✍ The Author’s Hand and the Printer’s Mind. Transformations of the Written Word in Early Modern Europe [2014]

por Teoría de la historia

9780745656021_p0_v3_s260x420“Escuchar a los muertos con los ojos” [Listen to the dead with your eyes]. Quevedo’s injunction, which provided the title for my inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, seems to me to indicate not only the poet’s respect for his former masters but also the relationship that historians cultivate with the men and women of the past whose sufferings and hopes, rational decisions and extravagant dreams, freedom and constraints they strive to understand – and to help others to understand. Only the historians of very recent times, thanks to the techniques of oral inquiry, can offer a literal hearing of the words of those whose history they write. The others – all the others – have to listen to the dead with their eyes alone and recover the old words in archives in which written trace of them has been preserved. To the despair of historians, those traces, left on papyrus or stone, parchment or paper, usually record only silences: the silences of those who never wrote; the silences of those whose words, thoughts, or acts the masters of writing thought unimportant. Only in rare documents, and in spite of the betrayals introduced by the transcription of scribes, judges, or lettered men, can historians hear the words of the dead who were moved to tell of their beliefs and their deeds, recall their actions, or recount their lives. When these are absent, all that historians can do is to take up the paradoxical and redoubtable challenge of listening to mute voices. But can our relationship with the dead who inhabit the past be reduced to reading texts that they composed or that speak of them, perhaps unintentionally? In recent years, historians have become aware that they have no monopoly on representing the past, and that its presence can be communicated by relations to history infinitely more powerful than their writings. The dead haunt memory – or memories. Searching for those memories does not mean “listening to the dead with one’s eyes,” but finding them, without the mediation of the written word, in the immediacy of remembrance and the search for anamnesis, or the construction of collective memory. Historians also need to admit, whether they like it or not, that the force and the energy of fables and fictions can breathe life into dead souls. That demiurgic will may be typical of all literature, before or after the historic moment at which the word began to designate what today we call “literature,” and which supposes a connection between notions of aesthetic originality and intellectual property. Even before the eighteenth century and the consecration of the writer, the literary resurrection of the dead took on a more literal meaning when certain genres reached out to the past. This happened with the inspiration of the epic, with the narrative and descriptive detail of the historical romance, or when history’s actors were temporarily reincarnated by dramatic actors on a stage. In this fashion, works of fiction – or at least certain of them – and collective or individual memory gave a presence to the past that was often stronger than the one that history books could provide. A better understanding of these competing elements is one of the prime objectives of the present book. It contains twelve essays that I have written over the last ten years. The reader will recognize questions and debates that have mobilized historians during the first decade of the century, such as the relations between morphology and history, between microhistory and global history and between the event and longtime-span processes. Once historians and the non-historians who aided them in their reflection grew less obsessed than they had been by the challenge to the status of their discipline as knowledge and acknowledged the kinship between the figures and formulas of the writing of history and those governing fictional works, they were better prepared to confront more serenely the challenge launched by the plurality of representations of the past that inhabit our age. This explains the emphasis given in this book to major works of literature that, through the centuries, have worked to fashion the ways in which those who read them (or who listened to someone reading them) thought and felt, according to Marc Bloch’s expression. Works such as Don Quixote or Shakespeare’s plays were created, performed, published, and appropriated in a time that was not our own. Replacing them within their own historical settings – their historicity – is one of the aims of the present book. To do so, it attempts to identify the basic discontinuities that transformed the circulation of the written word, both literary and nonliterary. The most essential of these discontinuities may not be the most obvious one. It was, as is known, a technical invention: that of printing by Gutenberg in mid-fifteenth-century Mainz. Noting its decisive importance should not allow us to forget, however, that other “revolutions” had as much if not more importance over the long term of the history of written culture in the West. One of these was the appearance, during the early centuries of the Christian era, of a new form of book, the codex, made up of folded and assembled sheets. On several occasions over the centuries, changes in the ways in which people read have been qualified as “revolutions.” Moreover, the vigorous survival of manuscript production in the age of the printing press obliges us to reevaluate the power of the printed word and situate it somewhere between utility and