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The Body and the Book: Ecologies of Inscription in the Early English Archive

  • Weber, Breanne
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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“The Body and the Book: Ecologies of Inscription in the Early English Archive” investigates the ecological entanglements of books, bodies, and their environments via representations of bookmaking in 16th- and 17th-century British literature. I argue that acts of inscription, especially those undertaken upon environmental or bodily surfaces, situate the material book as particularly crucial to the formation of the creator’s identity and subjectivity, facilitating intimate and at times violent connection between self and other. I materialize these inscriptive moments in the works of Mary Wroth, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare by examining the tools, processes, environments, and bodies—human or otherwise—enabling textual creation. I extend these conversations to also consider wider cultural discourses of inscription in the period: those occurring in natural-philosophical works, instructional manuals, anatomical treatises, manuscript recipe books, and through printing and publication practices. I examine all of these objects and processes side-by-side in order to foreground the ways they influenced literary approaches to the concept of the material book.Each chapter of this project is organized around a particular site of inscriptive entanglement in order to demonstrate the myriad ways that early modern people saw themselves, their bodies, and their environments (and by extension, their books) as both intertwined and highly porous. I begin in a country house garden, with the ash trees upon which Pamphilia inscribes her sonnets in the Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania, before moving to both backwards in chronology and inwards to the city of London where Thomas Bushell worked with printer Valentine Simmes to produce the dangerous books that Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus warns Bushell’s readers against. I then proceed to the early modern kitchen, where women’s domestic interactions with the environment via the cooking and recipe recording processes reflect these broader preoccupations with the assemblages of humans and nonhuman others that inflected their understanding of the body. Finally, I return to the trees, this time via the forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, as a final case study that draws together some of the many valences of inscription that this dissertation interrogates through the play’s investment in logophagy and textual ingestion. This nonlinear narrative demonstrates, through its own varied and entangled assemblages, how early modern people understood the porosity of their bodies and environments through the act of inscription and engaged the book culture that arose from these entanglements.A short coda applies this posthumanist and feminist-bibliographical approach to inscription and embodied bookmaking experiences to interrogate the processes of rendering early modern texts accessible in new material forms online. I outline how the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) recipe digitization project leverages transcription as a form of inscription—relocating knowledge production in embodied experience and community—that is exemplary of how we might approach digital humanities projects in an increasingly digitization-dependent field.

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