played a central role in the diffusion of knowledge of classical literature (…) and later in the propagation of Reformation doctrines; it helped to fix the vernacular languages and encouraged the development of national literatures.” (p. 262)

“Book production in the first decades of the 16th century shows a clear line of development (…). Religious works were still preponderant, and in fact more were probably printed that in the 15th century, but with the overall increase in production the proportion of religious books decreased markedly, while the constantly growing quantity of classical works is striking.” (p. 264)

(Febvre & Martin remark that while national vernacular languages were born, it was the translators that “helped to preserve the homogeneity of European culture” — as research shows that many works were translated.) (p. 274)

“Latin as the international language did not decline fully until the 17th century. By then the establishment of national literatures everywhere had begun to split up the book market, a process which was encouraged by the development of effective political and religious censorship. Permanent divisions were established between the cultures of the different countries of Europe.” (p. 274)

“Although printing certainly helped scholars in some fields, on the whole it could not be said to have hastened the acceptance of new ideas or knowledge. In fact, by popularising long cherished beliefs, strengthening traditional prejudices and giving authority to seductive fallacies, it could even been said to have represented an obstacle to the acceptance of many new views.” (p. 278)

” There thus took place a process of unification and consolidation which established fairly large territories throughout which a single language was written. Within these territories the languages which are still today the languages of each nation more or less rapidly attained their definitive development. Spelling also became fixed. It came to correspond less and less with pronunciation and was sometimes complicated by the influence exerted upon it by the classical languages. Printing was not the only factor which acted to bring about this evolution. (…) The emergence or strengthening of centralising national monarchies in the 16th century favoured the trend toward a unified national language.” (p. 319)

“(T)here is no doubt that printing generally favoured the development of literature written in the vernacular. Printing thus helped to render the national languages increasingly sophisticated as modes of expression.” (p. 328)

A-and their final sentence:

“So, by encouraging publication in the national languages for economic reasons, the book trade was in the end fostering the development of those languages — and bringing about the decline of Latin. This was to be a fateful development. It marked, it is true, the origin of a culture belonging to the masses, but its consequences, once set in motion were incalculable. The unified Latin culture of Europe was finally dissolved by the rise of the vernacular languages which was consolidated by the printing press.” (p. 332)

A-ah: so the whole book was about the decline of Latin… ;-)

Febvre, Lucien and Martin, Henri-Jean, 1997. The Coming of the Book. The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. Translated by David Gerard. London: Verso. Translation of L’apparition du livre, 1958.

en,quotations,research,ubiscribe | October 3, 2008 | 12:25 | comments (1) |

Language and the Internet

Recently read (or better ‘read thru’) David Crystal’s Language and the Internet (originally 2001, updated second version 2006). I’d never picked that one up. It is a good overview of the various aspects of online language use, from creative spellings in chatrooms, via the writing style of bloggers up to influence of spellcheckers, search engines and the language problems surrounding the Semantic Web. It is a survey of the Internet from a linguistic perspective. I find myself generally agreeing with all his points — I take a positive approach to language online as Crystal does.

He writes:

“I do not see the Internet being the death of languages, but the reverse. I view each of the Netspeak situations as an area of huge potential enrichment for individual languages.” p. 275

And his final sentence:

“The arrival of Netspeak is showing us homo loquens at its best.” p. 276

So hmm, I do not have a lot to say about this book. (Except that I find the term Netspeak extremely ugly.) Also because I am more interested in writing style, literature, media theory, and less in language use in e-mail, chats, sms-dialogues and programming.

