Elizabeth Eisenstein - From scribal scarcity to the disruptive text
Duration: 00:08:41; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 9.961; Saturation: 0.163; Lightness: 0.210; Volume: 0.058; Cuts per Minute: 1.610; Words per Minute: 95.360
In this first clip, Eisenstein describes the conditions of scarcity that characterized the book as artifact in the age of the scribe. Thereafter she describes the printed word's role in the reformation, and how this served to transform the Catholic church's view of print - towards which it had initially been positive - and sparked attempts to control its influence.
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This interview was recorded for Steal This Film II
. The project tries to bring new people into the leagues of those now prepared to think 'after intellectual property', and think creatively about the future of distribution, production and creativity. This is a film that has no single author. It makers encourage its 'theft', downloading, distribution and screening, and have made the entire film and its footage available for download in HDV format, on their website and on Pirate Bay.
Interview with Elizabeth Eisenstein
Chaucer said his clerk needed
twenty books to fill his shelf
It took ten scribes
... to feed one clerk
it's sort of a little like
the agricultural revolution
it take ten farmers to feed one city folk
after the agricultural revolution
it's one farmer feeds twenty city folk.
and it was the same sort of thing as far as
scribes providing book provisions
for friars and for lay men,
In other words,
it's an economy of scarcity
that you're dealing with
and people are starved, in a sense,
for more books
On the other hand it means
they read very intensively
what works they have
I came across a comment... let's see,
it was in Oxford,
where all the books on medicine...
and on theology... had gone.
The friars had taken them
for their houses of studies,
and so the professor there, the don,
didn't have any books to rely on.
There's nothing new about saying
that printing was important in the reformation
what's interesting to me is though,
printing becomes an emancipatory force
for the first time.
I don't think the church thought of it
as an emancipating force
until the split came with Luther,
the Lutheran revolt,
and the lutherans saw it
as a way of emancipating
the population from the hold of Rome
emancipating the Germans
from the domination of the Italian pope.
and this theme was then taken over
by Protestants in other countries
and in England of course
it was very much that printing was...
a way of emancipating the English
after Henry 8th and under Edward etc
So for the first time, I think,
from the Reformation on...
printing becomes associated with rebellion...
Then the church begins to change its position
and becomes much more ambivalent
about this wonderful thing
and the Council of Trent creates
the index of prohibited books
and different institutions to control
a technology they had previously welcomed.
So that the split is what creates
a different attitude in many different regions
There's the governor of Virginia,
who wrote to his overseers in england
in the 17th century saying:
"Thank god we have no printing in Virginia,
and we shall never have it
as long as I'm governor!"
But of course they were using
printed books in Virginia
because they came from maryland,
they came from all over,
he just didn't want the printing press there
because he thought it was a source of heresy
and this was a reaction to the english civil war
and the pamphlet wars,
they were called "paper bullets"
in that period.
The pamphleteer is an interesting figure,
there's no question.
The pamphlet wars are something that -
I mean you get certain manifestos
in the age of the scribe,
there's no doubt about that...
and political documents and so forth
and you have wars,
you have the empire versus
the church in Germany
But you don't t have the kind of continuous
arguments going on
between one faction and another
that you have with these pamphlet wars
where the fallout does lead to people,
which I say,
converting to different causes.
The big cost is the reams of paper
which you have to have in advance
that's the big outlay.
But the press itself is a small wooden press
you know, people used to put them on rafts
and float down to another town
if they were in trouble with the authorities.
It was very moveable.
A piece of moveable property,
and the printing shop,
depending on whether you have
ten presses or one press...
There were printers that were almost holes
in the wall...
if they were printing subversive material,
they could sort of hide their presses very quickly
it's a technology that involves
large spaces and a lot of outlay,
or a very small operation.
Sort of a one-man thing.
These things were operating
in basements or attics or garrets,
however you'd like to call them.
The case of the Copernican theory
is a good one,
because the printers were the ones
who were hunted down
if they printed the forbidden text.
So, we think of persecuting the authors,
but it was really the printers.
And it did sort of quiet,
It succeeded to a certain extent,
it seems to me.
in dampening initiative in Catholic countries.
In no European country that I can think of
was there such thing as a free press.
But after the war of Dutch independence,
there were so many
- Holland did not have a state church -
and there were so many different
little provinces and communities
that you could actually take your press
if you were in trouble in one community
down to your cousin in another town
and set up printing there.
I mean that's the way it...
So they didn't have a free press
as far as institutional controls went
but they had a free de facto press, because
institutional controls were not centralized.
and that's a sort of miniature
of Europe as a whole.
whereas in Catholic Europe
things were pretty well centralized.
The key example
is the index of prohibited books of course,
The church making an effort to see that
Catholics would not print...
or sell... or purchase
anything on this list,
which while rich patrons could manage to avoid
through black markets and things
ordinary people couldn't
and printers were prosecuted.
And in fact I have a case of one dutch printer
who looked at the index of prohibited books
and used it for his publication program,
because he knew these were titles
that would sell well.
It's a ricochet but it would only work
as a ricochet if Europe was divided.