David Watt

title.none: Keefer and Bremmer, eds. Signs on the Edge (David Watt )

identifier.other: baj9928.0810.016 08.10.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Watt , University of Manitoba,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Keefer, Sarah Larratt and Rolf H. Bremmer Jr., eds. Signs on the Edge: Space, Text, and Margin in Medieval Manuscripts. Leuven: Peeters, 2007. Pp. viii, 319. ISBN: 978-90-429-1980-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.10.16

Keefer, Sarah Larratt and Rolf H. Bremmer Jr., eds. Signs on the Edge: Space, Text, and Margin in Medieval Manuscripts. Leuven: Peeters, 2007. Pp. viii, 319. ISBN: 978-90-429-1980-8.

Reviewed by:

David Watt
University of Manitoba

Signs on the Edge: Space, Text and Margin in Medieval Manuscripts opens with the assertion that "medieval scholarship began to look at marginalia in a new way" (3) following Michael Camille's 1992 publication of Image on the Edge: the Margins of Medieval Art. Compiled primarily from papers presented at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 1993, 1994, and 1997, this collection both demonstrates and documents the exciting results of this shift in scholarship and the "burgeoning interest in contexts and physical layout of medieval manuscripts" (3) throughout the 1990s. The book is dedicated to the memory of Phillip John Pulsiano, and it opens with Jill Frederick's brief account of his life and influence.

The collection consists of an introduction and eleven essays grouped in four pairs and one triad. Most of the essays were first given as papers at the Kalamazoo sessions, although several have been included by invitation, "so as to give a better insight into the various angles from which the phenomenon of 'margin' can be approached" (3). The editors have consistently selected essays that will engage the needs of scholars interested in the particular manuscript(s) or period under their consideration. They have also grouped the essays in a manner that illustrates "both the specific stages and the remarkable continuity, in the reactions of artists, scribes and even authors between the years 700 and 1500, to marginal and border space" (4). The titles of the first three sections reveal that the volume's centre of gravity is relatively early and often insular: I, Early Margins in the North; II, Anglo-Saxon England: Layout; and III, Anglo-Saxon England: Secondary Material. Section IV, Mid-Medieval Insular and Northern Margins, includes three essays that discuss material from the eleventh through the very early thirteenth century. The two essays in Section V, Later Medieval Use of Margins, discuss fourteenth and fifteenth century texts from the continent. The weight this collection gives to the earlier part of the period offers a useful counterbalance to the volume of work currently being published on the latter part. Since the introduction provides a concise account of the contents of each essay and the principles underlying their grouping, my aim here is to demonstrate why scholars working on manuscripts in the 800 years spanned by the collection should take interest in the book as a whole. I will make this argument by describing four ways that it encourages reader to reconsider the phenomenon of the marginal.

First, the majority of this volume's essays insist on the importance of considering marginal space as an integral part of the book. Four essays present this issue from an aesthetic point of view, either explicitly or implicitly. In "Textual Varieties in Manuscript Margins," William Schipper articulates the need to consider as much evidence as possible before making assumptions about the relationship between so-called primary and marginal texts: "a manuscript page is...a physical entity that must be considered in its entirety, where the material placed in the margin is an integral part of the page" (25). Schipper contends that this kind of consideration may well result "in the enhancement of our understanding of the manuscript as a whole, if not a particular 'central' text" (26). Catherine Karkov takes up the aesthetics of the page as a whole in "Margins and Marginalization: Representations of Eve in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 11." She reads the positioning of Eve on the page in MS Junius 11 through the texts typological approach. By implicitly establishing an analogy between the God, Adam, and Abraham relationship and that of Mary and Eve, Karkov concludes that, "by borrowing well-established motifs from Marian iconography, Eve's central role within the textual and pictorial narrative continues outside of paradise" (71). Sarah Larratt Keefer takes a different approach to aesthetics in "Use of Manuscript Space for Design, Text and Image in Liturgical Books Owned by the Community of St Cuthbert." Keefer believes that "interesting conclusions about the aesthetics of a scriptorium or the century in which it was active can be drawn from assessing the physical construction of a hymnal or a prayer book." Her examination of how blank spaces were regarded by one such institution allows her "to find fascinating information which reveals one Anglo-Saxon monastic community's aesthetic appreciation of, and attitude towards, design and layout on the individual page or with respect to an entire codex" (85). Gail R. Owen-Crocker's essay, "The Bayeux Tapestry: the Voice from the Border," reminds readers of the close relationship between function and aesthetics in texts. While Owen-Crocker notes that the borders are no doubt functional in the Bayeux Tapestry, she also demonstrates the way they contribute to the aesthetic of the whole. Its impact on its audience was consistently present in the minds of those who worked the border, for one of its innovations was to make borders "in which the creatures of both upper and lower sections are consistently the same way up" (241). She concludes that the embroiderers of the top part were "likely to have been embroidering the pattern upside down; but the frieze was designed to be viewed upright and this was never forgotten." (241). Owen-Crocker also reminds readers that aesthetic values are not isolated in one medium, but that its designer "repeatedly used Canterbury manuscripts as models" (240). Each of these essays, whether considering texts on vellum or tapestry, insists upon the need to consider the aesthetic integrity of the whole leaf or embroidery encountered by the reader, not just the ostensibly "central" text.

