Medieval reading lessons

Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval LondonWhile reading online, do you sometimes find yourself going from reading articles on, say, politics, to poetry, to humor? If so, your experience is rather medieval, according to Arthur Bahr, an associate professor of literature at MIT whose first book, “Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London“ was just released by University of Chicago Press.

Medieval scribes commonly bound different kinds of written works together in the same manuscript, leaving “much more room for interesting interplay between different kinds of reading experiences within the same physical object,” Bahr says.

“Medieval literature is also always collaborative in one way or another: readers often commented on texts by writing notes in the margin or underlining passages, and scribes frequently altered an author’s words to suit the purpose of the compilation at hand,” Bahr adds. “So someone like Nick Montfort [an associate professor for digital writing at MIT] is actually very medieval in his ideas of nonlinear, interactive literary production.”

“This is why medieval literature is so interesting at our particular historical moment,” he says. “The Internet has made it easy, normal even, to read in all sorts of nonlinear ways, but the evidence of medieval compilations suggests that people were already doing that many centuries ago.”

While the typical modern book would never mix poetry with legal documents, or secular works with religious material, such juxtapositions are common in medieval manuscripts, which also vary widely in size and style. “The printing press was great, but it also standardized the way texts were presented,” Bahr notes.

Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London is available on Barnes & Nobles.com

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