Blessed variety

Our books may be diverse and inclusive, but our book cultures are not. Book genres are exclusive, most books resemble each other in shape and form, and while we find a multitude of topics and ways to approach each one, every book seems closer to each other than their authors may claim.

And certainly we’re subscribing to far more rules and constraints about book writing today than a thousand years ago.

Medieval book cultures, despite their limited impact, weak signal and restricted reception, were highly diverse. Their books were highly inclusive – not in the sense we understand inclusivity today, which is from a social point of view, but from a literary point of view. When it came to medieval manuscript books, everything went. With no powers telling writers and binders what books should be like, it was up to the latter two to kickstart blessedly varied traditions of bookwriting and bookmaking.

Not every such tradition took off, but each one that did came from a place of radical deregulation. A manuscript about theology could include an overview of plants and animals. A book of history may feature astronomical treatises and diagrams of the universe. Many works were classable – and classed they were by intrepid scholars and librarians – but most were untaggable. Many didn’t even have titles, or overviews. And the matter they treated of didn’t became obvious to the reader until quite late during perusal.

Scholars have often made the case that the Internet is restoring some of the features of premodern book cultures back to life. That the messiness of medieval letters became apparent in the blogospheres and ecosystems of Web2.0. That the coexistence of orality and literacy so prevalent in medieval vernacular texts has been waging war on post-Renaissance book cultures from the safety of social media networks.

6 thoughts on “Blessed variety

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  1. That the internet is bringing back some features from the medieval literary culture, is truly interesting, sorry bothering you, but perhaps do you have a recomendation by a scholar I can read about this?


  2. Thanks! I’ll check Latour, because I’ve read Ong, although I don’t remember that insight! Thanks for all, as always, it is a pleasure to read your blog


    1. Thank you so much. Ong, and especially Thomas Pettit, with the Gutemberg Parenthesis, were the first to formulate that insight.


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