Ann Dooley's essay, "Marginal Illustrations in The Book of Kells" provides a clear link between these four essays' insistence on seeing the marginal as an integral part of an aesthetic whole and a second way in which this volume asks readers to reconsider the phenomenon of the marginal. She notes that The Book of Kells demonstrates, on the one hand, "the professional attention to the formal and aesthetic lay-out of the words on the page and the need to provide as much reading clarity as possible, through continuous reading cues" (23). She acknowledges, on the other hand, that the inconsistent marking up of this text "might also coincide and co-exist with habits of personal attention born of the experience of monastic discipline and monastic self-reflection" (23). While contemporary scholars certainly know that this kind of monastic reading practice was in no way marginal, Dooley's argument suggests that it is important to consider its impact on the physical book. Sarah Larratt Keefer does this when she contends that the gloss in the Durham Ritual was added by Aldred "as a prompt to meditation" (95) and that its "idiosyncratic nature indicates personal rather than classroom study" (96). Phillip Pulsiano's essay, "Jaunts, Jottings and Jetsam in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts", first published in Florilegium 19 (2002), pp. 189-215, makes the point even more emphatically: "Text and meditatio remained central" (126). He closes his article by implicitly following Malcolm Parkes' seminal claim that reading practice changed throughout the twelfth century, and that this change was reflected in textual layout (see "The Influence of the Concepts of 'Ordinatio' and 'Compilatio' on the Development of the Book", first published in 1976). Joanne Findon's essay, "Gloss versus Text on an Early Irish Manuscript Page," demonstrates that the use of margins to intervene in a narrative was not uniquely a scholastic development. Her essay concentrates on a remarkable poem in Ireland's earliest surviving vernacular manuscript in which two women, Emer and Fand, "are speaking subjects discussing the world from their own viewpoints" (194). It is for this reason that the marginal intervention on the part of Scribe M of this manuscript--and the lack of intervention on the part of its reviser--is so galling. The comparison of Fand to an otherworldly war-goddess "is an outrageous textual distortion that completely misrepresents her Otherworld nature as it is configured in this text" (197). The method of intervention draws attention to the decision this scribe makes as reader and transmitter: while he "has an obligation to copy the text for future readers" he also "feels compelled to register his unease by adding a gloss that quotes a famous poetic authority to suggest consequences more catastrophic than the text actually describes" (199). He draws attention to his insertion by boxing it in, forcing the reader to take note of the insertion and make a decision about how and in what order to read the text, then how to make sense of the allusion.

Findon's account of Scribe M's attempt to shape his reader's experience draws attention to a third kind of marginalization this volume implicitly asks its readers to reconsider: the idea that a text unfamiliar to contemporary readers was marginalized historically. Pulsiano's essay opens by suggesting that we may find in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts "a quiet, typically hidden or overlooked world of text and image" (120) if we know what we are looking for. His essay opens by looking at images in books that would have contained texts with which their readers were either intimately familiar--or soon to be intimately familiar: psalters. Karen Louise Jolly reiterates the idea of psalms as "hidden texts," in "On the Margins of Orthodoxy: Devotional Formulas and Protective Prayers in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 41." She argues that those involved in the production of CCCC 41 "saw the page as a differently-ordered space with multiple possibilities" (136). This leads her to claim that, "the words physically present on the page were often codes referencing 'hidden texts' known to the readers, in the form of instructions, prayers, and recipes that invoke or point to Psalms, other Biblical passages, and liturgies practiced by the community that used this manuscript" (136). She insists that the difficulty of deciphering manuscripts like CCCC 41 lies in our own illiteracy, although she sees several possible remedies to this through recourse to digital media. Erik Kwakkel's essay, "Lost but Not Forgotten: References to a Remarkable Middle Dutch Legenda aurea Manuscript," takes the possibility of recovering marginalized or "hidden texts" to new heights in his erudite reconstruction of the existence of a non-extant fourteenth-century codex. He not only establishes the book's contents, but also describes some of its physical characteristics.

