In Adrian Johns’ introduction to The Nature of the Book, _he refutes Elizabeth Eisenstein’s claim that the order of the book (print culture) became “fixed.” _Johns uses Tycho Brahe and Galileo Galilei as evidence to back up his refutation that print was actually not “fixed” at all. By discussing the corruption of early modern print culture, Johns is able to explain how authority and power were diluted and how fixity actually comes about though social processes. Because social, cultural, economic, and political influences were and are extremely important to print culture, well, to understanding print culture in the societal context of when a text was written and even in today’s societal context, print culture cannot be “fixed.”
Because Johns spends most of his time in this introduction arguing against Eisenstein’s claim that print culture is “fixed,” one of the most important concepts to Johns’ argument is the concept of fixity. Johns briefly explains fixity when he says, “According to Eisenstein, printing meant the mass reproduction of precisely the same text, repeatable on subsequent occasions and in different locations” (10). To Johns, however, print culture is not fixed in the least because it changes from time to time, year to year, place to place, and person to person. Johns explains, “It is possible to argue not only that print may differ from place to place, but also that its nature has changed over time even in our own society” (4). John argues that text must be interpreted in “cultural spaces” in order to “recover the construction of different print cultures in particular historical circumstances” (20).
Another important aspect of Johns’ argument is that he draws upon the evidence of Galileo Galilei to aid in the refutation of print culture as “fixed.” Johns specifically references a series of books that Galileo wrote and illustrated which included some of the first lunar images. In doing this, Johns traces the printing and reprinting of this series and highlights the errors made as it was reprinted in different places by different people. Johns describes, “Galileo’s original drawings had been significantly eroded–a degradation in which the practices of piratical reproduction had played a large part” (23). Because of this piracy and corruption, Galileo suffered the consequences of becoming less credible and less authoritatively knowledgable as his position dropped. As Johns concludes, “…the large-scale reproduction and distribution of precisely the same objects” has a cost associated with it (29). Johns employed the example of Galileo in order to explain that if print culture were really “fixed,” then as texts were reproduced, any additions or revisions to the text should not be taken into any special consideration, neither should print culture have cultural consequences because print culture as objects are merely counted, not interpreted.
Understanding Eisenstein’s argument namely, but not only, for fixity is crucial to understanding Johns’ introduction. Eisenstein focuses more on the technicalities of the physicality of print culture in terms of the presentation of the pages. She believes, “Editorial decisions made by early printers with regard to layout and presentation probably helped to reorganize the thinking of reader” (64). She believes in a sort of structure and fixity of the physical printed text on the physical page. According to Eisenstein, “A rationalization of format helped to systematize scholarship in diverse fields” (66). Eisenstein’s assertions about the benefits of the systemization of print culture are crucial in Johns’ argument against fixity because he argues that print culture has to be interpreted within a culture’s society in order to fully understand and appreciate the economic, social, political, and social implications of print culture, whereas Eisenstein clearly does not.
Although I just tried to make sense of Johns’ choice to use the examples of Tycho Brahe and Galileo, I still don’t think I’m able to fully wrap my mind around why he used these examples. I think that my understanding is on the right track, but I’m not sure that my understanding grasps the full extent of Johns’ argument. As the introduction focused so much on Tycho and Galileo, my incomplete understanding made the work as a whole slightly confusing as I read the text and tried to make sense of the large amount of text he gave to both Tycho and Galileo.
Additionally, at times when I was reading the Johns, I was also confused about the depth of Eisenstein’s argument because I chose to the read Johns before Eisenstein. Johns did a great job explicating on his references to Eisenstein, but I think I definitely gained a clearer understanding once I read the Eisenstein and was then able to go back and reread some of the Johns.
Johns claims that Eisenstein believes, “It was fixity that liberated them…and thus made possible the progressive improvement of knowledge” (10). Could the same be argued in today’s society and culture? Does or can fixity enable the progressive improvement of knowledge? How can thinking about knowledge in this way change how we view print culture and/or the fixity of print culture?