disquietude. Less spectacular, but perhaps more essential for our purposes, was the emergence, during the eighteenth century but with local variation, of an order of discourse founded on the individualization of writing, the originality of the literary work, and what Paul Bénichou has called le sacre de l’écrivain (the consecration of the writer). The connection between those three notions, which was decisive for the definition of literary property, reached its apex at the end of the eighteenth century with the fetishization of the autograph manuscript and an obsession with the author’s handwriting as a guarantee of the authenticity and the unity of a work dispersed in a number of publications. That new economy of the written word broke with an older order based on quite different practices: frequent collaboration between authors, reuse of content that had been used previously, familiar commonplaces, and traditional formulas, along with continual revision and continuation of works that remained open. It was within that paradigm of the writing of fiction that Shakespeare composed his plays and Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. Pointing this out is not to forget that, for both of those authors, the canonization process that turned their works into monuments began quite early. That same process, however, was long accompanied by a strong awareness of the collective dimension of all textual production (and not only theatrical works) and a weak recognition of the writer as an author. His manuscripts did not merit conservation; his works were not his property; his life experiences were not recorded in any literary biography but only in collections of anecdotes. The situation changed when the affirmation of creative originality wove together the author’s life and his works, situated works within a biographical framework and made the writer’s sufferings and moments of happiness the matrix of his writing. Some readers may find it surprising that a historian would risk venturing into literature. The text that opens this collection of essays will explain that audacity. It is based on the idea that all texts – even Hamlet or Don Quixote – have a material form, a “materiality.” Whether destined for the theatre or not, they were read aloud, recited and performed, and the voices that spoke them gave them a corporeal sonority that carried them to their hearers. That sonority is out of the reach of the historian who “listens to the dead with his eyes,” however. What comes down from the past is another “body”: a typographical one. Hamlet or Don Quixote (for which no autograph manuscripts exist) offer us the materiality of their printed inscription in books (or booklets) on the pages that made them available to readers of their day. Several of the essays that follow attempt to decipher the significations constructed by the various forms of those inscriptions. Texts are linked to several kinds of materiality. That of the book, first and foremost, which gathers together or disseminates, according to whether it includes different works by an author or distributes citations from his works in collections of commonplaces. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a book did not begin with the text that it was intended to publish: it began with a series of preliminary pieces that expressed the multiple relations implied by the power of the prince, the requirements of patronage, the laws of the market and relations between the authors and their readers. The significations attributed to works depended in part on the textual “porch” that led the reader into the text itself and that guided (but did not absolutely constrain) the reading to be made of them. The materiality of the book is inseparable from that of the text, if what we understand by that term is the ways in which the text is inscribed on the page, giving the work a fixed form but also mobility and instability. The “same” work is in fact not the same when it changes its language, its text, or its punctuation. Those major changes bring us back to the first readers of works: translators who interpreted them, bringing to bear on them their own lexical, aesthetic, and cultural repertories and those of their public; correctors, who established the text to prepare it for printing, dividing the copy they had received into sections, adding punctuation and establishing the written form of words; compositors or typographers, whose habits and preferences, constraints, and errors also contributed to the materiality of the text; without forgetting the copyists who produced fair copies of the author’s manuscripts and the censors who authorized the printing of the book. In certain special cases, the chain of interventions that shaped a text did not stop at the printed pages, but included readers’ additions, in their own hands, to the books they owned. In the present book, the process by which works are given their particular form is analyzed on the basis of individual examples suggested by the French translators of Spanish authors, by an English actor burdened with the heavy task of interpreting the role of the prince of Denmark and by the correctors and typographers employed by the master printers of the Spanish Golden Age. It is the very complexity of the process of publication that has inspired the title of this book, which involves both the author’s hand and the printer’s mind. This perhaps unexpected chiasmus is intended to show that although every decision made in a printing shop, even the most mechanical one, implies the use of reason and understanding, literary creation always confronts an initial materiality of the text – that of the