New Histories of Writing IV:
Forms and Rhetorics
Analogues: Writing Histories and the Future of Writing in the Commonplace-book
the introduction to her study on the significance of commonplace-books
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ann Moss suggests that "the
decline of the commonplace into the trivial and the banal was foreshadowed
in the seventeenth century, accelerated in the eighteenth-century, and
was irreversible by the nineteenth" (2).
The trajectory of decline onto which Moss graphs the history of the commonplace-book, the personal and printed collections of sayings and examples that once promised to provide writers with a storehouse of materials to use in compositions of their own making, is in keeping with Walter Ong's earlier observations on this ill-fated discursive method. As Ong argues in Interfaces of the Word, although many of the Renaissance's most prolific writers and celebrated pedagogues both used and promoted commonplace-books, in today's "technological cultures" commonplace collections have become "peripheral to serious discourse, being restricted largely to dictionaries of jokes and of quotations compiled basically for desperate after-dinner speakers rather than for the serious playwrights, teachers, scholars, and scientists for whom Renaissance collections...were typically prepared" (178).
Until recently, there has been little reason to question the commonplace-book tradition's gradual but continuous drift into obsolescence described by Ong, Moss and other historians and literary critics. Familiar to most readers only as the sort of tawdry offering peddled by mail order book clubs, the commonplace-book's long descent from essential part of the humanist curriculum to clumsy intellectual prosthetic has generally been accepted as more or less inevitable and complete. However, as digital writing and communication technologies continue to erode assumptions about intertextuality, authorship, and intellectual property that were established following the arrival of print, commonplace-books and their related discursive practices appear to be undergoing an unsolicited revival. Type the term "commonplace-book" into an online search engine and you will be directed to thousands of links. Many of these links connect to personal websites that have adopted and adapted the concept of the commonplace-book as a means of identification and classification. The website with the domain name "www. commonplacebook.com" stands as one such example. Like many commonplace-books, the website brings together an eclectic array of materials featuring everything from quotations and lyrics to lists of favourite books and electronic links.1
As some theorists and users of web-based technologies observe, both websites and commonplace-books provide readers with a discursive space in which to store and organize information, and appear to gesture towards a set of shared discursive conditions and practices. Moreover, like commonplace-books, whose classification and content generally reflected the interests and idiosyncrasies of the readers and writers by whom they were created, websites are often highly personalized technologies of information management that may or may not be relevant or even intelligible to outside readers. Finally, commonplace-books and websites, be they personal, institutionally-based, or commercial, also promote similar - and similarly controversial - understandings and practices of writing that facilitate the production of compositions that often appear to be mere "patchworks" of textual fragments stitched together from existing sources. It is precisely these similarities that have resulted in websites being cast as evidence of the commonplace-book's modern legacy, and further resulted in the commonplace-book being embraced as an analogy for the website.
This paper questions the basis upon which the website is being evoked as evidence of the commonplace-book's often neglected modern legacy and adopted as an analogy for the website. Situating the commonplace-book as a transitional phenomenon that provided early modern readers, writers, and pedagogues with a set of tools - and quite literally a space - in which to work through the issues they faced during the gradual shift from script to print in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, I maintain that the commonplace-book's modern legacy may be most apparent in the extent to which such collections helped to foster many of the concepts and practices upon which modern print cultures would eventually be defined. Specific attention is paid to the commonplace-book's role in establishing reading and writing as private practices, fostering modern conceptions of authorship and the genres of writing most closely linked to the rise of the author, and entrenching understandings of intellectual property that assume ideas and words are the exclusive property of their stated creators. This paper also examines the basis upon which the commonplace-book might provide a potential lens through which to survey today's shifting terrain of textual production. I stop short, however, of making a strong case for the personal website as a type of a commonplace-book or positing the commonplace-book as a necessarily apt analogy for websites. Without dismissing the insights that can be derived from such comparisons, I conclude by exploring both the possibilities and potential problems of embracing the artifacts and approaches of book history as a means to better understand aspects of digital culture.
