Stoicheff & Taylor (2004). Introduction: Architectures, Ideologies, and Materials of the Page.

Stoicheff, P., & Taylor, A. (2004). Introduction: Architectures, Ideologies, and Materials of the Page. In P. Stoicheff & A. Taylor (Eds.), The Future of the Page (pp. 3–25). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

“As we explored this issue of the page’s role in the development of communication and of knowledge, we began to recognize that the book’s phenomenal impact is itself a product of the page’s characteristics, and that Western culture has been in many ways crucially determined by the page’s materials of information transfer and organization. … Now ‘text’ can be released from the strictly alphabetical to include the pictorial, acoustic, and cinematic.” (p 4)

“… the underlying arrangement of information on a page or what medieval writers called its _ordinatio_. … ideologies: the ways in which the arrangement of information shapes or reflects cultural systems. … Cultures with an ideological investment in information hier- [page break] archies produced pages whose organization helped consolidate those hierarchies.” (p 4-5)

“… _Sacra Pagina_ or _Holy Page_ — the medieval term for scripture — reminds us that the page is one of the most fundamental intellectual constructs in the Western tradition. … But the small and often impoverished Christian communities used a cheaper technology, binding flat sheets between wooden boards producing what is now technically called a codex (from Latin _caudex_, meaning block of wood) but is normally just called a book. As the new religion gained authority, so too did its favoured method for preserving its central texts. While the mechanical advantages of the codex (chief among them that it could use lower quality parchment and permitted easier consultation of specific passages) must have played a significant role in its increased use, it was its association with Christianity that made it respectable.” (p 7)

“In general parlance, a book meant a parchment codex, and continued to mean a parchment codex until the paper revolution of the late Middle Ages. From around 1450 it increasingly meant a paper codex. From 1500 on it increasingly meant a printed codex. The influence of the format has been enormous and is very difficult to assess. The codex, and with it the page, have set the parameters for what in the Western tradition constitutes a text.” (p 7)

“Textual metaphors like ‘writing,’ ‘the page,’ or the ‘book’ retained strong concrete grounding.” (p 8)

“The physical format of the page, however, has stayed the same despite revolutionary alterations in our technological environments. That resistance to technological adaptation might reflect several things. For one, change has not always been necessary: the page has been, from its beginning, an efficient space for information display requiring little modification. … For another, it may have so successfully embedded patterns of logic, thought, reading, writing, and information retrieval that possibilities for any shift in its conception have been minimal …” (p 8)

“But the traditional design features of the page are still highly functional because they developed along with our understanding of what constitutes information. Specifically, current page design, for both Web and print, inherits many of its features from high medieval academic texts, and there is a close correlation between the development of academic text design and the development of academic culture. If web sites still tend to reproduce the features of medieval page design, they do so because these features have become fully integrated with our habits of thought and with the structures of academic publishing.” (p 9)

“… the word of God keeps chaos at bay, driving it back to the margins so that the space becomes a force field and the text is defined by its opposition to its margins (see fig. 0.1).” (p 9)

[“Figure 0.1. ‘Liber generationis.’ Lindisfame Gospels, fol. 27r (British Library, MS Cotton Nero D. IV).” (p 10)]

“… from about the year 1000 on, scholastic or analytic reading increasingly replaced the older, slower, subvocalizing rumination of monastic reading, transforming the page ‘from a score for pious mumblers into an optically organized text for logical thinkers.’14” (p 11)

“The term _ordinatio_ is more than just a synonym for layout. It alludes to the [page break] combination, or mutual reinforcement, of layout and certain kinds of intellectual structure.” (p 11-12)

“Even such an aggressively presentist notion as ‘information,’ which reduces knowledge to a kind of electronic liquidity, privileges the visual, and ignores the acoustic in ways that can be traced back to medieval scholastic culture.” (p 12)

“‘Hypertext’ is a term devised by Theodor Nelson in 1965 to name ‘nonsequential writing — text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen.’16 At the time, it represented a politicized vision of reading that swung authority from the writer to the reader.” (p 12)