page that awaits writing. This fact justifies the attempt to create a close connection between cultural history and textual criticism. In part, it also explains the strong and repeated presence of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain in the essays that make up this book. That connection is not due uniquely to my fondness for works of the Spanish Golden Age or to studies that I have previously dedicated to Quevedo’s Buscon, to Lope de Vega’s Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo or to certain chapters of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, in particular, the visit of the hidalgo to a Barcelona printshop. It is rooted in historical realities. During its Golden Age, Spain was, as Fernand Braudel wrote, a “land laughed at, belittled, feared, and admired, all at the same time.” It was a land whose language was considered the most perfect and that had produced shining examples of the most seductive literary genres of imaginative writing: the chivalric romance, picaresque autobiography, the new comedia, as well as Don Quixote, a work that fell within no established genre. If Spain captures my attention in several chapters of this book, it is also because the printers in the printshops used metaphors that make the book a human creature and God the first printer, while writers constructed their tales using the humblest and most concrete aspects of writing and publication, novelties that had arisen in a world still dominated by the spoken word, conversation (both popular and lettered) and the legacy of memory. It is the difficult encounter between the illiterate memory of Sancho Panza and the reader’s memory library that was Don Quixote that lends force to the Sierra Morena chapters of Don Quixote, read here in light of the distinctions elaborated in Paul Ricoeur’s great book. The essays that make up this book, inhabited as they are by great shadows from the past, also hope to contribute to the questions raised by contemporary mutations in written culture. Digital textuality shakes up the categories and practices that were the foundation for the order of discourses and the books in the context of which the works studied here were imagined, published, and received. The questions that it raises are many: What is a “book” when it no longer is both and inseparably text and object? What are the implications for the perception of works and the comprehension of their meaning of an ability to read individual text units radically detached from the narration or the argument of which they are a part? How are we to conceive of the electronic edition of older works such as those of Shakespeare or Cervantes, given that such techniques permit us, paradoxically, to render visible the plurality and historical instability of the texts, which we normally ignore because of the choices that a printed edition imposes on us, while at the same time these techniques provide a form of inscription and reception of the written word that is completely foreign to the form and the materiality of books as they were offered to readers in the past (and, for some time to come, in the present)? Such questions are not discussed directly in the present work. Others will do that task better than I could. They are present, however, either explicitly or implicitly, in all of the essays. This may be because the digital world is already modifying the discipline of history by proposing new forms of publication, by transforming the procedures for demonstration and techniques of proof and by permitting a new, better informed, and more critical relationship between the reader and the text. Or it may be because emphasizing the categories and the practices of the written culture that we have inherited may authorize us to situate better the mutations of the contemporary age. Between apocalyptical judgments that identify those changes as the death of writing and optimistic evaluations that note reassuring continuities, another route is both possible and necessary. It relies on history, not to offer uncertain prophecies, but to reach a better understanding of the current (and perhaps durable) coexistence of differing modalities of the written word – manuscript, print, and electronic – and, above all, to note with greater rigor how and why the digital world challenges the notions that supported the definition of the work as a work, the relationship between writing and individuality and the idea of intellectual property. For an author, even a historian-author, rereading one’s own work is always a trial. The essays assembled here have been carefully reviewed in order to correct errors, avoid repetitions, and add the necessary references to works and articles that have appeared after these essays were first published. If I rewrote them today, they would probably be quite different, but they remain within the basic project that placed them in a certain trajectory of research and reflection. I have always thought, and I still do think, that the historian’s labors follow two needs. He or she should propose new interpretations of clearly defined problems, but also enter into a dialogue with fellow scholars in the neighboring disciplines of philosophy, literary criticism, and the social sciences so as to be better armed to reflect on his or her own practices and the directions in which the discipline is going. It is on that condition that history can aid in the construction of a critical knowledge of the present that is our own.

[Roger CHARTIER. The Author’s Hand and the Printer’s Mind. Transformations of the Written Word in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014, Preface, pp. vi-xiii]