The Commonplace-book's Modern Legacy
As Earle Havens remarks in the introduction to Commonplace-Books: A History of Manuscripts and Printed Books from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, published in conjunction with the Beneike's Library's 2001 exhibit of commonplace-books, "The modern legacy of the commonplace-book has been a subject of little research and less debate" (54). Havens's observation is presumably a response to the scope of the studies on commonplace-books that preceded the publication of his own study. Joan Marie Lechner's Renaissance Concepts of the Commonplaces, for example, pays considerable attention to the commonplace tradition's medieval roots but casts no insights on the commonplace tradition's effects in the eighteenth century and beyond. As implied by its title, Mary Thomas Crane's Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England also reinforces the commonplace-book's status as a Renaissance phenomenon. Although Ann Moss remarks upon the "modern analogues" (vi) to the commonplace-book found in electronic culture, Printed Commonplace-books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought evidently also focuses on the commonplace-book in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries.
Despite Havens's obvious concerns with the extent to which the commonplace-book's modern legacy has been ignored, his own study does little to remedy this oversight. On the one hand, the scope and choice of commonplace texts featured in Havens's study appears to be a conscious attempt to subvert the narrative of decline we have come to expect from such studies. In contrast to the vast majority of studies on commonplace-books, Havens's study, presented as a "history of manuscripts and printed books from Antiquity to the twentieth century", suggests the possibility that the commonplace-book not only bridged the worlds of script and print but also the worlds of print and electronic cultures. Unfortunately, his exploration of modern commonplace-books is both brief and narrow in scope. In his discussion of modern commonplace-books, he focuses on a narrow selection of nineteenth and twentieth century commonplace-books produced by well-known literarti rather than the more popular collections of quotations, jokes and factoids of which commonplace-books have generally taken the form in the past century. More significantly, Havens's study fails to account for the various ways in which the use of commonplace-books in the early modern era helped to entrench many of the features of print cultures we have come to take most for granted.
As Adrian Johns maintains, print cultures did not arrive with movable type but rather slowly took shape in the centuries following the establishment of printing presses throughout Europe. While commonplace-books have frequently been cast as "part and parcel of the ancient oral world" (Ong, Interfaces of the Word 151), or as an extension of manuscript cultures, there is substantial reason to conclude that these collections were not nearly as antiquated as many histories of the commonplace-book have implied. Some theorists imply that the idea that the commonplace-book, which builds upon ancient and medieval practices of collecting, may have been promoted in part as a response to the perceived unmanageability of information during the Renaissance.2 Moss, for example, characterizes the commonplace-book as an "information retrieval system" (vi). Building primarily on Moss's discussion of commonplace-books in The Renaissance Computer: knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print, Neil Rhodes and Jonathon Sawday remark that in the commonplace-book "we can glimpse the overlap, or continuity, between different technological regimes" (13). As they explain, while print posed a threat to "the order of things", the commonplace-book provided a way for "bite-sized pieces of information [to be] manipulated and rearranged" (13).
question of how many books where published during the age of incunabula
remains a subject of great debate among book historians, from the perspective
of at least some Renaissance readers, the unmanageability of books did
pose a problem. Nowhere was this perceived crisis more evident than in
the humanist discourses of the era.3 Erasmus's instructions on how one
ought to go about collecting and storing textual fragments in a commonplace-book
appear to support the assumption that the promotion of commonplace-books
during the Renaissance was at least partially driven by a perceived need
to arm readers with an effective device with which to manage the texts
they encountered. In keeping with his humanist predecessors, Erasmus insisted
that "anyone who wishes to be thought educated must...at least once
in his life..." make up their mind to "cover the whole field
of literature" (CWE, 24 635). Yet, in contrast to previous generations
of humanists, he appeared far less optimistic about the possibility that
one might accomplish such a goal, confessing, "there is such an abundance
of material that one cannot gather everything" (CWE, 24 639). As
emphasized in De Rationii Studii, published in the early sixteenth century
at the same time as De Copia, Erasmus clearly considered the commonplace-book
an essential part of any literary endeavor:
He must range through the entire spectrum of writers so that he reads, in particular, all the best, but does not fail to sample any author, no matter how pedestrian. And in order to enhance the value of this exercise, he should have at the ready some commonplace book of systems and topics so that wherever something noteworthy occurs he may write it down in the appropriate column" (CWE, 24 672).
