Johns Introduction, The Book of Nature and the Nature of Books, discusses the importance of natural knowledge and print. He touches on Eisenstein’s argument of print culture and connects his idea of physical print with the idea of universal knowledge. Johns uses his Introduction to stress the importance of maintaining knowledge about the natural world. Johns also mentions that we as readers take the information in books as truth and that we don’t question the author’s knowledge on the subject. He argues that texts produce knowledge through their creators and distributors.

Three main points:

  • I want to first talk about his point on fixity. “Such scholars no longer needed to concern themselves primarily with the fidelity of their representations, and were freed from spending their lives eradicating scribal mistakes. It was fixity that liberated them from such labor and thus made possible the progressive improvement of knowledge” (page 10). I feel like this is an important passage to touch on. Johns discusses alongside Eisenstein on this matter. He connects his argument on print and the knowledge behind it with Eisenstein’s print culture argument. Fixity means unchanging or permanent. We can understand then why people wouldn’t need to question if a text was trustworthy or not. The information would be unchanging.
  • Johns makes an important quote I want to talk about as my second point. “The central concern of this book is the relation between print and knowledge. As its title suggests, to pursue this theme it focuses in particular on natural knowledge — knowledge of Creation and of humanity’s place within it” (page 6). This is the main argument that Johns makes. If we take this section into consideration with the whole of his introduction, then we can understand why Johns decides to go into a scientific viewpoint on print and print culture. Many scientists look for the answer to “humanity’s place within” the world and research the “knowledge of creation.”
  • My last point I want to talk about is where Johns states, “If we are to understand how and why printed texts became trustworthy, it argues, we need to appreciate all of them, in something approaching their full “woof” (page 19). “Full woof” threw me for a loop at first. I had no idea what Johns meant until I re-read the sentence several times. I believe Johns is trying to say that we need to take the whole text into consideration to understand if the text is trustworthy with the information it gives us or not. We need to appreciate all texts because they all contain natural knowledge in some form.

Two aspects that were confusing:

  • Johns focuses a lot of his Introduction on astronomy. It is possible that I didn’t quite understand what he was getting at, but I was confused as to why he decided to add this point into an introduction talking about print and print culture and the natural knowledge behind it. He states, “He (Tycho) could use print both to capture heavenly bodies, as Eisenstein claimed, and, furthermore, effectively to turn every observatory in Europe into an extension of Uraniborg. This he achieved by distributing printed forms on which astronomers could enter their observations before returning them to the central site of Hven. In doing so, he pioneered a practice central to the development of modern science” (page 13). I’m not sure how print works with this statement. Johns might be pointing out that there is a higher or natural knowledge to print culture as there is with astronomy and his point on scientific view, but I’m not sure what he is trying to tell his readers.
  • I was also confused why Johns decided to dedicate a large section to Tycho. I understand that Johns is trying to make a connection between print culture and Tycho’s work, but I’m not sure if it truly helped his argument that much. “As a result, one nova — “Tycho’s star:’ as it came to be called — became “fixed” to the extent that it continued to be shown on celestial globes long after it had disappeared from the sky” (page 11). I’m not sure what Johns is trying to make his readers understand here. Is this also part of his argument on natural knowledge or something different?


Question to the author:

My question goes directly to Johns. He states, “In the first place, a large number of people, machines, and materials must converge and act together for it to come into existence at all. How exactly they do so will inevitably affect its finished character in a number of ways. In that sense a book is the material embodiment of, if not a consensus, then at least a collective consent” (page 3). This is indeed true, but he specifically lists “book” and continues to say, “So a printed book can be seen as a nexus conjoining a wide range of worlds of work” (page 3). Again, Johns lists “printed book” specifically. How would Johns apply his Introduction to digital books of present? Would they lose a certain quality or gain something entirely? gain something entirely?