Kwakkel's argument is especially persuasive because it draws on his precise knowledge of the circumstances in the Carthusian charterhouse at Herne where the manuscript was made. This brings me to the fourth way that this collection asks readers to reconsider the phenomenon of the marginal. Many of this volume's essays reveal the limitations of imagining Rome as a centre surrounded by marginal space. That this is often a tacit starting point can be seen from the problems Dooley identifies in the interpretation of two full-page illustrations in the Book of Kells--problems that she explains can be resolved with reference to non-Roman liturgies (14). Schipper helps readers to imagine routes of textual transmission that might not have previously been considered when suggesting that the copy of Cyprian's epistolary in British Library, MS Add. 40165.A.1 may have been brought to England via Africa (65). Keefer describes the similarities and differences between the Durham Gospel-book and the Lindisfarne Gospels by noting that the text of the former derives from a "mixed Italian" heritage and its layout follows the "earliest extant Hiberno-Saxon Gospel Books" while the latter derives from the Vulgate and follows "good Italian practice in its layout" (87). Jolly argues that the use of the vernacular as opposed to Latin in CCCC 41 "makes the prayer personal and local, but that should not undercut its devotional tone in its reliance on Christian rituals and concepts" (170). She concludes that the way that texts are framed in this manuscript "depends on certain assumptions about language, culture, and religion" (173). For Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr., in "Footprints of Monastic Instruction: a Latin Psalter with Interverbal Old Frisian Glosses," geographic marginality is particularly important. He notes that, "To all intents and purposes, Frisia occupied a very marginal position in the formation of libraries and the production of manuscripts" (208). This position profoundly affected the appearance of books in Frisia. He notes that the cuts in the Ragyndruris Codex, preserved in the Hessische Landesbibliothek, Fulda, may well testify to the story that "St. Boniface reputedly held it over his head to ward off the sword blows aimed at him" (209). While the impact of local circumstances is particularly dramatic in this case, it is consistent with the kind of evidence presented in other essays.

The final essay in the collection, Michael Agnew's "The 'Comedieta' of the Sátira: Dom Pedro de Portugal's Monkeys in the Margins" provides a provocative, if somewhat unexpected, conclusion to the volume. Agnew's essay was not written as a conclusion or response to the collection as a whole: it was previously published in MLN 118 (2003), pp. 298-317. Nonetheless, it provides the opportunity for readers to reconsider the continuity and change presented in the essays up to this point. Its account of the relationship between text and margin in a "generally and unjustly neglected" fifteenth century Castillian text opens by drawing attention to the relationship between geographic and textual marginalization. His argument that the interplay between text and gloss in Dom Pedro's Sátira is "ingenious, witty, and innovative" (307) relies upon the recognition that it functions within a tradition where glosses might "simultaneously speak from the authoritative centre of encyclopaedic knowledge and from the potentially destabilizing edges of the manuscript" (308). He thus refuses to marginalize reading practices that may have been familiar to Dom Pedro and his audience, and instead asks scholars to consider their central importance. Agnew has an aesthetic aim in mind here. His essay concludes by asking scholars to view "the literary achievements of the fifteenth worthy creations in their own right" (308). Agnew's essay thus reveals the strength of the volume as a whole to establish important relationships between texts in different media from 700-1500.

This collection is successful, and several small improvements would enhance it even further. The extensive plates are very helpful. They left me wondering whether the decision to include hand-drawn illustrations in the essays by Pulsiano and Owen-Crocker were made solely for budgetary reasons. (As representations of dry-point drawings, those in Pulsiano's essay may indeed be necessary.) I would have liked secondary texts included in the Subject index. Several essays discuss the same critics, and it would be helpful to be able to compare quickly the influence of Michael Camille, for instance. But the resonance established between the essays by Findon and Agnew in their use of Robert Hanning's term "textual harassment" is also noteworthy. Overall, though, these are small points, and I hope this volume meets its goal of encouraging scholars "to consider new ways of exploring the textual-spatial relationships to be found in manuscript studies of their own" (6).