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From Parchment to Cyberspace

Medieval Literature in the Digital Age


Stephen G. Nichols

From Parchment to Cyberspace argues the case for studying high-resolution digital images of original manuscripts to analyze medieval literature. By presenting a rigorous philosophical argument for the authenticity of such images (a point disputed by digital skeptics) the book illustrates how digitization offers scholars innovative methods for comparing manuscripts of vernacular literature – such as The Romance of the Rose or texts by Christine de Pizan – that reveal aspects of medieval culture crucial to understanding the period.

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5. Variance as Dynamic Reading


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Variance is the main characteristic of a vernacular work;

A concrete difference at the vey basis of this object.1

Chapter 1 revealed how manuscript technology used the potential of illustrations—dynamic imaging—to vary portrayals of narrative scenes in the different versions of a given work. In the case of early versions produced near the time the work would have been written, the manuscript design and illustrations represent a social figuration more or less contemporaneous with the poet’s. With the passing of decades and centuries, however, the situation changes dramatically. New layout and illustrations reflect cultural and social norms contemporaneous with the making of the manuscript, rather than those of the original author or poet. In other words, dynamic imaging is one of the means by which medieval vernacular works continued to appeal to readers, as we saw in Chapter 1, by continually updating themselves. This meant, of course, that the “re-presented” work would necessarily confront tastes and sensitivities that might differ markedly from those of its original context.

For example, in 1402, well over a century after Jean de Meun completed the Roman de la Rose, Christine de Pizan could denounce his poem as immoral and misogynistic with as much vehemence as if one of her contemporaries had written ← 107 | 108 → it. Indeed, during the height of the debate about the Rose, which went on for more than three years, all the participants treated the poem as a major contemporary...

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