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Divine Art, Infernal Machine

The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of an Ending

By Elizabeth L. Eisenstein

Publication Year: 2011

There is a longstanding confusion of Johann Fust, Gutenberg's one-time business partner, with the notorious Doctor Faustus. The association is not surprising to Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, for from its very early days the printing press was viewed by some as black magic. For the most part, however, it was welcomed as a "divine art" by Western churchmen and statesmen. Sixteenth-century Lutherans hailed it for emancipating Germans from papal rule, and seventeenth-century English radicals viewed it as a weapon against bishops and kings. While an early colonial governor of Virginia thanked God for the absence of printing in his colony, a century later, revolutionaries on both sides of the Atlantic paid tribute to Gutenberg for setting in motion an irreversible movement that undermined the rule of priests and kings. Yet scholars continued to praise printing as a peaceful art. They celebrated the advancement of learning while expressing concern about information overload.

In Divine Art, Infernal Machine, Eisenstein, author of the hugely influential The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, has written a magisterial and highly readable account of five centuries of ambivalent attitudes toward printing and printers. Once again, she makes a compelling case for the ways in which technological developments and cultural shifts are intimately related. Always keeping an eye on the present, she recalls how, in the nineteenth century, the steam press was seen both as a giant engine of progress and as signaling the end of a golden age. Predictions that the newspaper would supersede the book proved to be false, and Eisenstein is equally skeptical of pronouncements of the supersession of print by the digital.

The use of print has always entailed ambivalence about serving the muses as opposed to profiting from the marketing of commodities. Somewhat newer is the tension between the perceived need to preserve an ever-increasing mass of texts against the very real space and resource constraints of bricks-and-mortar libraries. Whatever the multimedia future may hold, Eisenstein notes, our attitudes toward print will never be monolithic. For now, however, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xiii

This book deals with attitudes toward printing and printers expressed by observers in the Western world during the past five centuries. As far as I know, no one has yet explored this topic. The field is much too large to be covered in a single book. Its chronological range extends too far, some might say, to be covered even in a multivolume collaborative work. ...

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1: First Impressions

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pp. 1-33

Let me start with some of the foundation myths that reveal long-lasting attitudes toward printing on the part of Western Europeans. They concern Gutenberg’s one time partner, Johann Fust (sometimes spelled Faustus). He helped to subsidize the operations of the Mainz press, and his daughter married Peter Schoeffer, who fathered the first Mainz printing dynasty. Thus, there is good reason ...

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2: After Luther: Civil War in Christendom

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pp. 34-61

The same themes that had first been sounded by the Roman church were echoed by Protestants after 1517. Thus printing was celebrated by Luther and his successors, as it had been by earlier preachers and teachers, for the tremendous impetus it gave to the evangelical cause. But the Lutherans also assigned a new world historical role to printing by depicting it as the weapon that ...

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3: After Erasmus: Propelling the Knowledge Industry

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pp. 62-97

The previous chapter has said little about the advancement of learning and much about disturbing the peace. What follows will attempt to redress the balance. For polarization is only part of our story. Erasmus had condemned Lutheran polemicists and had died within the Catholic Church. Many of his followers considered themselves to be members of a peace-loving ...

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4: Eighteenth-Century Attitudes

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pp. 98-152

Many of the same attitudes that had been manifested in previous centuries were carried over into the long eighteenth century. Tributes to the ‘‘divine art’’ were richly orchestrated and illustrated by printers, engravers, and publishers. Literati continued to complain about vulgarization, with special emphasis on commodification and the profiteering of bookseller-publishers. The latter were invidiously compared with the early master printers of a lost ‘‘golden age.’’ At the same time, an emotional investment in the fate of ...

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5: The Zenith of Print Culture(Nineteenth Century)

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pp. 153-197

The last chapter showed how earlier tributes to printing were transposed into a new key by anticlerical philosophes and de-christianizing revolutionaries. This not to say that the powers of the press were ever devalued by evangelists and missionaries. ‘‘The evangelicals . . . believed that the grace of God could, and did, descend to the individual man and woman through the printed ...

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6: The Newspaper Press: The End of Books?

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pp. 198-214

Winning favorable reviews in the daily press, by fair means or foul, was a major concern of the Parisian literati described in Illusions perdues. Mention of the daily press points to a phenomenon that certainly loomed large in nineteenth-century views of printing and that deserves separate treatment. Up to this point we have been concerned with the ‘‘huge froth-ocean of ...

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7: Toward the Sense of an Ending(Fin de Sie`cle to the Present)

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pp. 215-245

The last decades of the nineteenth century saw newspaper publishers throughout Europe take advantage of diverse innovations, such as wood pulp paper and typesetting machines, that speeded up production and cheapened output. Under the aegis of parliamentary governments, the movement for a free press finally achieved success; ‘‘freedom of the press’’ was pledged in the ...


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pp. 247-310


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pp. 311-346


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pp. 347-366

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pp. 367-368

... Thanks are also due to the participants in the Folger Institute Seminar, Fall Term, 1999, with whom I discussed several of the topics that are covered in this book. One of them, Sabrina Alcorn Baron, later helped with revising and illustrating an early draft. While I was engaged in research, Betsy Walsh, Owen Williams, Georgianna Ziegler, and many other members of the staff ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204674
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242805

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Material Texts