Monday, December 17, 2007

St. Bonaventura on "Making Books"

St. Bonaventura (1221-1274) found that there are basically four ways of 'making books' (modi faciendi librum):

  1. "A man might write the work of others, adding and changing nothing in which case he is simply called a 'scribe' (scriptor)."
  2. "Another writes the work of others with additions which are not his own; and he is called a 'compiler (compilator)."
  3. "Another writes both others’ work and his own, but with others’ work in principal place, adding his own for purposes of explanation; and he is called a 'commentator' (commentator) …"
  4. "Another writes both his own work and others' but with his own work in principal place adding others' for purposes of confirmation; and such a man should be called an 'author' (auctor).’"

This was written before the advent of the printing press, and, what is perhaps even more important, before paper became widely available. (Actually, St. Bonaventura lived during the period which saw the first introduction of paper into Italy and the rest of Europe.)

The mere scribe and the mere compiler have disappeared (almost completely), and the mere commentator has become very rare. Each exists only insofar as any author in creating his own work cannot do without some copying, some compiling (or research), and some commenting. All of this involves paper (or, much more recently, an electronic medium). Even if we do not "add" the work of others primarily for "purposes of confirmation," all thinking must start somewhere. No one can start just with herself or just with her own thoughts. In fact, it is already a significant achievement, if one knows where to start. To learn this is perhaps the most significant part of note-taking. And this is one of the reasons why it might be fruitful to reflect on what it means to "take note."

And I refuse to say anything about those who speak of the "death of the author" ... or more than I just said, anyway.

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