Despite the fact that the commonplace-book may appear to have been promoted as a technology of information management, it is essential to bear in mind that descriptions of the commonplace-book as a technology of "information management" (as expressed by Ann Moss) assume that Renaissance readers understood the contents of their commonplace-books as "information." Information, however, is a concept that was produced in the context of early modern print cultures. Rather than posit the commonplace-book as an early modern technology of information management, the following discussion maintains that the commonplace-book's modern legacy may be apparent in the features of print culture with which it has often been posited at odds.
As historians Philippe Aries, Roger Chartier and Cecile Jagodzinski have demonstrated, in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, reading began to be constructed and experienced as a private and solitary pursuit, and in turn, it played an important role in the entrenchment of modern conceptions of privacy. Descriptions of dwelling amongst places and retreating to one's hive reveal the extent to which commonplace-books were often envisioned in spatial terms and understood as types of retreats where one might store literary gems and indulge in the secret pleasures associated with private reading. This, however, is not entirely surprising given that the commonplace, a concept introduced by Aristotle, originally carried the dual meanings of topic and place carried by topos. Thus, the commonplace-book, despite its reputation as a discursive practice with close ties to the oral and communal reading cultures of the Middle Ages, arguably also participated in the entrenchment of private reading and writing practices.
The tendency to envision the commonplace-book as a hive is particularly evident in Erasmus's descriptions of the commonplace-book. Erasmus emphasizes the extent to which the commonplace-book and the beehive are both structured in relation to a series of distinct places intended to serve as sites of storage until one is ready to transform their nectar, literal or literary, into a product of their own making. However, Erasmus does not limit his adoption of the hive metaphor to commonplace-books; he occasionally also refers to his own study as a "hive in which to hide myself" (CWE, 2 192). The fact that Erasmus chose to adopt the word "hive" to describe a site where readers might store their literary nectar and a site to which one might retreat to read and write compositions of their own making is something upon which it is worth dwelling. His dual deployment of this apian metaphor underscores the extent to which he understood the collection of textual fragments from other writers' works and the production of one's own writing as inextricably linked, or as activities quite literally enacted in a common-place. However, his dual deployment of this metaphor also emphasizes the relation between the commonplace-book and private sites of reading and writing. For most readers in the early sixteenth century, opportunities to retreat to a study in order to engage in private reading would have been considerably more limited than they were for Erasmus. Even people with basic literacy skills and access to books, often had little access to spaces conducive to reading without interruptions. The relation between the use of commonplace-books and the establishment of private reading spaces is difficult to map. It is worth noting, however, that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there is evidence that commonplace-books along with book cabinets and studies served overlapping and complementary roles. Most notably, they can all be read as responses to a growing desire to create and retreat to spaces where one could engage with texts without any immediate form of surveillance. Of course, it was precisely the opportunity to read and write in private that simultaneously heightened the perception that reading and writing were dangerous and even heretical activities.4
As a record of people's reading practices, commonplace-books themselves offer significant insights into the various ways in which they contributed to and were affected by the growing division between the public and private spheres during the Renaissance and the related spread of private reading. The title of an early to mid seventeenth century commonplace-book by the Countess of Huntington, Certain Collections of the right hon. Elizabeth Late Countess of Huntington for her own private use, highlights the commonplace-book's status as a site of private reading. In other cases, the commonplace-books' excerpts seem to reflect a growing desire for privacy. Thomas Grocer's commonplace-book, entitled Dayly Observations, includes a short anonymous verse entered under the title of "A wish to privacy" which reads, "Give me a cell so [...]; Where no foot hath a path..." In this highly personalized collection, Grocer's decision to copy "A wish to privacy" might be read as an expression of the author's own desire for a "cell" to which he might retreat to be amongst his books. While the range of excerpts in Dayly Observations suggests that Grocer did have access to books and time to read, for Grocer and other seventeenth century common readers, a "cell" or private study would have been a rare luxury indeed. It is possible to imagine that Grocer may have seen his commonplace-book as a substitute for the "cell" to which he longed to retreat to fulfill his "wish to privacy."