So I cut-n-paste together just one passage about the importance of blogging. Crystal gives two examples of blogging and describes the spontaneous writing style of a blog post, he writes:

“Here we have examples of a style of writing which has never been seen in public, printed form, outside of literature, and even there it would take an ingenious novelist indeed to capture its innocent spontaneity and unpredictable thematic direction. It is difficult to know how to describe the style, because it falls uneasily between standard and non-standard English. Both extracts illustrate writing which is largely orthodox with respect to the main dimensions that identify standardness — spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but they depart from the norms in various ways. (…) There are several feattures of informal written English which would be eliminated in a copy-edited version of such texts for publication. (…) Before the emergence of standard English, of course, such a style would not have attracted any notice at all. (…) It is a style which was once the norm, for all kinds of writing, but which gradually went out of public use once the standard language was institutionalized in manuals of grammar, punctuation and usage, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century. It was finally eliminated when publishers developed copy-editing procedures to ensure that their newspapers, magazines, and books conformed to an in-house style. After that point it was virtually impossible to see anything in print which had not been through a standardizing process. (…) And this is why blogging is so significant. Only here do we have the opportunity to see written discourse of sometimes substantial lenght which have had no such editorial interference. It is written language in its most naked form.” p. 244/245

Crystal, David, 2006. Language and the Internet, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

(This actually begs the question of how different bloggers deal with copy-editing individually. Some do copy-edit (especially the professional journalists), others write-as-if-they-speak and just leave the inconsistencies and errors. I’d say the level of editorial reflectiveness (is this a clear term?) differs enormously. Yet anyone writing will develop some sort of editorial relfectiveness in the long run. If only of the sort where it becomes the conscious decision to leave errors as they are.)

The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects

Booklet full of aphorisms. Oh-so quotable. I find myself wanting to use these quotes again and again. They are attractive. The attractiveness should not blind us. It will not, after so many years, I guess. The quotes are good to make a seminar or class attractive. Still. Together with the images.

So here, for future use. A digest.

“The medium or process of our time — electrical technology — is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing — you, your family, your neighborhood, your education, your job, your government, your relation to “the others”. And they are changing dramatically.” p. 8

“Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions — the patterns of mechanistic technologies — are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval, by the electrically computerized dossier bank — that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes.”” p. 12

(This bit is followed by: “We have already reached a point where remedial control, born out of knowledge of media and their total effect on all of us, must be exerted.”)

“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.” p. 26

“The dominant organ of sensory and social orientation in pre-alphabet societies was the ear — “hearing was believing.” The phonetic alphabet forced the magic world of the ear to yield to the neutral world of the eye. man was given an eye for an ear.” p. 44

“Western history was shaped for some three thousand years by the introduction of the phonetic alephbet, a medium that depends solely on the eye for comprehension. The alphabet is a construct of fragmented bits and parts which have no semantic meaning in themselves, and which must be strung together in a line, bead-like, and in a prescribed order. Its use fostered and encouraged the habit of perceiving all environments in visual and spatial terms — particular in terms of a space and of a time that are uniform, c,o,n,t,i,n,u,o,u,s and c-o-n-n-e-c-t-e-d.” p. 44

“Printing, a ditto device (…) created the portable book, which men could read in privacy and in isolation from others. Man could now inspire — and conspire.” p. 50

“(T)he printed book added much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible and literacy conferred the power of detachement, non-involvement.” p. 50

“Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. “Time” has ceased, “space” has vanished. We now live in a global village . . . a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space . We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of litercy divorced us.” p. 63

“Electric circuity profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously. As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information. Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.” p. 63

“Print technology created the public. Electric technology created the mass. The public consists of seperate individuals walking around with separate points of view. The new technology demands that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this fragmentary outlook.” p. 68/69

“The invention of printing did away with anonimity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habt of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of the same text created a public — a reading public. The rising consumer-orientied culture became concerned with labels od authenticity and protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright — “the exclusive right to reproduce, publish and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work” — was born.” p. 122

From: McLuhan, Marshall and Fiore, Quentin, The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects, Corte Madera, CA : Gingko Press, 2001 (1967).

en,quotations,research,ubiscribe | October 2, 2008 | 14:11 | comments (0) |

The end of television — for me

The long expected end of old-fashioned television, television watched on a television monitor, has arrived in my house. Two days ago the receiver for digital television broke. Probably it’s still under guarantee, but it was reason enough to end the subscription to Digitenne.

