In his article, Bookrolls as Media, William A. Johnson discusses the ancient Greek and Roman bookroll in terms of culture and social views regarding learning. Johnson argues that it is necessary to understand the reading system to understand a society as a whole.

Three main points:

  1. The first of three main points that I want to talk about in this post is that Johnson stresses that cultures have different uses of learning the reading system. The use of the bookroll in ancient Greece and Rome was a more complicated way of reading. Not only was this bookroll a long sheet of papyrus paper, but the culture developed it without the use of punctuation. The article states, “As for the text itself, there is an almost obsessive preservation of the uninterrupted flow of the letters” (page 104). With this being said, Johnson is trying to tell us that cultures use reading in their own way. Learning to read without hardly any punctuation would be nearly impossible for us to do nowadays. We were taught to pause in reading when certain signs appear such as a period or comma. Johnson goes on to say, The phrasing of a sentence – even something as basic as whether a sentence was a question – was left to the reader’s interpretation. Or rather, to be more precise, the proper phrasing of a sentence emerges from the combination of the literary style of the author and the reader’s trained rendering of that style” (page 109). The word choice “trained style” shows us that, again, each culture and society learns reading in a specific way that is unique to their own.
  1. Johnson also touches on the topic of learning in a reading system. Looking at the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, how did they learn/teach the way they viewed the reading system? Referring back to the article we see that the learning process was performed with a set of two people instead of one by themselves. “Learning to read in the early years involves, at first, reading the text aloud to the teacher and having the teacher model the interpretation of the text” (page 111). In a way, we still do this in present time. The best way to learn the reading system is to hear it. When spoken aloud, we can hear the pronunciations of words better than if we simply used our eyes. There is a kind of partnership to the reading system.
  1. The last point I want to touch on is the bookroll itself. The article describes it as “a thing with considerable richness of social life” (page 112). If this is the case then we can say that the books of present are the same way. It is possible that physical books hold a part of a culture’s social aspects and views from what Johnson is saying. With this being said, that means that books reflect a whole society and even culture, meaning our views and thoughts are shown in our writing as a whole.

Two aspects that were confusing:

  1. I was a little lost under the section titled Social and Ideological Constructions of Reading. Johnson states, “we have come to understand some fundamentals about ancient reading behaviors, such as the heavy use of lectors, the habits of group reading and interrogation of a text, and the ideal of a reader who reads and rereads and thoroughly absorbs a text as a normative reading practice” (page 115). I believe the wording is slightly confusing in this section, but I was under the impression that these habits carried on over from the past to the present, meaning that these are behaviors that we have nowadays regarding reading habits. Or is Johnson saying that these aspects carried over to the present?
  1. The other point that I found a little confusing to the whole of the article was the use of moralism in literary Roman society. “Also elemental to the position of literary affairs in Roman society is the moralism in which it is often framed” (page 117). I got a little confused here because I’m not sure I fully understand what point Johnson is trying to make by bringing this section up. It seems to me that Johnson is saying that an aristocratic Roman needs to balance a well literary life, which would reflect in bookrolls being considered a richness in social life because a well educated Roman would need to keep up with studying medicine and even poetry to inflict this mind set.

Question to the author:

My question to Johnson about his article would be a reflection on my third point in this post. If bookrolls are defined as “a thing with considerable richness of social life” then present day books represent our social life and teachings. With the growth of technology in our culture today, books are becoming more and more digitalized. Soon physical books will be replaced with ebooks and files on a desktop. Physical books will be extinct. With the bookroll being a physical form of reading and is considered a richness of social life, does that mean that we will lose that richness in our social life of present if physical books are replaced with digital copies?