Grocer's commonplace-book is in keeping with the commonplace-book envisioned by Erasmus and other early sixteenth century pedagogues, at least to the extent that it is primarily comprised of excerpted textual fragments culled from other sources. By contrast, many commonplace-books dating to the same period also exhibit entries that appear to blur the boundary between the commonplace-book and other genres of writing, including the diary. Much has already been written about the relation between the commonplace-book and the essay. Traces of the commonplace-book tradition are evident in the essays of Montaigne, Bacon, Jonson and Milton. The overlap between the commonplace-book and the diary is both more surprising and less theorized. Commonplace-books and diaries have generally been defined on opposite grounds. The subjectivity of the diary writer and the diary's status as a genre produced in private, often in secret, are the basis upon which the diary genre has typically been defined. Of all the genres that emerged during the Renaissance, the diary is the genre that has most frequently been equated with the rise of the subject, and viewed as most directly contingent upon the increased privacy many people experienced during the period. The diary, after all, has often been viewed as a coveted source of secret thoughts, something which continues to be dramatically underscored by the production of diaries with symbolic locks and keys. By contrast, the commonplace-book has typically been defined on precisely the opposite basis. The assumption that the commonplace-book is incompatible with modern understandings of subjectivity and authorship has generally been supported on two accounts. First, discussions of commonplace-books frequently draw attention to the fact that the "voice" of commonplace-book compilers is often audible only in the preface of such collections, if at all. However, as Susan Miller and Max Thomas emphasize, commonplace-books are invariably marked by distinct authorial markers that range from the inclusion of diary entries and presence of signatures to the distinctiveness of the categories upon which commonplace-books are structured. A survey of the commonplace-books housed in the Huntington and British libraries reveals just how porous the boundary is between commonplace collections and more obviously authored genres of writing. For example, Sir Edward Dering's "collection," described as an ephemeris and notebook, is dated, organized chronologically (with the exception of the poems and scattered recipes and remedies that appear on the final pages), and at times, highly personal. Second, commonplace-books and their accompanying discursive practices have been viewed as products of a common textual economy where ideas and words are free to circulate, and the "invention" of new writing is viewed as synonymous with, rather than opposed to, the finding and copying of existing texts.5 While this may have been true in theory, it is important to note that in addition to containing dated, personal entries, many commonplace-book were used to compose letters, poems and essays. Many commonplace-books, such as the Southwell-Silthorpe commonplace-book kept by Lady Anne Southwell, contain drafts of letters and poems, which frequently seep from page to page and across such collections' pre-inscribed categories.
If the commonplace-book helped to entrench reading and writing as private practices, websites, including websites that explicitly evoke the concept of the commonplace-book, are arguably repositioning reading and writing as public and communal practices. Personal websites, including ones that explicitly evoke the concept of the commonplace-book, often appear to be public rather than private records of their creator's reading practices (if the divisions between public and private are even relevant in this context). These websites typically feature records of books, magazines, and newspapers read by the website producer; excerpts of favorite passages from various print and digital texts; and if possible, direct links to the texts cited or reviews of these texts. In this respect, like commonplace-books, personal websites offer important insights into how readers engage with texts. But does this make the commonplace-book an apt analogy for the personal website? If the commonplace-book helped to establish reading as a private practice, in many respects, the "digital commonplace-book" represents an opposite movement.
