Hexabook.

I’m still recovering from a fabulous roast-beef-and-Yorkshire-pudding dinner with a good pinot noir and two pies for dessert, so I’m just going to toss this out there and hope others think it’s as much fun as I do: 16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways.

Comments

  1. Around the 17th century, when music-making was mostly a domestic affair, it was common for music to be published in a format so that four (usually) musicians could sit around a table and read from the same book. This was known as “Tafelmusik”. I think there are some examples that have more than four, with some parts printed at a 45-degree angle. Books in those days were much larger than we have today–even our “coffee table books” would be pretty small in comparison..

    The Early Music Show on BBC Radio 3 had a show on Tafelmusik just recently; it may still be available.

    There is an ensemble in Toronto named Tafelmusik. However they perform mostly Baroque music. I’ve seen them and they’re very good, but I think it’s later than the real height of Tafelmusik as a printed format.

  2. Gale and I took Dorian (who is now eight) to a magic show yesterday at the New Victory Theatre, which specializes in children’s programming. Before each show there are things for kids to do relevant to the theme: at 20,000 Leagues, for example, they could make their own giant squid out of detachable parts. I mention this because one of the DIY magic tricks being taught was a coloring book that could be flipped in one of three ways, to show uncolored drawings, “magically” colored drawings (rub the book on someone’s clothes to grab color), and “magically” blank(ed) pages (shake the book to eliminate the drawings). The staff member showed several kids how to work it, and then Dorian worked it on me. After looking at the book, I figured out how it was done.

  3. The Radio 3 programme on Tafelmusik mentioned above by maidhc is here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07tyznt

    “Hannah French looks at the tradition of Tafelmusik. Musique de Table. Table Music. It’s music composed to divert, entertain, and yes, be performed around a table.
    “Hannah visits the British Library to talk to the Curator of Music Manuscripts Andra Patterson about an incredible manuscript of Table Music held there: a ‘booke of In nomines and other solfainge songs of 5, 6, 7 and 8 parts for voyces or Instruments’.”

    Apparently 19 minutes long. The same presenter also meets the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, who presumably play that sort of stuff, in another programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vwg55

    “Hannah French is in Toronto to meet members of the Canadian ensemble Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra about their projects and recordings since the early 1980s, including contributions from their long-serving artistic director, Jeanne Lamon. Music includes pieces by Bach, Purcell, Geminiani, Telemann, Beethoven, Zelenka and Leonardo Leo.” (37 mins)

  4. This reminds me of Michael Emmerich’s study The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature, which made me realise how important the material form of a book is, and how far removed we are from the past. The following is from an interview Emmerich did:

    The first half of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature deals with a book published serially in 38 chapters between 1829 and 1842 whose title might be translated A Fraudulent Murasaki’s Bumpkin Genji (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji). The easiest way to describe Bumpkin Genji is as an early modern, woodblock printed graphic novel: basically, every spread was taken up by a picture, and the text was inserted into the blank spaces.

    In modern times, scholars have often described Bumpkin Genji as a “parody” of The Tale of Genji; I argue that this is inaccurate… I demonstrate that Bumpkin Genji – the interest of which lay in its lavishness as a book, in the sophistication of its pictures, and in the excitement of the story, which is filled with mystery and action with a lot of erotic overtones – made Genji famous among ordinary, non-elite readers. This is important for three reasons. First, it completely overturns the conventional wisdom about Genji, which held that since it is the greatest classic of the Japanese literary tradition surely it must have been widely read in the early modern period, and was familiar even to ordinary readers who didn’t engage with the original classical Japanese text through a series of early modern digests. Second, it changes how we look at Bumpkin Genji, allowing us to see what made it such a success – it was, in fact, the number one fictional bestseller of the entire early modern period. People have tended to assume that Bumpkin Genji’s readers were excited about it precisely because it was a parody of Genji; if that wasn’t the case, we have to look at Bumpkin Genji on its own terms, and it turns out to be a really incredible book, especially in terms of its visual elements and its book design.
    ….

