At the center of this text is the idea that bookrolls as media work within the context of society to shape a culture; they function as markers of social/political status and serve to reinforce a certain attitude towards society and the activities that take place within it. These bookrolls also serve as political tools. The materiality of these bookrolls, their aesthetics in particular, was markers of uniqueness at the level of individual as a society. Most importantly, these bookrolls aided in the facilitation of reading “events,” bringing together like-minded (or at least similarly-classed) individuals together for the celebration of the act of engaging with media as a living and powerful entity in which the structure of the bookroll as media was just as important as the words contained on its surface.

Within this article, I was struck by three powerful ideas Johnson proposed:

  1. There is an emphasis here on reading as an event, or an experience that is unique to each individual and to each specific context. On page 119, Johnson states that “Not only the logistical formulation but the very significance of reading events-including the negotiated construction of meaning for the text-is, by implication, not only rooted in but shaped by sociocultural circumstances” (Johnson 119). The author places great strength in the notion that we need to see these bookrolls as things that cannot be divorced from their cultural context, which should not be divorced from their cultural context because the event in itself is significant; it is personal and it is powerful. This carries with it the notion of “recursitvity” that we discussed last week. The bookrolls as media shaped society as much as particular individuals shaped them in particular contexts.
  2. Another significant idea that struck me about this article was the way in which these bookrolls were described in terms where they were almost alive. To me, this spoke to the notion of the bookroll as body. On page 105, Figure 5.3 is entitled “Anatomy of a bookroll” (Johnson 105). The use of this word is significant because it connotes life in this media, as something that can exist and take part in these recursive relationships that are described here. They are personified as these entities that shaped culture and were shaped by the inhabitants of those cultures. They served to maintain cultural systems. Johnson notes that rolls of human engagement with these bookrolls, as to who transcribed them (slaves or the upper class) and to who was allowed to take part in discussions about them. The act of gaining an “in” with this powerful entity, this “body” of learning that was the bookroll, was something that Johnson states that these bookrolls functioned as bodies in the context where they were sorts of “gatekeepers” because when they were at the center of these reading events, they “functioned not simply as exclusive clubs for approved entertainment and social networking but also as the place where tastes were made…” (Johnson 118-119). Depending on your social class, wealth, and the way in which you interacted with these bookrolls, one was attributed a certain social stigma; they would either be lauded or venerated based on the reading of a bookroll.
  3. This is sort of tied to the idea of the bookrolls as a body, but in this article, Johnson also discusses the materiality of these bookrolls as being significant. Their faces, their looks, were ever changing, just like they are with humans. The mechanics of structure and grammar were markers of the culture in which they were transcribed and said a great deal about their attitudes towards literacy. The fact that these textual markers were always changing, even when the same scribe wrote the text, connotes a fluidity of understanding and a sense of vivacity about engaging with a text. Johnson notes “ (to us) [these] odd, impractical features just reviewed—the lack of word separation, minimal punctuation, lack of structural indicator—formed a central part of a reading system that showed no apparent strain from these impracticalities” (Johnson 107). Johnson states that the “look and feel” of these book roles makes them markers of culture, icons, significant persons if you will, that we examine, about which we craft biography-like articles much like we would for human influencers such as Socrates. This treatment of bookrolls as bodies of media emphasizes bookrolls as both facilitators of and participants in relationships very much like the ones we all share with one other and with those close to us. This idea, to me, placed the bookroll as media even deeper within the sociocultural context and cemented it in my mind as this technology, this platform for literacy, for information and expression. With this in mind, one may ask the question, could these aspects of the materiality, of the façade of the bookroll as media, be construed as emotion, a trait inherent to more traditionally conceptualized living beings?

Two difficult areas of the article:

  1. One aspect of the article that I just wanted a bit more clarification on was the adoption of the bookrolls in the Greek vs. Roman culture in terms of why both societies utilized this media in the ways they did. What inspired their unique use of it? Can it be determined? Is it even important that we try, or is it enough to simply recognize that it happened? I think the latter kind of speaks to the “living” nature of the bookroll as media, so it’s kind of interesting to me, but I’m curious if something tangible can be attributed to it.
  2. A second thing that I wanted to know more about, that confused me, as on page 107 the author notes that the back of these scrolls was left blank. This stumped/intrigued me because I wanted to know what aspect of society that aspect of the bookroll’s materiality that spoke to, because in that same section Johnson notes the elevated nature of this media in terms of who had the most access to it and could get the most out of it, specifically, the higher ups in society.


Thinking about reading events, or reading as an event, was particularly significant to me. The question that I would like to pose is the following: With the permeation of technology into our society at such a high level, to where we don’t have to necessarily be in the same room to read or discuss the same text, what could the social impacts of this kind of discussion be? I guess what I’m trying to get at here is, does the affective power of media change depending on the aesthetics or logistics of the “event” in which it is showcased? How is that piece of literature or other media affected? How are those individuals who engaged with it affected? How about the group dynamics?