Inscription and Erasure
Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century
Roger Chartier. Arthur Goldhammer, Translator
"This elegant and learned study constitutes a significant addition to Roger Chartier's well-known work on the history of the book in western culture."—Timothy Hampton, H-France Review
"Chartier unites literary analysis with material history to reveal how representations survive. . . . The book takes up subjects from the eleventh-century French abbot Baudri de Bourgueil to the eighteenth-century encyclopedist Denis Diderot. . . . Chartier's singular achievement is to claim authority over a wide range of practices and to focus on their common anxieties and ambitions."—SHARP News
"Any progress achieved within a humanistic discipline that crosses boundaries to neighboring fields has the potential both to find unexplored objects of study and to raise new questions. Inscription and Erasure disputes the long-standing division between the interpretation of texts and the description of the material supports and socio-historical environments in which texts appeared and circulated."—MLN
The fear of oblivion obsessed medieval and early modern Europe. Stone, wood, cloth, parchment, and paper all provided media onto which writing was inscribed as a way to ward off loss. And the task was not easy in a world in which writing could be destroyed, manuscripts lost, or books menaced with destruction. Paradoxically, the successful spread of printing posed another danger, namely, that an uncontrollable proliferation of textual materials, of matter without order or limit, might allow useless texts to multiply and smother thought. Not everything written was destined for the archives; indeed, much was written on surfaces that allowed one to write, erase, then write again.
In Inscription and Erasure, Roger Chartier seeks to demonstrate how the tension between these two concerns played out in the imaginative works of their times. Chartier examines how authors transformed the material realities of writing and publication into an aesthetic resource exploited for poetic, dramatic, or narrative ends. The process that gave form to writing in its various modes—public or private, ephemeral or permanent—thus became the very material of literary invention. Chartier's chapters follow a thread of reading and interpretation that takes us from the twelfth-century French poet Baudri of Bourgueil, sketching out his poems on wax tablets before they are committed to parchment, through Cervantes in the seventeenth century, who places a "book of memory," in which poems and letters are to be recopied, in the path of his fictional Don Quixote.
Roger Chartier is Directeur d'Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Professeur in the Collège de France, and Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books, including Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Arthur Goldhammer has translated more than ninety works from the French. He is an affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University and a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.