Summary: Johnson introduces the general theme of his work utilizing the example of the Green/Roman concept of the bookroll. The bookroll displays the idea of progress that is actually less effective and easy-to-use than its predecessors. Afterwards, Johnson responds by discussing the differences in reading as a result of the Romans and Greeks utilizing such a unique form of writing style. Examples are given to describe the actual experience of reading as a result of the media used.

Three most important aspects:

  1. The bookroll is a keen example of the use of a technology to give an actual experience to reading. Not only did it separate the upper class from the lower class, as “Untaught boys picking up a book in school could not have been more laughable in their reading” (pg. 110), it also allowed the upper class to give a very unique concept to the ideas of reading. The bookroll was hard to use, meaning the works of literature on theme were very important and required effort to learn from.
  2. The second important aspect was the class construction that came from the specific form of reading the Romans and Greeks participated in. As mentioned before, the lower class were not able to read bookrolls as they lacked the proper education, so the works listed within were wholly unavailable to them. This was one of the first examples with strong written support in history of a class-distinctive body of works, allowing the upper classes to be superiors to those who could not read.
  3. The third aspect was the long-term application of class-based reading and writing systems put in place by Roman and Greek culture. While these existed in history beforehand, the widespread idea that the upper class was responsible for recording history and culture was mostly posited by this society.

Two aspects I don’t understand:

  1. I didn’t entirely understand why the Greeks would choose to expend more effort on writing something, even if it did help to make the class distinctions even greater.
  2. I also don’t understand how the ideas the Greeks and Romans put forward about class distinctions of literature could have endured through history. It seems as though, even if they have the power and money, the lower class could easily have overthrown the upper class’s ideas of literature if they wanted.

One question for the class:

  1. What other examples have we seen in history that are examples of literature that has different effects across different classes? What technologies exist today that cause literature to be worked with by people of different class backgrounds, and how has the Internet influenced this?