Ghosting the ghosts

Gustave Doré, The vision of Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri (London and New York: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin [1868?] What is writing if not a congregation of ghosts, a reunion of traces? Disembodied presence, tangible absence, the past peeking and claiming underdetermined time. Every text is new, but every word is old. Some are... Continue Reading →

The territory and the map

An Italian portolan map from 1476, used for sailing navigation, Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. lat. 81 Navigation has always been an arduous conquest. A conquest over culture as the map is over the territory. Finding the way takes time. Evolutionary time. X may mark the spot, but how do you know how to put... Continue Reading →

Incomplete pictures

When it comes to history and texts, no picture can ever be complete. Our sources are never perfect. Historiographical vision is never 20/20. Looking back will always involve a large measure of fumbling in the dark. And describing texture and detail in candlelight. The poorer the vision, the larger the idea. The boldest claims are... Continue Reading →

Personal taste

This is the source, this is the very spark which then ignites into a living flame and like a star in Heaven lights my mind. (Dante, Paradiso 24)Barrie Tullett, Typographical Dante, a typographically artistic illustration of the cantos of the Divine Comedy. Books are objective items, but reading is a subjective human activity. Subjective, not intersubjective. Reading... Continue Reading →

An all-time high

As a naive phenomenologist, I would say that the only reason a plant breaks out of the ground is to touch the sun. The tallest trees, such as the coast redwood in California or the yellow meranti in Borneo are also the most ambitious. They don’t touch the sun, but they come closest, and proudly... Continue Reading →

For your eyes only

Since the literate revolution, we have been reading texts alone, casting eyes, scanning, glancing, skimming, pointing, murmuring, verbalising, humming, letting the inner voice take over, creating the space, renting out the time, bringing back voices, adding our own to the ensembles of the past, but doing it alone, ruminating alone, chewing solo, despite the paradox... Continue Reading →

Unchain my heart

A chained book from the parish library of Sélestat. The manuscript is from 1434 and contains the Vocabularium modernum de expositione nominum by Jakob Twinger von Königshofen. To paraphrase (and abuse) Rousseau, books are born free but everywhere are in chains. Books are born in sheets of sheets but they are immediately bound together in... Continue Reading →

Humanist footsteps and footnotes

A humanist's schoolbook: this 15th-century paper manuscript is inscribed with the school notes by Beatus Rhenanus between 1498 and 1499, Sélestat, Bibliothéque humaniste, MS 50. The small town of Sélestat in Alsace once boasted one of the most high-performing Latin schools in the West. Known throughout France, Flanders and the Holy Roman Empire, Sélestat produced... Continue Reading →

Let me dwell on the edge

An 11th-century manuscript of the works of the Roman historian Sallust, featuring ample notes in the margin, Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, AN IV 11 The edge - where the limit is a promise, the compromise a deep breath, the line a window onto what lies beyond. Judging by the appearance of handwritten books, the edge was by... Continue Reading →

Lines and interlines

A 10th-century manuscript containing texts to be used in the monastic school, with interlinear glosses, words to make reading and understanding easier, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 242. Each line of text is an adventure opened to the unknown. Words break at the end of the line so that the lines may preserve their integrity and... Continue Reading →

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