    People often speak of “image-text” relations, but in the case of Bumpkin Genji you really need to add in the materiality of the book itself. One terrific example of this is a series of two spreads that plays on the physicality of the page itself: one spread shows a woman who has been locked in a hallway leaning toward the door at one end to talk to another woman on the other side; when you turn the page, you see the other woman, kneeling down on the other side of the door. The thickness of the page actually comes to represent the thickness of the door, and the two women seem to be speaking to each other through the page, as well as through the door. Another spread includes a door whose hinge has been printed right at the middle of the spread, along the gutter, so that the door actually seems to move on its hinge when you open the book. These are just two examples, of course. More generally, the concept of the “image-text-book” is useful in drawing attention to the ways in which the materiality of books themselves play into our experience of them.

    …..perhaps I can try to describe one example. Like the example of the two women talking through the door I mentioned a moment ago, this one doesn’t exactly “support” the narrative – it does something different. It involves a page that has been printed so that it appears to have been folded down, with one corner stuck in the gutter. In the upper right-hand corner of the spread, under the fake folded corner – on what seems to be the previous page, in other words – you see one character in the book handing another a letter. The rest of the spread shows a different room, at a different time, and we see the person who was entrusted with the letter in the fake previous page delivering it to its addressee.

    This is a brilliant instance of an artistic technique known in Japanese as “different time, same picture.” Here, in addition to showing more than one time and place in a single picture, the fake folded page also represents the manner in which the book as a form is able to represent multiple times and places. In other words, by visually calling to mind the passage from the obverse to the reverse side of a page and linking this movement to a transition from one time and place to another within the seemingly closed world of the narrative, the book creates a relationship between the three-dimensionality of the printed page and the two-dimensionality of the picture, highlighting the fact that it is the movement of the reader’s eye across successive pages – the turning of the pages, that is to say – that imbues the two-dimensional pictorial space of the narrative with pseudo-three-dimensionality. Similarly, it is the passage of actual time, marked by the turning of pages, which pushes narrative time along. You really need to see the picture to get a sense of how this works, of course – and this is just one example. It would be very hard to exaggerate the visual and material sophistication of Bumpkin Genji.

    We’ve completely lost the richness of a work like Bumpkin Genji because that style of woodblock work, the gōkan, was superseded by the modern Western-style typeset book at the end of the 19th century. Once its rich visual and material sophistication was lost, Bumpkin Genji became a pale imitation of what it actually was. But even if they had access to the old illustrated work, modern readers would be unable to appreciate it.

    Ordinary readers of Japanese who received their education after around 1900 no longer had the ability to read premodern texts because significant changes had been wrought in the writing system – and when I say they lost the ability to read these earlier texts, I’m talking first of all about legibility rather than comprehensibility. It takes special training to learn to understand classical Japanese, which is quite different from modern Japanese, but it also takes training simply to be able to read premodern writing, whether or not one understands what it means.

    Typeset editions of premodern books, which we might describe as “intralingual transcriptions,” transform texts that are illegible for the vast majority of people who can read modern Japanese into texts that are legible, even if they remain incomprehensible. And taking something that is illegible and making it legible certainly seems like a form of translation.

  5. Fascinating!

  6. Typeset editions of premodern books, which we might describe as “intralingual transcriptions,” transform texts that are illegible for the vast majority of people who can read modern Japanese into texts that are legible, even if they remain incomprehensible. And taking something that is illegible and making it legible certainly seems like a form of translation.

    I’m not sure I’d apply that word to an edition of Beowulf or the Pearl poet in modern type, though maybe the analogy isn’t as exact as it seems to me at first blush.

  7. Fascinating!

    So fascinating I’m going to give it its own post; that’s one of the most interesting interviews I’ve read in a long time.

  8. @Bathrobe: Obviously, I haven’t read the whole thing, but what you quote sounds equivalent to arguing that Sesame Street was not that cultural important, because The Monster at the End of This Book is really wonderful.

  9. That’s not the argument at all. Rather, it’s as if hardly anybody watched Sesame Street until The Monster at the End of This Book made people aware of it. It would be absurd to argue that Genji is not culturally important, and nobody is arguing that.

