Reading Response 1

Summary: Johnson’s overall argument is that readers must recognize that all texts come from a particular social context. This social context is embedded with the time period’s society, culture, politics, and ideology. Failing to recognize this context may cause the reader to misinterpret the text in which they are reading. Johnson uses the old bookroll format from Ancient Greek and Roman times to show how their text would be very difficult for us to interpret due the lack of punctuation and letter and word spacing which was customary for their text.

Most Important Aspects:

  1. The look and feel of the bookroll- stable for over seven hundred years- signifies culture (Page 7). They were constructed from the materials that were most readily available and had to be handwritten by scribes. Sometimes bookrolls were written in calligraphy to make them more valuable. During a time when very few could read or write, it was very important and signified high status if a person during Ancient Greek and Roman times was able to read or write.
  2. There is a tight symbiosis among the unencumbered letters of the text, the author’s conventionalized style of writing, and the reader’s training in shaping these elements into a meaningful discourse (Page 9). During these times, it was customary for no spaces or punctuation in the text. The letters were all written together as if they were all one giant word. This meant that the reader had to think critically in order to interpret words and whether or not something was a sentence or a question. This is important because today, we as readers are still responsible for interpreting what the author is trying to tell us, though our job is much easier.
  3. Reading and writing are deeply embedded in social and cultural concerns and activities (page 19). To be able to read and write during this time period signified that you were of high social standing. Many upper class citizens lived lives that revolved around reading and writing. They would often get together to discuss texts, read for themselves and for their jobs, and even earn a living by writing bookrolls for others.

Confusing Aspects:

  1. I do not really understand why the Romans chose to abandon word spacing for the older format where there was no spacing. I feel like that only made reading harder for them than it should have been.
  2. I am also unsure why Johnson relies so heavily on stories and quotations from historical figures. I feel like they interfere with his overall message and only make his article unnecessarily long.

Discussion Question: Why was reading such a limited skill during this time period, or why is it now that reading is such a common skill in our time period?