Somersaults and leaps

The medieval manuscript page is the embodiment of a culture anxious about its own becoming. Nothing in a medieval parchment manuscript is permanent except its own material permanence, as vellum is the most resistant soft writing support. Everything else, however, is a leap into the unknown, a somersault twisting and turning texts, images, genres, on their head, moving from one to another, blurring and mis-toeing the lines, bluntly rejecting the comfort and steadiness of what have become the categories of the modern world. That is why we can have images of obscenity in medieval religious texts. That is why several texts can co-exist on the same page without eating each other out. That is why an image can be textual and a text can be imagistic.

To my view, the manuscript page reflected the anxiety of the medieval reader. I like to imagine the person stooped over the page as the human figure inscribed within (or caught in) the entangled arabesque initial represented above. This male figure appears to be blown away by a mysterious wind, sucked into the text of the Book of Kings. He holds on to the arc of a letter C, while his hoisted body acts as an arm, turning the C into an E, the first letter of the word group ET REX DAVID SENUERAT [Now king David was old] which opens the text of Kings. There is no better metaphor for that of the immersed reader, being at one with the text of the book in front of them, or better yet, beside them. The acrobatic initial makes room for another suggestion: that a text may be incomplete without its reader. Without our fearless gymnast, the E wouldn’t come to be, and the text would ultimately be incomprehensible. Every text needs its reader.

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