Difficult to unsee

It may be easy to retrofit a piece of technology. It may be easy to make the old work with the new. But it’s almost impossible to go back once you’ve moved forward. It’s difficult to unsee something once you’ve caught a glimpse of it.

The adoption of the printing press and mechanical writing in the West occurred without the customary clash between the practicians of the old order and the pioneers of the new technology. Some scribes, anxious that printing represented the end of their trade as they knew it, put up a fight, criticising the printers and moveable type enthusiasts. But their fight didn’t slow down the process of mechanical transformation of writing. To the extent that within a generation, the literate culture of Western Europe movef away from the manuscript and onto the printed page. For the consumers of 15th and 16th-century words, it was difficult to unsee the printed word once it glowed, in the cold light of mechanical reproduction, on the paper page. Europe had turned a new leaf.

3 Comments

  1. Things didn’t go that smoothly in Russia for example. When Fyodorov established his printing press in Moscow around 1563 and started printing ecclesiastical books, scribes were not happy. They torched his shop and forced him and his associates to flee the city. No printed book for Russia until the great upheaval of the 18th century.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very good point. I know of similar stories which happened in Istanbul and other non Latinate nations. Obviously the situation was more complicated that I could ever manage to convey: the advent of printing in the Wesr happened in a very particular context of rising literacy among the laity, a deregulatef scribal culture and a competitive market of ideas and commodities.

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