Reading in groups has never disappeared. Nevertheless, with the spread of personal websites, collective reading practices have become more widespread than they were for much of the twentieth century and for several centuries prior. Readers with shared interests frequently form web rings that take a particular genre, author or book as their focus. On a related note, during the 1990s as people gained increased access to the Internet and the World Wide Web began to take shape, we also witnessed a renewed interest in book clubs. While the proliferation of book club activities during the past decade is undoubtedly as much the product of television as the Internet, websites created by members of book clubs reveal that the personal website has at the very least created a new means by which readers can come together to experience books, even if they are still read silently and in private. Concomitant with web rings dedicated to the exploration of a specific genre, author or book and the web based activities surrounding formal and informal book clubs is the dissemination of book reviews by common readers. The book review has often been the domain of the literary critic or professional journalist. However, personal websites as well as commercial websites, including those associated with large online book dealers have created new opportunities for readers to comment on publications. Literary focused webrings, online book club activities and digital reviews of books all point to the reestablishment of reading as an activity that entails a highly public and communal element. Whether or not these reading activities also signify a return to an understanding of reading as a social responsibility rather than a solitary pursuit is yet to be seen. What we can say with some certainty is that websites described as electronic commonplace-books and other websites that serve similar purposes appear to resonate as much with the commonplace-book's roots in oral and manuscript cultures as they do with their roots in print cultures.
In addition to helping to reestablish reading as a public and communal practice, digital commonplace-books and other personal websites are troubling assumptions about authorship and the basis upon which we have separated and defined particular genres of writing, including the letter, essay, and diary. The commonplace-book was not only a site where existing genres, such as letters, became increasingly linked to self-reflection and subjectivity, but also a site where new genres, such as the essay and diary, developed. Like commonplace-books where readers not only stored textual fragments, but also occasionally recorded their own personal thoughts, personal websites typically combine texts pilfered from other sources with texts of the author's own making. In this respect, it is worth noting that many of the websites that describe themselves as digital or electronic commonplace-books or evoke the concept to identify the content of one or more of their features also identify as blogs. Used as an abbreviated word for "web log" (as in "weblog" or simply "blog"), many blogs combine collected textual fragments and links to other sites with a dated log, journal or diary of some sort, and in this respect they share a great deal in common with many early modern commonplace-books where the overlap between the collection of excerpts from other texts and the authors' own daily reflections was common.
While the diary is a genre that has typically been associated with privacy, the diary writing that appears in conjunction with the miscellaneous links and ephemera on websites is effectively redefining the genre of diary writing as one that is no longer synonymous with privacy. It is true that diaries written in private have often been published and that some diaries, specifically those penned by notable literary figures, have been written with a potential audience in mind, but most online diaries share little in common with these carefully crafted published diaries. The diary writing one discovers online is usually posted with little or no editing, and often details only the mundane details of the writer's life. Posted as or shortly after they are written, online diary entries rarely exhibit the carefully crafted narratives that are often worked into published diaries, even the most mundane and anonymous ones, as they move from manuscript to published book. The genre of diary writing was conceived in the secluded chambers of the Renaissance home as writers increasingly began to explore their own interiority through personal reflection, prayer and prose. Today, the genre of diary writing is being relocated in what is undoubtedly a realm where the acts of composing and exposing, once distinct, seem to occur virtually simultaneously. Thus, although there has always been a market for texts that offer glimpses of the private author, more than ever before, private authorship has become a source of consumption and a spectacle, lending support to Baudrillard's observations that we now live in a "domain of consumption." On this basis, commonplace-books and "digital commonplace-books" may be understood as parallel genres on the basis of structure and content, but genres that have profoundly different effects on how privacy is perceived and experienced by readers and writers.
