Please pardon the obtuseness of this post’s title, but much of the discussion at our last meeting  was about physical as well as temporal fixity of texts. When is a book a book? When did people in the past begin considering it a book? Is a book permanent or is it mutable? Among many other questions with which book historians struggle daily, these quests for rootedness fascinate me!

In the English Library for the meeting–coming, going, eating, writing, reporting, listening–we personified the more fleeting, ephemeral aspects of book history. Some of us had accessed the materials on iPads, some computers, and some as printouts. In discussing the fixity of the book, we were in flux.

Perhaps it is just that time of year, midterm spring quarter, but the idea of change, process, and flux–both in our own lives as well as historically–sharply illuminated our discussion on definition and, yes, fixity.

There is a yet inarticulate connection for us to make between the materiality of the book and its context: the mutable book alongside the well-defined, the stable book alongside its process of definition. Coming out of this meeting, it seems to me that the greatest struggle is to keep these necessarily multifaceted understandings in dynamic tension with eachother.

Below is an excerpt from Schuyler’s minutes about our discussion, which give a good idea about the flow of our overall conversation:


  • I posed the question “when is it a book?” We attempted to address this both historically as well as in the process of book-making.
  • We addressed issues of fixity: is it a book when it is set down permanently or is there a necessary mutability to a book?
  • Also issues of truth: Differentiating between accepted (oral) truth, versus a fixed, contained truth. Is there something about the borders or limits of a book that imbue it with reliability?
  • D.F. McKenzie (whose lecture “The Broken Phial” had been the reading for the meeting): Challenges to McKenzie’s conceptualization of texts, distinct from books. Difficulty of his reliance on narrative to classify something as a text.

In addition to the discussion, we caught up on all ongoing projects and continuing business. (For the complete minutes, please feel free to contact me or Schuyler)

Thank you, Schuyler, for organizing this meeting!

See you all next time!