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Reviewed by:
  • Communication, Knowledge and Memory in Early Modern Spain
  • Marina Brownlee
Bouza, Fernando. 2004. Communication, Knowledge and Memory in Early Modern Spain. Translation by Sonia López and Michael Agnew. Foreword by Roger Chartier. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3805-2. Pp. 108. $32.50.

This recent book by Fernando Bouza is the first of his valuable contributions to the study of print culture to be translated from Spanish into English. The translation makes possible the dissemination of his important work to non-Spanish readers, opening up the fascinating study of oral, written, and painted communication in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Spain, increasing our knowledge of this seminal field, while making possible its inclusion in comparative, pan-European debates centered on print culture.

Reflecting the author’s extensive knowledge of the diverse and profound implications of print culture and the analysis of the media of speech, writing, and image, Communication, Knowledge and Memory clearly explains the terms of such essential debates as the value of printed books, their relationship to and impact on manuscript culture, the public and private uses of print, social factors contributing to the praise but also fear of print, gendered views on the appropriateness of reading and writing for women, and much more. This brief volume offers a lucid overview of the major issues pertaining to the history of the book in Early Modern Spain.

One of the most admirable aspects of this book is Bouza’s understanding of the need to avoid anachronistically modern assumptions about the composition, circulation, and reception of books, for example, regarding the coexistence of print and manuscript cultures. Rather than eliminating the production of manuscripts in favor of the modern technology of print, Bouza demonstrates the concurrent usage of manuscripts and the unique benefits afforded by them; they, unlike printed matter, made possible the dissemination of controversial texts such as political satire, and they were a way of controlling the circulation of all sorts of other material intended not for the public domain, but for a select readership. [End Page 91]

In Early Modern Spain, print was viewed as a technological marvel, and as both a blessing and a curse. Voicing awe inspired by the productive capacity of the printer, Polydore Virgil observes, “a single man can print as much in one day as that which many could with difficulty write in a year”. This productivity while applauded by some, was scorned and even feared by others. The educative potential of mass-produced books was undeniable. As Bouza indicates, readers in remote areas, even deaf mutes, could, for the first time, access books. Printing presses could travel even where the Jesuit proselytizers were prevented from traveling. By way of dramatizing this perception by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers, he invokes the well-known saying “hablen cartas, callen barbas” (“let letters speak; from whiskers not a squeak”), a way of indicating both the enthusiasm of the reading public and also the fact that the “barbas” invariably attached to authority-figures no longer controlled the education of the reading public. By extension, print was viewed in some circles as a potentially dangerous commodity since, as Quevedo’s mockery attests, even fools could now have access to Latin wisdom, thereby allowing the low born to invade the intellectual space of the aristocracy.

“Biblioclasts” were not only concerned with issues of social status, but with the economic implications of easy access to reading as well. The arbitrismo biblioclasta attests to this concern, whereby the desire for education in economically essential trades was supplanted by the drive to acquire a university degree. University education, academic chairs, and the titles of bachelor, licentiate, and doctor were so highly prized that by the year 1600 there were more than thirty institutions of higher education in Spain. Among the striking references Bouza makes to primary sources in connection with the high regard for university culture is the Dichoso fin of Juan de Santa María which figures Phillip IV, upon his death, entering heaven and receiving a “cátedra de inmortalidad”, a celestial academic chair.

Food for thought is also provided by Bouza’s analysis of the three media of communication (speech, writing, and...


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pp. 91-93
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