As recent studies on the history of plagiarism reveal, concerns about the plagiaristic practices did not appear suddenly at the end of the fifteenth century when the word began to circulate in English.6 Moreover, the understandings of plagiarism that inform our current responses to textual appropriation, specifically in academe, took centuries to develop and become established.7 This challenges the assumption that commonplace-books were necessarily incompatible with the understandings of intellectual property that became entrenched in the later half of the Renaissance. To suggest that the practice of keeping and using commonplace-books in the seventeenth and even eighteenth centuries was necessarily at odds with the prevailing understandings of intellectual property during these periods is to ignore the extent to which imitation continued to be valued as part of the curriculum even as concerns about plagiarism spread. It is also important to recognize the extent to which commonplace-books were one context in which understandings of plagiarism were established and expectations and practices of referencing other writers' work were developed. This is both due to the fact that discourses on the keeping and use of commonplace-book provided a forum in which to explore and rework traditional imitative modes of rhetorical production, and to debate the distinction between common and private forms of intellectual property in response to developing print cultures.8
that Erasmus's writing is concomitant with modern understandings of intellectual
property, copyright or plagiarism, his repeated attempts to distance his
use of commonplace-books from the ancient practice of centos or patchwork9
writing seems to be rooted in a recognition that his proposed discursive
method may have already been at least somewhat incompatible with the developing
print cultures in which it was proposed and promoted. His anxieties are
most apparent in his satirical dialogue, Ciceronians, in which he launches
an attack on writers who merely "scrape up a few phrases, idioms,
figures, and rhythmical patterns from here and there" (CWE, 28 369),
producing nothing more than a "patchwork or a mosaic" (CWE,
28 442). A similar but arguably more pronounced tension is evident in
other humanist discourses on the imitative arts and the use of commonplace-books.
Like Erasmus, Vives was careful to distinguish imitative approaches to
composition from the ancient tradition of centos writing. Young students,
he suggests, may borrow phrases from other writers' works, but such imitation
must not take the form of a "patchwork":
I will permit him to transfer into his own work, what he cannot render into his own form of expression, only let him not deceive himself. This is not imitation, but pilfering; and in this errors, very many are versed. Gradually, however, he will not take stealthily patchwork (centones) from his model and stick it into his own work (195).
The line between imitation and stealing is, in Vives's opinion, very difficult to mark, yet one that one should at least attempt to locate.
As the use of commonplace-book evolved in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the collection of striking passages and citation of authorities gave way to a growing emphasis on the collection and citation of documents. In some cases, passages were no longer even recopied but rather simply indicated by author, title and page number so the compiler could, if need be, relocate the passage in question. The shift from citing authorities to citing documents can be attributed to several factors, and the commonplace-book arguably both reflected and participated in this shift. The possibility of citing specific documents was not only impossible prior to the arrival of print but remained a difficult task well into the seventeenth century as printed texts slowly evolved from printed versions of manuscripts into texts that featured all the elements of books modern readers have come to take for granted, including title pages, details about the place and time of publication, and pagination.10 Although students were typically not obligated to cite sources in a standardized manner before the early twentieth century, the similarities between the methods used to record citations in commonplace-books and contemporary citational practices suggest that the structure of the documentational footnote was at least partially developed in and through the use of commonplace-books. In this way, in addition to providing a forum in which to rethink the arts of imitation in relation to the context of print, the commonplace-book tradition arguably contributed to the development of referencing practices.
