“A Brief History of the Page,” written by Alberto Manguel, discusses the, “very function” and “strength” (120) of the page. Manguel is quick to jump in with very direct language describing and uplifting the qualities of the page. From there, he discusses briefly how the page developed and changed over time. Manguel traces the origins of the page back to Sumerian scrolls, and to the codex. Within his discussion, Manguel arises the idea of the “page’s tyranny” and thus uses a pages structure, shape, readership, and medium to support his cause that the page’s authority, so to speak, is largely undermined in its influence on reading.


First, Manguel is rather detailed in his definition of the page. Manguel expands on the details of a page in order to establish its power and influence from the very beginning. Manguel is almost obsessive in the way that he describes the page, uplifting it and describing it as if it were a king ruling over a country, but rather a page which rules over the reader and the reading experience. He writes, “ In this sense, the act of reading is a power struggle between reader and page over the dominion of the text. Usually, it is the page that wins.” (120) Continuing on, Manguel is establishing a sort of authority of the page through his definition of the page, “… the page in all its glory and all its horror: as an object that allows or demands a frame for the text it contains so that we, the readers, can address it piecemeal and inquire into tis meaning…” (121)Then, Manguel introduces the crux of his definition of the page as having a, “double nature.”(121)


From there, Manguel begins to discuss the history of the page. First, he traces the history of the page, based on a general assumption of the page that, “page as a single spatial unit within which a portion of text is contained…” back to The Sumerian tablets and scrolls. He discusses the structure of these scrolls, how they were used, and its determination of content. The greatest strength of Sumerian scrolls is that, “the space of the table and the space of the text coincide.” (121) Manguel talks highly of the scrolls ability to hold entire books and the even the ability to hold several books on an entire scroll. Manguel points out that scrolls were entirely different than the pages we use for reading today because the text was not broke up, but rather is was continual on the scroll and, “did not break the text up into something akin to out individual, separate pages.” (121), leaving it to only determine the extension of the text.


Lastly, Manguel furthers the history of the page into the context of the codex. From here, Manguel then discusses the tyranny of the page. Looking first at the Codex, Manguel considers it to, “lend(s) a new meaning to the concept of page.” (122) We can see here how other ideas we have read relate in this point as Manguel discusses briefly how demand for a new medium of reading in society lead to the making of the codex. There arose a need and a desire to have more “portable container(s) for the text, and that a folded sheet was obviously more easily transportable than a scroll.”(122) We can see that the need in society cause the medium for reading to shift, not that the page evolved, so to speak, as a better form of the scroll. Manguel goes onto describe the shape, struggles, materials, etc. about the codex and how it affected readership. (A point that I found particularly interesting was how the shape of the page was first determined by the human hand, making it more easily held.) Manguel then launches into this idea about the “page’s tyranny” (first mentioned on 123) and its structure “forcing the reader to hold the text’s meaning in constant suspense.” Because of the continuation of lines onto another page. From here, Manguel spends the rest of the piece discussing, in depth, the ways in which the page’s authority over the text, reader, etc. is used to shape the content and literal text of the work as the, “page impose(s) their limits on the text.”(122)


After Manguel introduces the history of the codex, he lost me a bit. From here, I feel like his argument is very scattered and all over the place. I understand the concept that the page has deterministic qualities over the text and the way that it is read, however, I am confused , for instance, on page page 123 how he bring in widows, and uses obscure phrases such as, “… so that the subversion becomes internalized.” He then talks about the tyranny levels of the page, which I found confusing and I do not at all get the Word of God references on page 125. I feel like this is a really simple argument about the page, but he is going around his elbow to get there.


I would like for the class to discuss the idea of how the codex arose out of societal desire and want for text to me more available and transportable. It makes me wonder what was going on to make this shift in thought and desire. Was it a time of enlightenment? Do we see the same switch as we have from e-book style reading in modern times?