abstract Stallybrass

Peter Stallybrass, University of Pennsylvania

Marking Commonplaces in English Printed Books

In my presentation, I will explore how and why vernacular texts began to be printed with commonplace markers and the relation between these printed commonplace markers and manuscript practices of marking up books. What, for instance, is the relation between marks in the margin and changes of hand (e.g. from secretary to italic in manuscripts and from roman to italic in printed books)? At the same time, I want to look at what I consider to be the increasing significance of printed books as stimulants to new manuscript practices.
One proposal that I would like to make is that we should stop using the word “manuscript” altogether. Doomed to failure as this proposal is [see the paragraph above, for instance], we should at least consider the implications of the fact that the word “manuscript” was first used in England in the late sixteenth century and that it is a back-formation from printing, with the accompanying nostalgia for a supposedly earlier technology. One of the first definitions of “manuscript” in the OED is “a book, document etc. written before the general adoption of printing in a country.” By that definition, manuscripts were already a thing of the past in sixteenth-century Europe. I suggest that we should use “writing” rather than “manuscript” and “speech” rather than “orality.” We might then see more clearly the extent to which printing was, among many other things, an incitement to writing and speech.