Roger Chartier: Inscription and Erasure

Almost two weeks ago, while staying in North Groningen, I read Roger Chartier’s Inscription and Erasure. Nuanced and well-argued short essays, a pleasure to read. Chartier combines history of written culture with sociology of texts, focuses the attention on the material side of the culture, and at the same time is an acute reader of the texts under scrutiny.

With these chapters:

I Wax & Parchment: about the use of wax tablets by the poet Baudri de Ourgueil, 11th century.
II Writing & Memory: about the ‘librillo’ in Don Quichotte — according to Chartier this is a booklet of wax tablets.
III The Press & Fonts: about Don Quichotte in the print shop, printing as work, copy-editing, proof-reading.
IV Handwritten Newsletters, Printed Gazettes: about 16th century handwritten manuscripts with news, copied for the powerful and rich; described via the satirizing of newsprint in comedies of Ben Jonson. Shows how printing was bound up in commercialism, printing what will sell rather than what is true, printing what has a success with the public.
V Talking books and Clandestine Manuscripts: about Cyrano de Bergerac whose works were circulated as manuscripts, never printed.
VI Text & Fabric: with an overview of the use of the weaving as metaphor for text, mostly by way of a comedia of Goldoni, and about Goldoni’s postion as a writer.
VII Commerce in the Novel: an essay about Diderot’s reception of Richardson and how the Richardson-novels led to a new idea about what constitutes good reading: namely a sympathic way of reading, identification of the reader with the characters is central, and valued positive.
VIII Epilogue Diderot & his Pirates: about copyright and Diderot’s ambiguous take on it.

I won’t copy all my notes here, though I do copy the quotes:

“By refusing to seperate the analysis of symbolic meanings from that of the material forms by which they are transmitted, such an approach sharply challenges the longstanding division between the sciences of interpretation and those of description, hermeneutics and morpholopgy.”(p. vii/viii)

“.. they involve the manifold, shifting, and unstable relation between the text and its materialities, between the work and its inscriptions.” (p. ix)

“It is therefore pointless to try to distinguish the essential substance of the work, which is supposed to remain invariable, from the accidental variations of the text, which are viewed as unimportant for its meaning.” (p. ix)

“Compared with the books that came out of print shops, manuscripts offered many advantages. For one thing, it allowed for controlled and limited diffusion of texts without the risk that they might fall into the hands of ignorant readers, since they circulated within a distinct social milieu defined by family ties, similar social status, or shared sociability. For another the very form of the manuscript book left it open to correction, deletion, and insertion at all stages of production, from composition to copying and binding, so that the writing could proceed in successive stages (…) or by several hands (…). Finally manuscript publication was a response to corruptions introduced by printing: it rescued the commerce of letters from economic interests (except when it too a commercial form itself, as with handwritten newsletters), and it protected works from the alterations introduced by clumsy compositors and ignorant proofreaders.” (p. 76)

[In the chapter on Richardson and Diderot (VII Commerce in the Novel) Chartier returns to the idea of a reading revolution in the eighteenth century, the presumed birth of extensive reading that took the place of intensive reading. Although he acknowledges that a lot changes, he does not believe that extensive reading took te place of intensive reading.]

“The eigtheenth-century novel took hold of the reader, captivated him, governed his thoughts and actions. It was read and re-read, studied, quoted and recited. The reader was invaded by the text , which came to dwell within him, and through identification with the heroes of the story he began to decipher his own life in the mirror of fiction.” (p. 114)

[But this is not enough to invalidate the idea of a revolution in writing:]

“Throughout enlightened Europe, profound changes transformed the production of print and the conditiosn of access to books, despite the stability of typographic technology and labor. Everywhere the growing supply of books, the secularization of the titles on offer, the circulation of banned books, the proliferation of periodicals, the triumph of small formats, and the mushrooming of literary cabinets and reading societies (…) imposed new ways of reading.” (p. 114)

“For the most literate readers of both sexes, the possibilites of reading seemed to expand, opening the way for a variety of practices associated with different times, places and genres. Each reader was thus at one time or another either “intensive” or “extensive”, absorbed, or casual, studious or amused.” (p. 114)

“This diversity suggests tht any full historical approach to literary texts should avoid the temptation to universalize any particular mode of reading and should rather seek to identify the specific skills and practices of each community of readers and the specific codes and conventions associated with each genre.” (p. 115)

“One of the principal tasks of combining textual criticism with cultural history is precisely to dispel this illusion.” (namely the illusion of the reader that he is forgetting his own social conditions of production). (p. 115)

“Paradoxically, in order for texts to be subjected to the laws of property governing material objects, it was necessary to divorce them conceptually from any particular material embodiment. But composition, copying,, and printing require stylus or a pen, wax or paper, a hand or a press. And works reach their readers or listeners only by way of objects and practices tha make them available to be read or listened to.” (p. 143)

Chartier, Roger. 2007. Inscription and Erasure, Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. (orig. 2005 Inscrire et effacer).

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.)