  10. I’m not sure what the distinction is there. I don’t think something can be culturally important if almost nobody reads or watches it.

  11. Well, in that case it wasn’t culturally important until the period when knowledge of it became widespread. Why is that a problem? There are plenty of similar examples; The Lay of the Host of Igor has been central to Russian literature since 1800, when it was first published, but it was unknown for many centuries before that. And Emily Dickinson, America’s greatest poet, was culturally unimportant for decades after her death. Great things aren’t always immediately recognized.

  12. Poppets are not without fawners in their own country. Writers should be so lucky.

  13. If I understand rightly, The Lay of the Host of Igor in its original form would be illegible to modern Russians.

  14. I found Shakespeare very legible. Unfortunately, it was revealed over the years that I hadn’t understood the half of it.

  15. Rodger C:
    I’m not sure I’d apply that word to an edition of Beowulf or the Pearl poet in modern type, though maybe the analogy isn’t as exact as it seems to me at first blush.

    Well, elsewhere in the interview Emmerich suggests that the process of turning the handwritten original manuscript of The Sound and the Fury into a typeset book is a kind of translation (“a form of translation insofar as it makes an inaccessible work accessible”), so that’s clearly what he intends…

    I think he’s maybe getting a bit carried away with his metaphor; after all, “making an inaccessible work accessible” effectively happens every time an out-of-print book is brought back into print, even if the printed form is unchanged.

  16. January First-of-May says:

    If I understand rightly, The Lay of the Host of Igor in its original form would be illegible to modern Russians.

    Yes, but mainly on the account of weird script and the lack of word divisions (something that trips up translators to this day, because there are a few places where the divisions are unclear, and some of them have been emended in rather weird ways).
    Once cleaned up in that regard, it’s a lot more legible; Russian didn’t change since the 12th century as much as English did. (And much of the text is actually in 16th century orthography – even in the title, which has плъку where 12th century would be пълку – though it’s mostly unhelpful for a modern reader.) Then again, I thought the Canterbury Tales were pretty readable too, so whatever.

    I don’t know whether Genji had originally been written in man’yogana; if it had, I agree on the “translation” actually being one. Otherwise, it’s only slightly more of an actual translation than something like a “translation” of a German text from Fraktur.

  17. I think he’s maybe getting a bit carried away with his metaphor; after all, “making an inaccessible work accessible” effectively happens every time an out-of-print book is brought back into print, even if the printed form is unchanged.

    Well, I don’t think he’s intending it to be all-encompassing and come into general use; he’s just trying to get people to look at things a different way. A metaphor must be the axe for the frozen sea within our lazy brains.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    a “translation” of a German text from Fraktur

    If you know the language of the text, Fraktur is something you can learn to read fluently from exercise alone, without any instruction and any learning materials; it’s enough to just get used to it.

    Maybe the same holds for man’yōgana if you know a lot of kanji. But wasn’t Genji originally written in hiragana?

  19. Yes, Fraktur is basically just a different typeface, it is not particulary difficult to read. Even many non-German speakers are familiar with it, especially if they are fans of the Heavy Metal genre.

  20. German blackletter fonts (of which Fraktur is just one) have a 𝔨 (k) that’s a little freaky, and long s and f can be hard to tell apart on rough paper (or from worn type), but otherwise the lowercase forms are easy to get used to. Upper case takes a bit more practice. There are some conventions that also make it a more than just a different font for the Latin alphabet, for instance ch, ct, and some other are fixed ligatures that stay together even in spatiated words — but that’s not a problem when reading. (Heavy Metal uses ‘Old English’ blackletter fonts that don’t have long s and freaky k, and an upper case much closer to Latin shapes).

    The cursive handwritten form belonging to that tradition (Kurrent/Sütterlin) is something else, though. Even in a regular computer font version it takes a while to get up to speed. (Scroll down on the linked page for a Latin version).

