In Alberto Manguel’s article, A Brief History of the Page, he discusses how the page and its physical form have changed over the years. He talks about how a book has many different forms, but the true meaning to a book is in the pages or content.
Three main aspects:
Manguel talks about many different time periods and how they each used the pages of books on different physical material. He focuses on “new” techniques that the past has used. Techniques such as: using the page for more than words, changing the supremacy of the page, and freedom on the pages. I’m going to talk on these three aspects.
- Manguel discusses how the page’s structure or physical form changed to include more than just words. He states, “Laurence Sterne, composing his Tristram Shandy in the 1760s, introduced blank pages, pages filled with ellipses, and even a page printed completely in black” (page 123). The way writers viewed their pages changed into a more creative way of looking at the limited space to use. What is the use of a page being completely black? The writer might need to “show” the reader something besides telling them in words. Perhaps it’s more useful to have a page indicate something instead of telling. This also enabled the authors to give room to their pages by making it so the words fit on the same page and didn’t flow over on the next page.
- Another aspect that stood out to me was about supremacy on the page. Manguel states, “In the struggle over the supremacy of the text, the writer and the reader decidedly wanted to be in control” (page 122). My take on what Manguel means here is that the reader felt as if they wanted to present the information given to them by the writer in their own way and not from what the pages tell. Going off of the example Manguel gives about Moses and God, there is a danger in what books could give to the reader. It seems that the reader might gain higher knowledge from the supremacy of books and rebel against the writer and his knowledge.
- Back in the time of the scroll, Manguel discusses that there was freedom to the page. The sentences had no spaces and pressed together to form a sense of limitless possibilities to the page. It might even seem as if the book could go on for eternity without punctuation and spaces. Manguel states, “The scroll granted both writer and reader apparent freedom: no truncated lines, except from column to column; no cumulative sense of progression, except as the scroll unfurled and rolled up again; no imposed unit of text, except as the scrolling allowed only one section to be viewed at a time” (page 122). With this being said, Manguel is leading up to justifying how the e-book is the new freedom of presenting text in it’s entirety. If this is the argument that Manguel wants to prove then he is saying that pages with spaces between words and with punctuation are, in a sense, bound or not free. They have rules to follow, but those rules stop confusion between the page and the reader. Not everyone would know where to stop the sentences to fully understand the information. I think Manguel is merely stating how the structure has changed and how it turned into a simple form to follow.
Two confusing aspects:
Both of these two aspect go together in a way. They both question missing knowledge.
- I was following along with Manguel’s reasoning and examples well enough, but then he started talking about how in the past the treatises of the Babylonian Talmud never had a first page. Manguel goes into Rabbi Levi Yitzhak’s explanation on the matter, “Because however many pages the studious man reads, he must never forget that he has not yet reached the very first page” (page 125). I’m not sure what exactly Manguel hopes to achieve in adding this piece in his article. It seems to me that Manguel wants his readers to understand that the pages can have a kind of danger of supremacy affecting the way we think. But if the first page is the source of power, than what about the rest of the pages? How does cutting the first page out help with understanding the whole?
- To continue with the confusion of missing knowledge, I’d like to talk about Joseph Joubert. Chateaubriand states, “When he (Joubert) reads, he would tear out of his books the pages he didn’t like, thereby achieving a library entirely to his taste, composed of hollowed-out books bound inside covers that were too large for them” (Page 125). Isn’t that a fabrication of knowledge? Joubert is creating his own history of knowledge and in a sense lying. Manguel goes on to say, “Joubert did not in fact destroy the sequence of pages; he merely interrupted it with moments of silence” (page 125). But Joubert did indeed destroy the sequence by taking large chunks of knowledge out and only keeping the information that he felt was the most important. How does destroying pages and structure help with the evolution of books?
Question to the author:
My question goes to Alberto Manguel directly. It appears that Manguel is completely for the e-book and for the page growing in technology; however, can a page of an e-book really be called a page? A page is something physical to the touch and something you can turn over in your hands, much like the scrolls and clay tablets Manguel mentioned before. He defines a page as a “living fossil,” but can this hold true with electronic books? Books are physical objects and pages are physically interactive. What does that mean for the pages of e-books that are not physically interactive?