Joseph Dane, Ch.1 “On the Continuity of Continuity: Print Culture Mythology and the Type of the Gutenberg Bible”

In conceptualizing print culture, Dane is focusing on early type.  He argues that what we as readers, authors, and consumers of printed works do not yet know about early type challenges what is currently being told in cultures about the book.  Our understanding of print technologies comes more from their function in current society, rather than their historical purposes.  However, Dane is asserting that there are print technologies (such as the adjustable hand-mold) that played a vital role in print culture, and that early technologies influenced current ones.

Dane first addresses the methods that were used for printing in the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries, like typefounding.  Historians and other individuals today imagine early printing methods to have magically become sophisticated: “These histories could be defended as teleological myths—they are simply imagined constructions of history with their goal the fully developed press of the eighteenth century” (20).  These myths regarding the continuity of printing technology challenge the notion that technology is in a constant state of progression and improvement.

Secondly, Dane uses The Gutenberg Bible as one example of early print.  He explains the discrepancies between versions of this text.  He writes, “the type used for these (40 and 41-line) settings is not quite the same as that used in the 42-line settings” (25).  So the way the Bible was printed through each century differed, as printing technologies changed.  One effect of this change was that the overall appearance of the text changed with it.  However, I am unsure of the significance of this.  I imagine it has to do with understanding how printed works are in relation to the contexts in which they are produced.

Lastly, Dane focuses on one technology from early centuries that he claims has been lost somehow, but that is a key influence to books today.  The adjustable hand-mold was used around the time of typesetting, though because it is no longer used, it has disappeared from contemporary understandings of print culture.  Dane writes, “We know all about texts; we know a lot about paper; we know something about ink; we know very little about type, or at least, what passed as type for the earliest printers” (29).  Refocusing on such a technology is significant in reimagining our understanding of printed works, and print culture.  This points to our argument that print is not just one constant stream; rather, it comes from different contexts and cultures.

Throughout the first half of his article, Dane argues that contemporary understandings of the book are challenged by methods of early type.  Print culture as a whole involves both early and modern methods.  However, he does not really explain what he means by “larger cultural narratives generated by modern studies in the History of the Book” (17).  What are these narratives?  I found it difficult to see the importance of focusing on printing methods when there was not a clear grounding in current understandings of print culture.

Additionally, these pictures don’t seem to get me very far in my understanding of early type.  Figure 9, with the adjustable hand-mold, looks more to me like a slingshot than a vital printing technology of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries.  A Google Image search does not get me much farther.  Dane’s explanation of the technology’s importance helps, but a clear and informative visual would really bring us home.

My question to the author relates to an earlier confusion: what, specifically, is our contemporary understanding of the history of the book?  Yes, we all know what a book is and what it is used for.  But what is the relationship between early versions of The Gutenberg Bible, or the adjustable hand-mold, and a book we pick up off the shelf today?