Short Meditations

The text that you read has no physical binding, yet it is bound.

In the details of their craftsmanship, bindings provide a physical occasion for the display of culture. Fifteenth-century Italians fashioned sturdy yet elegant coverings for their repositories of knowledge. The French and Germans used different techniques and produced varied styles, but the results were about the same: sturdy and elegant. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century bookbindings, across Europe, displayed a decreasing concern for quality craftsmanship and materials; there was still artistry and identifiable "styles," but the need to bind increasing number of texts affordably influenced technique. Bindings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries continue this trend. Wood boards give way entirely to pasteboard; sewing occurs less frequently; case bindings become popular. The paperback is introduced.

Now there is no physical binding to protect, preserve, and decorate the contents of an electronic text. There is no binding--unless you consider the link that you chose to get here, the identifying title on someone's homepage, to be a binding of sorts. It serves one of the functions of a binding, separating (protecting) one text from another. That very aspect of separateness, of course, suggests a connectivity that is at the center of electronic networks. The Internet provides a connectivity among texts that is more real than that offered by proximity on a library shelf. This text is not potentially connected (bound) to a second text, waiting for a reader to pick up both texts and to read, this text is actually connected to another text as you read. It is linked or bound to the entirety of the Internet.

With the disappearance of the physical binding we lose opportunities to demonstrate artfulness. Gone is the headband (although it's been on the way out since the early sixteenth century). Gone is the striking metalwork of clasps. Even the opportunity to admire checkout-counter, bodice-ripping cover art is gone. Yet without these things--without a physical binding--this text holds together. HTML binds these screens, taking the place of sewing thread and glue (HTML, versatile substance, also formats the words on this screen). The strand of my own thought--freed from the linearity imposed by the codex--"supports" this electronic sewing. There is structure. In a real sense the files on my college's mainframe, the connections to the Internet, and HTML serve to protect and preserve.

And not all opportunities for artistry are gone. It is difficult to discern decorative value, intellectual though it might be, in the remaining hyper-structure. Perhaps it will evolve, emerging from the artistry of an author's links. Nevertheless, the decorative has reappeared within the text. Print technology, which has tended to discourage illustration, has given way to electronic media which encourages it.

Not surprisingly, then, the Web, in its current state of evolution, maintains/supports/sustains a style of binding: a style that is just as identifiable as, say, Italian Renaissance style. Knowledgeable readers will not mistake this for an article "bound" using a gopher; the trained observer will not mistake a Renaissance binding for an eighteenth-century binding. All of this structure--now electronic and intellectual--plainly speaks about present culture as the binding of Ms. Latin 13 speaks about Italian Renaissance culture.

The Opening Brief introduction to Ms. Latin 13
How Ms. Latin 13 was bound Ms. Latin 13 described
Scholarship Glossary
Meditation on Ms. Latin 13 Stockton's Homepage

The construct of linearity within the codex is learned. Moving from left to right across a line; moving down and starting left again at the beginning of a new line; moving from the bottom of a page to the top of the next; even turning pages: all these actions interrupt a "linear" reading, but we come to read through them. One might suppose that similar "reading through" could evolve for forms of reading currently considered "non-linear."

Notice that I have not suggested such a distinction can be made between an HTML document and one created with, say HyperCard. Contemporary usage states that you "author" with HyperCard and other multimedia authoring packages, you do not "bind." When a document(s) is mounted on a network, the metaphor of "binding" seems to become appropriate. Of course new authoring tools have HTML exporting capabilities, but the environment within which the documents exist and link, not their internal formatting, is the concern here.

It is an uncommon paperback that is illustrated beneath the cover.