In his work The Book of Nature and the Nature of the Book Adrian Johns goes to question the power of print in comparison to scribes and the original copying system with our appreciation to it’s influence and power on our own society.
Johns makes a point to question whether or not we today, in 1998 when he was writing, understand the importance of the press and it’s influence on us. We start out the reading with the concept that what we read today, especially if it is sealed in print, we believe it. Seeing something in print makes it permanent and assumed to have been printed with the author’s consent and is indeed the edition it says it is. Books today are also in many ways made for the product. Continuing on the first page we are told that “to some extent, at least, it is a commercial product, designed to appeal to purchasers… distributed…. [and] available for consultation” (p. 1) in personal and public libraries. In terms of ownership in these libraries we have seen a shift from permission to ownership. At one time we were given permission by the author to print and by the owner to read. With prints being more readily available it is more likely that we can own or find a copy of our own. In Eisenstein’s argument she argues that Tycho’s text rised in prestige because of where it resided in court. After we was unable to find a reliable or qualified printer we has forced to be reduced to catalogues that were passed out and his name lost privilege in the court.
Another aspect Johns touches is how a texts story does not end when it is printed. Once printed a book today can be purchased, written in, marked up, passed around but in the end it is individually owned. Books can be printed by the thousands in many different languages in many different places (p 5) around the world. Eisenstein brings in the topic of print culture. What most effects print culture is fixity as we are more able to print a copy, know it’s owner and their past works and compare the text to another on the topic side by side. Today we can better identify and compare theories and history with these more legitimized means of printing and authenticating work.
Printing has come a long way since the days of scribes and bookrolls. Johns points out that we have tactically forgotten that we “know” what printing is (p 5) and that the Nature of the Book asks the question of what printing was. People of the sixteenth to eighteen century carefully construed and reconstructed the craft of printing. We have to understand how books came to be made and influence societies as well as the consequences. In order for modern printing to be joined to enhance fidelity, reliability and truth it as had to be forged first. Work had to be put in to enhance print and how it influenced and reached society.
I was slightly confused on page 3 and 4 when Johns goes into how we have to worry and question where a text had “come from, who made it, and whether or not its putative author acknowledged its content would all need to be posed and answered before we could safely trust any printed text.” (p 3)
He continues on page 4 about piracy and how some companies produced not just unauthorized prints of existing books but also new texts mislabeled as being written by best-sellers. I wonder if these two points came to be part of how we now in each book have copyrights, or ownership/authorship, to certain texts, how we can give another authorship of art or work. We also today have a page dedicated at the bring of books on where, when and who printed that text as well as the copyright seal.
My question is how over all these years and different countries and continents were we able to create a system of standardized printing and credibility? Without common means on transportation and communication, especially in the early days of the sixteenth century?