Communion Of Dreams


Bad medieval book manners.

Oh, this is just completely delightful! Here’s the intro, but you definitely want to go read the whole thing:

Bad medieval book manners. Part 1

Handle with care. Those who have worked with manuscripts in libraries and archives know that the casual relationship between the reader and the printed book stops at the door and a special covenant enters into force once we approach bound parchment (ok, some paper, too, mais j’en passe). ‘Be careful with that’, ‘no flash, please’, ‘don’t open it like that’, ‘use a book-rest, don’t you see you’re hurting it’ are ululations typical of a manuscript room. Needless to say, things were not quite like that in the long Middle Ages. Those manuscripts that have made it through fire and water, deliberate destruction or noxious negligence usually tell us stories of a book culture where the reader and the book were only slowly coming into a friendly bond. Historians have been telling us about book damage arising from negligence, weakness or deliberate fault, but wouldn’t it be great to hear the story from a contemporary who’s lobbied à pleins poumons for the dignity and sacrality of books? This man was Richard de Bury (1287-1345), bishop of Durham, Lord Chancellor, Treasurer and Privy Seal and author of the ‘Philobiblon’, a work that is as fascinating as it has been neglected by modern historians. It is Richard’s manifesto for bibliophilia or the love of books. In it, books take central stage, speaking to us, often through personification, about their ordeals, rewards and achievements. It is, for me, the greatest confession of faith of a bibliophile.

And part 2 is here: Bad medieval book manners. Part 2

Go read and enjoy!

(And yes, I have seen every such type of damage in my conservation practice.)

 

Jim Downey

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The beauty of the old.

If you are at all interested in rare/old books and documents, particularly of the medieval period, you owe it to yourself to check out the Medieval Fragments blog occasionally. In particular, I always enjoy the posts by Erik Kwakkel, such as the recent one titled “The Beauty of the Injured Book“. Here’s a particular image and excerpt:

4. Touched by a human

Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 191 A (12th century). Pic: the author.

 

Books are made for reading and thus for being handled by human hands. The margins facilitate an easy grip of the book without your fingers blocking the view on the text. However, if you hold a book with dirty hands, you may leave your mark behind as a reader. While such stains are often subtle, the person that handled this twelfth-century manuscript had inky fingers: he left a fingerprint behind. Judging from the colour – a shiny, deep kind of black – it concerns printing ink, which puts this manuscript in the hands of a printer. He did not bother to wash his hands. It was, after all, one of those old-fashioned handwritten manuscripts, which had been long overtaken by the modern and spiffy printed book.

 

As I noted on Facebook this morning when I linked to that blog post, often old books are beautiful entirely because of their age and use. Sometimes clients are surprised when I tell them to just leave the damned thing alone and enjoy it.  There’s no need to rob a book of the character which it has developed through centuries of sharing life with humans. I’ve touched on this before:

Much of my life is predicated on this idea. When someone brings me an antique book for conservation work, I don’t see the notes and scrawls, the fingerprints and food stains, as something to be eradicated: they are part and parcel of the history of that book. They are scars, a record, a trace of the hands which have handled it, the lives which have loved it. We all carry our own scars, our own patina, and as long as we respect it, respect ourselves, for the record of our accomplishments, they give our age dignity. And depth.

 

And then there’s this from the introduction to a wonderful series of images:

This body of work was born out of the opportunity I had to photograph a 101 year old woman who volunteered, on her own accord, to model nude for me. It was merely an exercise in documenting her form in a beautiful way. My only instructions from her were to make sure she was not identifiable in the images. She was willing to do anything I asked of her.

When I later reviewed the images on my computer, I knew I was looking at something very special.

 

Special, indeed.

 

Jim Downey

PS.  Full disclosure: Kwakkel has featured my work previously, and so I may be biased. Link to Pottinger’s site via MetaFilter.

 

 



It’s a mystery.*

Some more ‘quick hits’ …

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Here’s a very good article about the nuance of what you can/should call a book, and the sort of question I have had to dance around countless times when people have asked me what was the “oldest book” I’ve ever worked on:

What is the Oldest Book in the World?

The past few days I have been preoccupied with a deceptively simple question: “What is the oldest book in the world?” Having done some looking around I can now report that while somewhere on this planet, in a vault or a cupboard, lies the oldest surviving book, it is actually impossible to say which one may be branded as such. Bear with me.

 

* * *

A light bulb in our kitchen blew out, and needed to be replaced. Routine, except that this bulb was in a fixture on the ceiling in the part of the kitchen where the ceiling is 12′ (I live in an old house). Still, no big deal — we have a tall enough step ladder so it’s just a minor hassle.

So I set up the ladder, climbed to the fixture, new CFC bulb in hand. The fixture is one of those old kind that have been used for 50+ years, with a glass sphere hanging from a metal ring, more or less enclosing the whole thing. You back out three set-screws, drop the sphere, clean out the various small flying bugs which have gotten into it over the years, replace the bulb and then put the sphere back.

And there were some small dead flying bugs. But there were also several large crickets. Dead. And one small live one.

How the hell did they get into that fixture?

 

* * *

Anyone who thinks we’re not living in a partial police state just hasn’t been paying attention. To apply William Gibson’s classic phrase in a rather darker way: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal agents wrongfully strip-searched a New Mexico woman at the El Paso border crossing, then took her to a hospital where she was forced to undergo illegal body cavity probes in an attempt to find drugs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso said the unnamed 54-year-old U.S. citizen was “brutally” searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012 after being selected for additional random screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso when a drug sniffing dog jumped on her. The woman was returning from a visit to a recently deported family friend in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, the lawsuit said.

Agents quickly stripped searched her and did cavity searches but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said. But the woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, the lawsuit said, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and other exams without a warrant.

Via BoingBoing.

 

* * *

Enough for now, except to note that this is blog post #1,600 and we’re rapidly closing on 100,000 hits to this blog! Yay!

Have a good weekend!

Jim Downey

*Reference this.



Then and now …

A lot of folks don’t know it, but I have an undergraduate degree in Economics (and another in German). And, while I haven’t really done anything with that degree, it does still largely inform how I see the world: in terms of economic forces at play.

So this nice little explanation of how the industry of making books worked during the Medieval Period … and the forces which led to it … as well as how it relates to modern publishing … well, let’s just say it ties a lot of my interests together. Here’s an excerpt:

The professionals who made books for profit were usually found near the biggest church in town. This was a well-chosen spot as canons and clerics (i.e. people who visited the church and who could read) formed an important part of the clientele. By the 14th century true communities of the book had formed in the neighborhoods around churches and cathedrals. Evidence from such cities as Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, London and Paris suggests that in these communities a diverse group of artisans interacted with clients and with each other. It was a world bound not only by the book, however, but also by profit.

The whole thing is worth a read, and it’s actually quite brief. Brief, but insightful.

 

Jim Downey