Notably, changes in commonplace-books throughout the Renaissance and into the eighteenth century reveal a growing attempt to ensure that borrowed textual fragments could be traced back to specific authors and even specific editions of texts, indicating a growing preoccupation with originality, authorial intent, and ownership of ideas and words. While Erasmus, for example, pays considerable attention to the importance of citing authorities, he pays virtually no attention to how one should record materials in their commonplace-books and provides no explicit instructions on whether or not one should record page numbers and publishing information. By contrast, instructions on the keeping and use of commonplace-books by the mid to late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century typically include at least some details on how to properly document one's collected textual fragments. This is particularly apparent in Locke's A New Method of the Common-Place-Book. As he emphasized, "before I write any thing, I put the name of the author in my common-place-book, and under that name the title of the treatise, the size of the volume, the time and place of its edition, and (what ought never to be omitted) the number of pages that the whole book contains" (450).
In many respects, digital composition practices resonate with the understandings and practices of writing once associated with the commonplace-book and the traditional imitative arts upon which such collections were based. As evidence, one need only consider the types of discursive practices increasingly exhibited by student essay writers. For many of these students, it has become the norm to write with at least two windows open on their computer desktops, a word processing document and a website. "Cutting-and-pasting" texts from websites into their own documents, a practice described by Rebecca Moore Howard as "patchwriting" (a term that resonates with the ancient method of centos writing), is a common practice. However, in contrast to the commonplace-book, which arguably contributed to the entrenchment of an understanding and set of practices that eventually limited the conditions under which ideas and words could circulate, digital writing tools appear to be calling these understandings and practices into question. Although many teachers of writing continue to interpret essays comprised largely or entirely of recycled materials copied from websites verbatim or with only minor alterations as forms of plagiarism, students engaged in such composition practices frequently deny such charges assuming that plagiarism only applies to the verbatim reproduction of printed sources. Like their counterparts in the early sixteenth century, these digital centonists appear to understand composition as a process of gathering and reframing common information (or information that is assumed to be common by virtue of its availability on-line). If the commonplace-book and website are analogous, it is perhaps primarily on the basis of the fact that both represent spaces where understandings and practices of intellectual property have been (and in the case of the website, continue to be) rethought.
Today, digital and analogue are most often used as adjectives that carry opposite meanings. In the context of computing, analogue refers to a system that operates upon the basis of numbers represented by some physical measurement, such as quantity, weight, length or voltage. By contrast, digital refers to a system that operates solely upon the absence or presence of information rather than a measurable physical quantity. If something is digital, it is not analogue, and vice versa, making the concept of a digital analogue appear highly contradictory and even unfathomable. However, before analogue was used as an adjective; analogue and analogy where interchangeable. Read as an adjective and a noun, a digital analogue does not represent the fusing of two opposites, but rather something far more familiar - a digital analogy. From the concepts of cyberspace and surfing to the concepts of homepage and information highway, new writing and communication technologies have spawned a rich lexicon of metaphors and analogies. The digital commonplace-book is arguably simply one more addition to this lexicon. However, in contrast to the aforementioned metaphors and analogies, the commonplace-book may be particularly rich. The notion of a digital commonplace-book not only asks us to look at digital cultures through the lens offered by print cultures, but also to re-examine important features of early print cultures through the lens offered by digital cultures. Notably, there is nothing new about the impulse to borrow existing metaphors and analogies in order to understand new technologies. In fact, this is precisely what Renaissance commonplace-book keepers did when they adopted the language of flower keeping associated with medieval collections of textual fragments (florilegia) in order to describe their own collections.11 Yet, however necessary and useful such analogies might be, the desire to understand current practices in relation to existing phenomena is also something that must be done cautiously.
