Of gnomes and giants

Different material aspects of the book have observable influence on reading practices and the resulting reading customs reflect on the intellectual activities and priorities of different periods. In antiquity scrolls and continuous writing resulted in social and listener-orientated reading practices, while the use of scribes contributed to the somewhat detached character of the text. The spread of the codex format of the book and especially of word-separated writing, which appeared in the medieval period, gave rise to a silent reading tradition, which was more of a meditative character. Silent reading enables the reader to absorb text more quickly and in university context this develops into scholastic reading, which may even be uninterested in reading whole texts from beginning to end but, instead, tries to find relevant portions of the texts quickly and effectively. This, in turn, gives rise to indexes and other elements that aim to organize the page and help guide the readers eye. Due to the difficulty of producing manual copies of texts the scholastic environment caused a proliferation of florilegia and different excerpt-collections. Only after the invention of the printing press it was possible for students to follow the appeal to turn back to originals and sources. Still, the mass of the available books was not incomprehensibly big and there were certain texts (especially by ancient authors) that every student had ruminated and thus knew thoroughly. Technological advances in the printing technology of the following centuries and especially the advance of computers and the internet in the previous century have made it possible to produce unprecedented volumes of texts. Such processes have not resulted in the disappearance of reading (which is the concern of some authors) but instead an uncertainty as to which books should be read thoroughly. The resulting groundlessness could create a kind of perpetual culture gap or discontinuity of culture.

This is why every text strives to become independent, original, or at least a trilogy if not a still longer series (Hettche 2013: 811). Yet, what are the four books everybody should have at home to be seriously ruminated? There is no authority left to impose them, because nobody knows what they are. In a way this lack of a unified and uniting basis jeopardizes intellectual consistency, thus inevitably resulting in cultural ghettoisation. Different groups of people relying on different texts are isolating themselves from the others by a wall of hermetic esoteric incomprehensibility.


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