Stuck in bed today with freshers’ flu (as a third-time fresher I should surely get immunity, but apparently not). But I’ve been reading this super article about the fish-knights of the Perceforest. As the Killers put it, are we human? Or are we fish-knights?
The French word for ‘back-to-school’ is ‘la rentrée’ - re-entry. It has all the same connotations as ‘back-to-school’ - new pencil case, dusting off textbooks, waking up from a lazy summer - but I prefer it as a term, because it encompasses more than just school. In France, everyone goes through the rentrée - children going back to school, office workers coming back from their long holidays, the literary and cultural scenes getting into movement again. There’s a sense that the whole country rolls along on the same cycle, all yawning and stretching at the same time. I also like it because of the grand implications of re-entering - who else goes through re-entry? Space shuttles, coming back into the atmosphere.
So maybe today I’m a space shuttle coming back into orbit, although it doesn’t feel quite as dramatic as that. Physically I’ve been in Cambridge since June, and I’ve been working in the University Library for my supervisor for the last month (see above!). So I haven’t really re-entered a physical orbit. But something’s a bit different now I’ve had the induction and welcome talks and I have a folder full of Documents With Important Dates - symbolic status changes that make the same physical orbit feel different.
I want to try and use this blog as a place where I share the weird and wonderful things I come across, but also where I can jot down ideas that aren’t ready to be put into chapters or even voiced aloud yet. I want a record of what goes through my head, and I want to be able to carry on showing you silly pictures of manuscript animals. Most importantly, I think, I want what I’m doing to mean something real that I can communicate to people, even if that’s just by showing them a gif I made of a medieval doge.
Hello followers - I am sorry for the drought of posts lately! Not working on my dissertation any more means I am no longer spending all day looking at ridiculous medieval pictures that demand to be put on Tumblr. But don’t worry, I will be starting my PhD soon and then there’ll be all sorts that’ll be worth sharing - and I’m also thinking that I’d like to post a bit more non-medieval stuff here too, because it only says ‘maybe’ in my name after all.
I’m having some thoughts about technology at the moment after chatting to my lovely friend who is a book artist. She makes books! Binds them and sews them together! I found this wonderful and exciting, and it also made me think about the way that we perceive technology and changes in technology, and what we define as ‘laborious’ and what we define as ‘automated’. Some of my friend’s books contain photographs - a ‘modern’, ‘technological’ process - but their bindings are stitched together by hand. I don’t know how my friend thinks about them - I need to talk to her more about it! - but I read them as challenging the way that we think about producing objects, and especially producing objects to be read.
This is making me think about the disciplines of codicology and palaeography, which I was introduced to last year during my master’s, and whether there might be room for critiquing the way we talk about medieval book production. We tend to say things like “producing medieval books was laborious” and “before books could be mass-produced…” with the assumption that nobody would ever choose to use those methods if better technologies were available, and as if there’s a total dichotomy between “hand-made” vs “machine made”, “unique” vs “automated”. I think my friend’s books stand as a challenge to that and are making me think about where other challenges might be found - early printing technologies which still required plenty of labour, the modern publishing industry (another friend works in publishing and is always trying to get people to understand how much actual work goes into a book appearing in between the author writing it and it appearing on the shelves).
I’m sure I can’t be the only person who is thinking about codicology beyond its traditional medieval definition - so I’d love to find anyone that’s already thinking about it. This is a ramble for now, but I’d love to come back to it and think about it more.
I’m now thinking about how much the Revered Jeremy Prynne and all of a librarian bent disapprove of people writing in books. Except if it was 700 years ago, then it’s Marginalia and fuses into the manuscript to become an object of study in itself. I guess I want to be a medievalist of the 21st…
I am very much interested in this!! Like, at what point does it stop being okay to write on books? Where do they become untouchable? Up until the 17th, 18th, poss even 19th centuries it’s quite normal for the owners of manuscripts to write on them - to assert ownership and to offer interpretation on the provenance. At some point this stops being okay in the margins and migrates to the front flyleaf. And now it wouldn’t be considered okay for a library to write permanently in a book even there - but they do stamp and stick labels, and write codes in pencil and of course readers write even though it’s forbidden. So maybe you can sort of see a gradual process where readers putting their mark on the page has gradually been compressed and reduced in its ‘official’, ‘sanctioned’ form and correspondingly ‘gone underground’ and been classified as vandalism (but still flourishes)? And it’s the separation into ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ forms that is the new thing?
Zodiac Man, 15th century
Awww yeah I love zodiac men. I’m totally into the whole world-conceptualised-as-body-and-vice-versa thing.
(Source: bl.uk, via blancefleur)
The dissertation is finished and handed in, huzzah!
I have finished my MSt!
This looks like some bizarre experiment, where snippets of papyrus are put in a Petri dish and studied under a microscope. The truth is much more prosaic. Papyrus, essentially pressed-together plant leaves, was a delicate material and few papyrus rolls have come to us undamaged. Little chips broke off all the time: when ancient repositories of papyrus were discovered in the 20th century, the floors were littered with them. What to do with these minute treasures? You can’t throw them away, but you can’t store them on a shelf either. And so they were gathered and stored in glass dishes. The one seen here is filled with snippets from the 7th century, many of them clearly showing text. It’s a curious mini library fitted in glass - papyrus potpourri of almost 1500 years old.
Pic: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number 12.180.423 (Egypt, 7th century). More here.
attention jennystudiestranslation ?
1. sent an airbnb request to see if I can spend the night on a narrowboat (I couldn’t)
2. curled up in a ball and gone to sleep and hoped my dissertation would go away (it didn’t)
3. listened to a radio 4 programme about the Talmud
4. listened to more radio 4 (Desert Island Discs)
5. sent another airbnb request to see if I can spend the night in the hut at the end of someone’s garden
6. made up a meme about my brain
7. made some bullet points