In The Renaissance Computer: Knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print, Neil Rhodes contends, "As electronic technology reorders our perceptions of the world and our place within it, we may find that those older metaphors of the book and the body, together with the newer metaphor of the network, will enable us to see the future not in terms of radical disjunction but as a reconfiguration of a previously imagined order" (193). Without rejecting Rhodes observation, I believe it is important to question our reasons for adopting a historically analogous approach. In a review of recent developments in the field of book history published in Libraries and the Academy, Jarish Jared observes, "the temptation is ever present to speculate on the relation between physically based print on the one hand, and electronic print media on the other, as they respectively contribute to social organization, reading experience, and the nature of knowledge" (234). However, as Jarish further cautions, such studies, while drawing upon the artifacts and tools of book history, should not be read as historical studies per se since they ultimately seek to provide new insights into the present rather than the past. Jarish's observations are important to bear in mind when producing or interpreting studies that adopt analogies from book history as a basis upon which to better understand new technologies of writing. After all, when we seek to make sense of the present through the past, history is arguably no longer our subject but rather our theory. In this way, the notion of a "digital commonplace-book" may not stand as evidence of the commonplace-book's modern legacy nor be part of a new history of writing, but simply represent one more analogy through which to theorize the future of writing, reading and book culture.
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1 Other examples of "digital commonplace-books" include "A.M. Kuchling's page" <http://www.amk.ca/>;"Lady Crumpet's Armoire: Musings and Minutiae - A Digital Commonplace Book" <http://www.amk.ca/>; and "ChrisLott.org" <http://www.chrislott. org/writing/cpb/>. Discussion on the connection between websites and commonplace-book are limited to brief comparisons but include "Blogs in the News - More Definitions" <http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/it/archive /000007.html>, and Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin and Robin Parmar's "The Commonplace Book" <http://www. iath.virginia.edu/elab/hfl0231.html>."
2 See in particular Ann Moss's chapter, "Medieval Prehistory", in Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (24-50).
3 In his De Tradendis Disciplinis, first published in Latin in 1531, humanist pedagogue Juan Luis Vives remarked upon the extent to which printing had already contributed to a seemingly unmanageable increase in books: "...we find books have increased to such uncountable numbers...So much is this so, that, now, a man's life would not suffice, I do not say for the reading what has been written on many arts and sciences, but on any one of them - let alone the time for understanding them" (44-45). According to Vives, the increase in available books had already resulted in a "terror fallen upon not a few people, and a hatred of study," leading some people to wonder, "Who can read all these?" (45)
4 Cecile Jagodzinski observes that as reading and writing were posited as private pursuits, they increasingly became equated with secrecy, voyeurism, and taboo behaviours (Privacy and Print: Reading and Writing in Seventeenth-Century England, 17).
5 In "The Renaissance Artist as Plagiarist," Stephen Orgel argues that for many Renaissance artists, including writers, invention was "deeply involved with copying" (479), and that "a great deal of Renaissance art offered its patrons precisely the pleasures of recognition" (480).
6 See in particular Pauline Kewes's introduction to Plagiarism in Early Modern England in which she criticizes theorists of plagiarism who have all too often assumed that plagiarism was not taken seriously before the fifteenth century.
7 Sue Carter Simmons reports that the adoption of standardized referencing practices did not occur until the early the twentieth century. See in particular, Carter's "Competing Notions of Authorship: A Historical Look at Students and Textbooks on Plagiarism and Cheating" in Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Postmodern World.
8 Sixteenth century pedagogues often used the word imitation to describe their approach to composition. While their imitative pedagogies explicitly build upon ancient imitative models offered in Plato's Republic and Aristotle's and Cicero's Topics, Mary Thomas Crane maintains that during the Renaissance, imitative pedagogies tended to emphasize the collection and reframing of textual fragments rather than the deep assimilation of rhetorical models promoted in Antiquity. For a more detailed discussion on imitation and composition in Renaissance pedagogical discourses and practices, see Crane's Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England (88-92).
9 See in particular M.D. Usher's discussion of the centos tradition in Homeric Stitchings: The Homeric Centos of the Empress Eudocia.
10 See in particular Eisenstein's discussion of standardization and fixity of printed texts in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (80-126), and Adrian Johns's discussion of the credibility of printed books in early modern London in The Nature of the Book (58-186).
11 On the first page of Thomas Grocer's Dayly Observations, the author self-identifies as a "floriligist".