Johnson begins his piece, Bookrolls as Media,” with an explanation of a ‘bookroll’ as a papyrus scroll, written on with black ink, barely a touch of grammar, and a clean-lined structure. From there, he discusses and ponders the difficulties that may arise from using bookrolls, and equally how these difficulties fueled a study themselves. All in all, Johnson goes on to discuss how reading is a involvement of learning, leadership, and taking part in a community.
The first main point that Johnson discusses is the transformative position the backroll had on the way people read, study, and learn. Thus, this idea, as Johnson points out, makes the backroll cultural. Johnson writes, “ The look and feel of the backroll—stable for over seven hundred years—signifies the culture in a number of different ways.” Due to the fact that the backroll is an, “expensive item,” perhaps suggesting that socially, access to learning and studying from these texts was only for the elite. Similarly, Johnson points out that some, “less refined backroll productions also suggest an elite cultural register.” In class, we have discussed this idea on similar grounds that media, as a whole, is cultural. For this we have to ask ourselves, for whom? It is likely that the backroll was created for the elite, which sets in place an effect on culture that is divisionary. (page 107)
The second most important point from the text is clearly stated by Johnson at the bottom of 108, “…ways in which bookrolls and readers interacted that distinguish them from the interactions of contemporary books and readers.” Here, Johnson is seeking to discuss the reading system. The most dominating, and fascinating, point Johnson makes is reader’s interpretation. As a writer myself, it is difficult to imagine a world where, “authorial intent,” is largely a mystery. “The phrasing of sentence—even something as basic as whether a sentence was a question—was left to the reader’s interpretation.” Johnson seeks to explain that the lack of modern grammar, structure, etc. often left the pieces entirely flat, so to speak, just simply words there for the reader to make sense of them as they saw fit. Johnson goes on to explain how authors’ literary style still shown through as a convention itself, and readers are then trained in shaping these elements. I can see similarities to the modern reading and writing. Do we not teach young ones to read and understand grammar and how it affects the sentence? Conventionalized or not, the way that readers have read and the construction of authorial style has, was, and always will be no matter the media.
Lastly, Johnson seeks to discuss the intensity of reading. This is important because Johnson is connecting the way backrolls were read, or had to be read, and (in my opinion) taking a stab at the reading in the modern context. For example, Johnson discusses his idea that reading is like digesting your food, “… reduced to a pulp by frequent re-perusal.” (114) What Johnson is saying here is that reading should take time, as one should break down the words, how they are formed, what they are saying, and mull over them. One could not help but do this when reading the backroll, and I think Johnson is seeking to reiterate that this is important with reading in the modern context.
I got extremely confused when, on page 115, when Johnson said that the reading system, “can be little more suggestive and exemplary.” Then, Johnson dives into this long explanation and example of educated Rome, and I failed to see how it connected back to be, “more suggestive and exemplary.” What does he mean by that? Perhaps I just had trouble seeing eye-to-eye with his example. Is he talking about backroll reading system? Modern reading system?
On page 106, I am confused when Johnson describes the backroll as, “impractical,” I feel like this whole time, he is discussing how useful this kind of reading was culturally, and even in the modern context the reading system could be bettered by hanging onto the kind of reading that came from learning and studying backrolls. In this, I feel he contradicts himself to some degree?
I want to touch on my second point for the discussion, the idea of authorial intent. I want to discuss the classes opinions to consider this: the backroll lended itself to leave more room for readers’ interpretation and lessened the degree to which an author could express his or her intent, as modern readers, are we missing out?