I took the subscription only to watch the cycling on Belgian television. But even for that it is not worthwhile anymore. To be honest, I simply hardly ever had or took the time to relax and watch a full race. How much I enjoyed Robert Gesink riding in the Deutschlandtour (2007), Paris-Nice, the Dauphine and the Vuelta! yes I did, but what I saw where snippets, bits and pieces, fastforwarding the videotape.

The rest of the channels mostly bring rubbish. What’s worthwhile to watch I can see online. There are no public English, French or German channels in the Digitenne-subscription.

I will go for another experiment: getting my dose of watching cyclingraces through the internet. I go for the clips at Studio Sport, for the bits and pieces uploaded on Youtube, I hope to find torrents with full races (tips anyone?), and maybe even pay for some at cycling.tv.

Hey, and I’ll watch them on the Eee Pecee.

cycling,en,research | October 2, 2008 | 10:57 | Comments (2) |

Eee Pecee

Give me a cheap laptop with wifi. Just for typing text, checking e-mail, reading. I do not need 200 gigabytes for storage (I have seperate harddisks), I do not need fancy programs. I want a text-editor and long battery-life.

With the current trends — like the 100-dollar laptop — it seems that finally the market is catering to my desire…

But then for once, behave accordingly… you think. (Except for books I hardly ever buy unnecessary things. I do not need a new computer).

L. said: ¨Why don you buy one of those mini-laptops? You can even install OSX on them. Take mobile internet, that’s also just 20 euro’s a month now. It’s just what you need¨

Yesterday I bought an Asus EEE PC. The smallest one. I am writing this post on it.

It’s incredible. It’s ridiculous. F. said: “But it’s a toy!”

It feels like a cheap toy. But the cheap toy is so powerful that it just delivers all you need, fast internet, listening to internetradio, watching television, all the websites. Everything is there. Weighs less than a kilo.

I am sure it is much more powerful than I now realize. It has a full Linux-installation and KDE. It’s a while since I used Linux, and the ASUS-launcher that is built on top of it is yes easy to use. Yet it closes off clear access to everything else. (Actually just somewhere on the last page of the manual there a sentence that tells you how to open a terminal from the launcher). So I haven’t figured out how to install new software, and even haven figured out yet where the simple texteditor lives. The computer has OpenOffice, but I prefer a simpler editor for typing. Because I tried out pico in the terminal, and saved a text, and then opened that text by clicking the icon the simpler editor started – but it’s not part of the Asus-gui. No idea where it is.

Of course I checked out how to install OSX. I must say I am a bit daunted by it. It’s something for people who like to spend an evening or two tinkering. I will leave it. Linux is also fine.

There is another reason for not installing OSX.

I thought this Eee Pecee would be for typing, and for on the road. (That will be so good. No spinning harddisk, just all cheap stuff, light and small, not luxurious at all. It means carrying it around without any worries).

But actually, this computer foremost ressembles a portable transistor radio. When cooking you take it to the kitchen to have a bit of music. Or you sit down to watch the news in between. (It’s a radio with television and internet-capabilities). Or to Skype. (It’s a telephone too).

It’s like a radio because the wireless connection is the center of this machine.

So no OSX because a lot of the ‘internet television’ works so much smoother under Linux compared to on a Mac. And the screen is actually quite nice to watch clips fullscreen.

A-and, typing on the small keyboard is okay for me (I have small fingers).

en,free publicity,software,ubiscribe | October 2, 2008 | 10:40 | Comments (2) |

The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton

At the moment my blog is only recording my bike rides. Excuses? No.

But do check out this: The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton, published by Mosaic, 8 cedees, classic stuff: http://destination-out.com/?p=205.

free publicity,music | October 1, 2008 | 13:51 | comments (0) |
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License. | Arie Altena