“His [Vannevar Bush] work, described in a 1945 _Atlantic Monthly_ article entitled ‘As We May Think,’ involved developing a new system of information retrieval that would escape the _ordinatio_-like system of categorization.17 In its place he hoped to create a process that allowed the scholar’s information search to be ‘an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory’ (103) that operated by association rather than categorization. As Landow points out, Bush achieved two things in this digital period: he recognized the need to ‘append one’s own individual, transitory thoughts and reactions to texts’ and the need for the ‘conception of a virtual, rather than a physical, text.’18” (p 13)

“The digital page now encourages a nonlinear progression through a text, which in tum has begun to [page break] reshape how literary texts, written for the digital platform, are conceived and structured.” (p 13-14)

“The rectangular printed paper page is convenient and portable, and has been familiar for centuries. The shape of the page reflects the size and shape of the hand. The flicking of the pages is a mark of our progress through the text and through time. The white space between lettering and the edge of the page offers gaps where readers can exercise their power. The standard modem page is a container to which we are deeply attached and forms part of our pleasure in reading.” (p 16)

“For Dagenais, the manuscript page must be understood not as a venerable, impersonal, static icon, and not even as a finished product, but as a human process. Drawing on postcolonial theory, John Dagenais argues that we have ‘colonized’ the medieval page, transforming it into a simple origin without history, much as European historians did in their depiction of Indigenous peoples. … The pages he selects … are carnal objects, meant to be touched at the blank spaces around the edges.” (p 16)

“Abandoning the manuscript tradition, with its irregular letter sizing and colouring, Jenson drew on stone carving, that is, on Roman tombstones and public inscriptions, to produce his tightly controlled and regularly spaced pages. … While rejecting complete technological determinism, Carlson insists on the degree to which the machines decide what can be communicated.” (p 17)

“As Marie Battiste argues, Aboriginal ideographic and symbolic literacy was ‘destroyed, transformed, or simply ignored’ by Europeans whose written communication was exclusively page-based. Aboriginal peoples’ marks on ‘nature’s irregular “page”‘ in the form of pictographs, ideographs, and petroglyphs were meaningless to travellers and missionaries whose texts were shaped by the layout of the page. Unlike the European page whose boundaries implied the self-contained logic and linearity of its text, ideographic inscription was symbolic, it interacted with oral traditions in order to be deciphered, and it was ‘never precisely defined or fully explained, since their purpose was to stimulate a dialogue rather than resolve the paradoxes of life concretely.’ … [page break] … If a postcolonial framework is to be constructed, it cannot be without ‘Indigenous peoples renewing and reconstructing the principles underlying their own world view, environment, languages, [and] communication forms,’ potentially assisted by new information technologies.” (p 17-18)

“The technology of the page has, as such, inhabited and deformed cultures upon which it was imposed as a location for identity and inscription. If so, how is the emergence of the digital page to be managed and negotiated so as not to repeat the process?” (p 18)

“The advent of the virtual page, therefore, has created a debate haunted by the old philosophical questions of the physical body and its relationship to the spirit, charged by the potential redundancy of the human body and loss of our humanity.” (p 20)

“… HTML … as with the medieval scholastic page, layout, or ordinatio, is closely linked to specialized professional knowledge.” (p 21)

“Manguel notes how the pages that flip through our fingers mark not only our progress or location in a volume, but the time of our reading. … This texture is a vital guide to the reader, providing a continual sense of place.” (p 22)

“… the reconceptualization of page design may merge with the reconceptualization of reading practice and of the book as a whole.” (p 23)

Selected Notes

  • 14. Ivan Illich, In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh’s Didascalicon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 2. The fullest account of this transition is that of Paul Saenger, Space between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), which is particularly valuable for its discussion of eleventh-century Latin manuscripts.
  • 16. Theodor Nelson, Literary Machines (Sausalito, California: Mindful Press, 1992), 0/2.
  • 17. Vannevar Bush, ‘As We May Think,’ Atlantic Monthly 176 (July 1945): 101-8.
  • 18. Landow, Hypertext, 8.
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