My answer to (some of) Gunther’s presentation points

by Paul Maharg on 22/03/2007

Gunther’s points raised many interesting issues.  I raised some of them, but I’ll elaborate on these here, because I think they illustrate what he was talking about, but go beyond them in one sense, and also contain issues that we need to think about re the nature of the relationship between learning and technology.

First example — one of the edition of Walter Scott’s works, the Dryburgh Edition I think (working from memory).  The text was illustrated with images from Scottish culture and history, so that there was an adjacency between the images and the text that encouraged interpretation and links between the two (and of course encouraged subscribers to the edition because it looked nice…).  In Gunther’s terms, though, this is still in the dual categories

OK, compare this with a pre-modern example, that of medieval glosses — comment upon comment upon central texts, which in themselves can be (eg Gratian’s Decretals) collections of texts juxtaposed.  In the example of glossa, often used in law and theology, we have a genre that, while we don’t really know what textual producers were doing when they juxtaposed text on text and text on image, or readers were doing when they read them, at least the mnemonic value of such pages are clear to us, following the fine work of Mary Carruthers, MIchael Clanchy and others.    The question is, though, whether this genre is an example of a form of dissemination affecting representation; and perhaps to go further, whether this genre is a form of dissemination as representation.

This isn’t just a discussion about categories.  I think it has more serious issues.  Let’s assume that the gloss is an example of dissemination as representation.  Take the example of Justinian’s Digest.  Does the representation of the Digest as a form of legal content and argument change because the representation is now one of dissemination?  I think we have to agree with that.  The crucial point is, did the embodiment of the Justinianic text as a gloss alter the deep forms of argumentation used within the Digest?  To put it crudely, did form alter deep content?

I can’t make up my mind on this question — not just because I don’t know  enough about glossed legal literature or the (medieval & contemporary) scholarship on Justinian to be able to attempt a definitive answer, but because I wonder whether the answer is always going to be either local — eg no, form didn’t alter deep content in this example because of xyz — or whether there is a general answer to this (eg form never alters deep content).  The latter seems to me to be too deterministic.

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