Prix Ars Electronica

Arjen Mulder & Joke Brouwer’s Interact or Die! has been awarded the media art research award of the Prix Ars Electronica: Nice. Congrats to Arjen and Joke. The descriptions of the artworks in the book were edited/assembled/written by yours truly. So I guess a tiny bit of the light of the award shines on me too…

art,en,free publicity,writing | June 19, 2008 | 11:33 | comments (0) |

De Kladbewaarders

Net uitgelezen: Dirk van Hulle’s De Kladbewaarders. Prachtboek over tekstgenese – het ontstaan van literaire teksten, gereconstrueerd vanuit onderzoek van manuscripten, drukgeschiedenis et cetera. Niet alleen een uitstekende inleiding op tekstgenetica en een duidelijke positionering van dit type onderzoek, maar ook nog eens een stel essays die vanuit zulk onderzoek iets zinnigs melden over de literaire teksten in kwestie, en die je meteen doen verlangen zelf de besproken teksten (weer) ter hand te nemen en onmiddellijk te (her)lezen: Finnegans Wake en Ulysses natuurlijk, maar ook ‘alles’ van Beckett, Proust’s Recherche, Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus.

Ah, gewoon een superboek!

(… dit is een blog, geen recensierubriek).

Bestel hier:

Design errors

Since a few months I work on the Macbook. Ever since I have at least wondered once a day how the design-team of this computer could’ve come up with the idea of the glossy mirror-screen AND implement it. One user-test in a real world situation would’ve shown that it has severe shortcomings. Whenever I write, I look at myself thinking through the the screen that carries the words I am typing. Who wants to look in the mirror all the time while writing, working, looking at webpages?

Or is this supposed to hail a new era of continuous self-consciousness?

en,research,ubiscribe,writing | April 8, 2008 | 16:15 | comments (1) |

Soon: Re-reading McLuhan

My first German-language publication will soon be available. It’s a text on locative art and the work of Esther Polak in McLuhan Neu Lesen edited by Martina Leeker, Kerstin Schmidt and Derrick de Kerckhove:

Sonic Acts XII

One of the reasons for not blogging too much is that I’ve been working on Sonic Acts XII The Cinematic Experience. The festival takes place from 21 – 24 February. Most of my time went into editing the book. Yesterday the book was delivered at the Sonic Acts office – I have not even seen it myself (will pick up a copy later today).

The book will be available during the festival, and can also already be ordered online at:

More info on the book and the festival at the Sonic Acts XII site:

Ballard, Delany

Two books I’ve read over the past few weeks I’d like to mention here:

J.G. Ballard: Miracles of Life, his autobiography, very concise, clear, and as I did not know too much about his background (not having read much on Ballard), very illuminating. He writes about his life – not his work. He does not interpret his own texts, nor does he take issue with criticisms. Yet exactly because of that it is illuminating. It gives background, it explains a life and a way of living.

Samuel R. Delany: About Writing. Without doubt the best book on writing that I’ve ever read. That is: the best book on writing fiction, and on writing as a craft. It’s a bunch of essays, a lot of tips and five interviews (only those are sometimes a bit long-winded), all informed by Delany’s wide experience as a writer and as a teacher of writing. I’d say: required reading on any ‘creative’ writing course. (And even when Delany’s might be wrong, or when you’d disagree with him, the disagreement will get you somewhere: further). Especially recommended for anyone who loves to blog and knows how important a good sentence is ;-)

en,reading matter,ubiscribe,writing | February 10, 2008 | 17:15 | comments (0) |

Epische poëzie van nu


Een vrolijke avond met Onno Kosters, Han van der Vegt, Arnoud van Adrichem, Joost Zwagerman, Fabian Stolk en Arie Altena

Waar: in Perdu, Kloveniersburgwal 86, 1012 CZ Amsterdam, 020 4220542
Hoe laat: 20.30 uur. Zaal open: 20.00 uur.
Datum: woensdag 21 november

We beleven opnieuw een bloeitijd in de Nederlandse epische poëzie. Er worden weer meeslepende verhalen verteld in een dichtvorm die zich uitstekend leent voor voordracht en commentaar. Vandaar deze avond, die door literair-cultureel tijdschrift De Gids wordt georganiseerd ter viering van het verschijnen van haar themanummer met en over epische gedichten.

Onno Kosters leest Lonely Planet, een hellevaart op een soms ondraaglijk lichte toon.
Han van der Vegt draagt een halfuur voor uit zijn in Homerische versmaat geschreven, meeslepende epos De Paladijnen, dat integraal en verticaal is afgedrukt in De Gids.
Arnoud van Adrichem komt met een aantal gedichtencycli uit zijn debuutbundel Vis.

Joost Zwagerman licht wat achtergronden toe bij Roeshoofd Hemelt, zijn eerste proeve van epiek.
Fabian Stolk legt uit waarom nu juist de epiek het zo goed doet in de Nederlandse poëzie.
Arie Altena plaatst de epische poëzie in het tijdperk van internet en andere communicatienetwerken.

U wordt door de avond geleid door Dirk van Weelden en Arjen Mulder, beide redacteuren van De Gids.

Het nummer van De Gids is inmiddels uit, en te koop “bij de betere boekhandel”.

Ted Nelson, again

Have I not been reading the informed blogs? This is already old: there is apparently a working version of Xanadu – Windows only. Huh? Ted Nelson (yes, the one-and-only Ted Nelson) presents it in a video here, in a Google-talk: Via

research,software,ubiscribe,writing | November 9, 2007 | 23:40 | Comments (2) |
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