Bonnie Mak, Ch. 1
Mak argues that the page is more than merely the piece which holds the valuable material (the words and concepts described on it). Through explaining the physicality and decoration of the page, Mak claims that pages function to distribute knowledge. As the technology or architecture of the page developed over time, so did it advance in its ability to contain and spread knowledge, and more quickly.
Mak first explains the origin of the page and interestingly, how the term “page” came to be. Writing was first done on papyrus, and images and text were organized into columns, or “paginae,” which translates into “pages” (11). Centuries later, we still use a similar organization in today’s publications. Newspapers, magazines, and even Facebook pages all follow a specific arrangement of text and image in order to instruct readers on which sections of the page to read first. Mak writes, “the careful arrangement of text and space graphically shows readers where they should read and indicates where they should stop” (12). She goes on to explain how this process encouraged readers to keep reading. Mak argues that one result of this was the spreading of knowledge and learning.
Next, Mak provides examples of the page as it transformed. Two such examples are the tablet and codex. Specifically with the codex, the page changed from a singular piece to one in relation to the pages preceding and following it. The verso and recto enabled previous and subsequent pages to then be in conversation with each other; readers could now read more fluidly. Mak explains, “the recto and verso of the same folio are in close conversation with their facing counterparts, often depending upon this proximal relationship to sustain the rhetorical coherence of their message” (14). The more coherent the message, the more the page effectively communicated the knowledge it distributed.
With the advancement of the page layout, or the mise en page, the arrangement of the page’s sections shifted. During the time of the seventeenth century, images and texts were not only rearranged, but they were sometimes eliminated altogether. This created a new dimension of the page’s function to spread knowledge: “By leaving space on the page unfilled, designers provide openings for readers to pause and consider the thoughts that they have encountered” (17). The blank space proved the significance of the page itself. Void of any information, the space (and more broadly, the page) served a purpose for the reader.
When describing the early tablet, Mak explains how this technology was useful for a variety of reasons, one of which was because writing on the tablet could be “erased” with the end of a stylus (13). I immediately thought of iPads and tablets today, and how we still use the term “stylus” to delete and perform other functions on these technologies. Though Mak briefly discusses the relation between these early technologies and their modern forms, this would have been an interesting to continue. In what other ways do the early tablets resemble the ones we use today?
Furthermore, I don’t quite understand the place of the discussion of the Controversia de nobilitate in Mak’s article. In some ways, she seems to trail off on a historical explanation that strays from her main point of how the architecture of the page has developed, and its important epistemological role.
Mak ends this chapter by suggesting that the page stands as a nexus of knowledge, as a sender, messenger, and receiver of knowledge. She writes, “it is the material manifestation of an ongoing conversation between designer and reader” (21). She hints that she will explain this more in upcoming chapters. I wonder the extent of this, or if there is an extent. Who (or what) is the most influential in this conversation—the designer, the reader, or the page?