January 26, 2010


Johns, Adrian, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago & London: U. Chicago Press, 1998) ("Pick up a modern book, and there are certain features about it of which you can be immediately confident. Pick up an early modern book, however, and those features become less certain. An early modern reader could not necessarily take it for granted that something calling itself John Flamsteed's Historia Coelestis would be owned by Flamsteed himself as the product of his authorship. . . . Trusting in such an object meant vesting valuable faith in something very unlike the printed book familiar to readers at the end of the twentieth century." "Yet is surely undeniable that such objects, fragile, insure, and suspect though they were, became central to the subsequent course of Western history. Knowledge, politics, social life, and cultural practices were all transformed by the possibilities they offered. Today, accordingly, there can be few historians who do not rely substantially on printed sources, whether for their raw materials or to decide upon questions worth addressing in the first place. In an uncertain world, printed materials can be put to use in ways that make them powerful. The Nature of the Book has tried to how. It has attempted to reveal the historical roots of both their uncertainty and their authority. . . ." "What is the history of the book for? A plausible answer lies in the role played by written and printed materials in the constitution of knowledge. The history of the book is consequential because it addresses the conditions in which knowledge has been made and utilized. All of its further implications may be derived from this. Hence the centrality in this work, and especially in its later sections, of the natural sciences. By concentrating on natural knowledge, we can hope to demonstrate how the making and use of printed materials could affect human comprehension at the most fundamental of levels. This book has thus aspired to display the centrality of practices surrounding print in the making, maintenance, and reception of representations of Creation, not because there is anything essentially unique about science, but for the very opposite reason. Conclusions demonstrated about science should be acknowledged as credible a fortiori for less authoritative fields." Id. at 622-623. Those who love the printed word, especially those who are also seekers of truth through (in part) reading, should appreciate this history of the book).

Johns, Adrian, Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars From Gutenberg to Gates (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2009) ("Does printing entail progress? As the eighteenth century drew to a close, that question began to be asked with renewed urgency. The assumption that enlightenment and print were natural allies, never universal in the first place, began to fall apart. Faced by the radicalism of the Jacobins, the idea of the public sphere suddenly seemed not only a polite fiction but an implausible one. The diversity of readerships became fearsomely apparent as political pressures arising from events in France lent prominence to alternative audiences. Corresponding societies and radical publishers fomented opinions with no place in genteel conversation, and in London Pitt's government reacted by taking unprecedented powers to police the press." Id. at 213. There is a tendency to view ourselves as living in a time radically different from the past, confronted by problems unique to our time. Reread the just quoted passage, only substituting "internet" for "printing," and for references to events in France substituting events in China (for example, the Google in China matter) or in any country concerned with its citizens having access to the internet (that is, access to global culture). As Faulkner said, the past is not really past. "At the same time, understandings of creative authorship and its relation to commerce were once more in flux. Romanticism challenged them in terms of the concept of genius. If an author imbued a work with some inimitable emanation of individuality, as theories of genius suggested, then the proprieties of public knowledge needed to be rethought once again. In Germany, genius became the principle behind authorial property laws early in the nineteenth century. Yet in Britain the conjunction between genius and copyright remained somewhat artificial and post hoc. After all, with its relatively short duration, copyright was not much of a recognition for this unique property. As a result, it was quite possible to argue that prevailing copyright principles were incompatible with genius itself." Id. at 213-214. "[T]he principles of what is now called 'intellectual property' are dynamic--in a word, that they are historical through and through." "In that context it is no coincidence that the problem facing intellectual property coincides with a period of deep unease about the practices that society entrusts with discovering and imparting formal knowledge in general. The foundation and status of the academic disciplines are in question, no less than those of intellectual property. Both the modern disciplinary system and the modern principle of intellectual property are achievements of the era culminating in the late nineteenth century, and the same departure of creative authorship to new projects and identities underlies the anxieties of each. In each case new realms of creative work can be accommodated into the existing system, but doing so involves ad hoc compromises and creates increasingly stark inconsistencies. At some point the resulting contraption comes to resemble too clearly for comfort Thomas Kuhn's famous portrayal of a 'crisis' state in the sciences. In intellectual property, as in the disciplines at large, a reengagement with history is likely to play a central role in shaping the transformation that such a crisis entails." Id. at 516-517. Definitely a worthwhile read for those interested in intellectual property, as well as those interested in universities (i.e., places of higher education) role in transmitting knowledge.).