  21. What do you mean by “spatiated”? The OED2 defines spatiate as ‘walk about; stroll, wander, range, or roam’, and its last quotation is from 1889. Wiktionary calls it obsolete, and I’ve never seen it. Macmillan, the AHD, Collins, and m-w.com don’t list it (though it is in the 1961 unabridged MW3).

    I’m guessing you mean words with internal spaces, l i k e t h i s, which is Fraktur’s version of italics.

  22. False friend, it’s s p a t i e r e t in Danish.

  23. This classic book about the decline of the counterculture used Fraktur in a clever way to get its title displayed in 1972:

    https://www.amazon.com/Mindfuckers-Fascism-Including-Material-Followers/dp/0879320389

  24. On investigation, the verb is letter-space (sometimes without a hyphen) in English and sperren in German, even though the Danish verb is obviously a German borrowing. Letter-spaced text is still often used even in Antiqua in place of italics for emphasis, though not for the other purposes of italics such as book titles. When this is done, the same set of black-letter ligatures are preserved. Cyrillic also letter-spaces, though less so since italic and bold Cyrillic fonts have become widely available.

    I myself think Greek italics look execrable next to Greek plain, and so when I want to call attention to part of a Greek text I am quoting, I bold it. The trouble with this solution is that the eye is drawn to bold text before any other text (which is why it is good for titles and headings). This is fine as far as the quotation is concerned but makes it harder to read the English matrix text.

  25. The verb sperren being an umlauted derivative of Sparren ‘rafter.’

  26. I think Danish may at one time or another have managed to import some (Late or Ancient) Latin verb directly without waiting for big brother German to do it first. Though of course a lot of them came by way of French, and even more only have the derived noun in -tion/-sion.

    However, through the accidents of linguistic history the Danish infinitive of such verbs, if it exists, will always end in -ere and for 2nd and 3rd conjugations will often be identical to the Latin one; I suspect that some ‘Latinization’ has taken place of the ones we originally got from French.

    Which in its turn does lead people with too much Latin (mainly professors of medicine) to back-port Latin verbs into Danish when they feel the need for the verb corresponding to a noun in -ion. So you can meet restringere and transfundere if you’re unlucky. (In Danish always with long and stressed penult, which of course is wrong for Latin 3rd conjugation).

    (A few such doublets also belong to non-technical vocabulary and have been around long enough for the sense to start to diverge — right now I can think of konfundere vs konfusion and konfus, where the verb more has the sense of ‘stump’ while the noun and adjective are straightforwardly ‘confuse’).

  27. January First-of-May says:

    Which in its turn does lead people with too much Latin (mainly professors of medicine) to back-port Latin verbs into Danish when they feel the need for the verb corresponding to a noun in -ion. So you can meet restringere and transfundere if you’re unlucky.

    I wonder if something similar went on with the Russian correspondence of nouns in -ация and verbs in -ировать (I’m not entirely sure where specifically they came from – though German sounds plausible – but the pattern was certainly still productive in the 20th century, and maybe even today).

  28. Manuscripts and woodblock editions of the Genji monogatari (and most other pre-Meiji literature) used cursive hiragana, so Sūtterlin would be a better analogy than Fraktur, with the further complication that there were multiple different base forms for each kana syllable.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Upper case takes a bit more practice.

    Oh yes. I probably can’t recognize some of them even today and guess them from context.

    And I pretty much can’t read Kurrentschrift, though admittedly I’ve never tried hard.

    the pattern was certainly still productive in the 20th century, and maybe even today

    Has been productive in German for some 800 years and shows no sign of becoming obsolete, except that it’s not applied to transparently English loans (anymore?).

  30. I helped my grandmother doing genealogical research when I was around 20 — since she was born in 1902 or so, it was (the Danish version of) Kurrentschrift all the way back to the late 1600’s. I learnt to read it, but I lost most of it in the 35 years since then.

    I still have my grandmother’s little German schoolbook with facsimile samples of various handwriting styles, both antiqua and Kurrent. I am not sure if it was from her Realskole or if she needed to learn to read such handwriting when she began working as a telegraph operator.

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