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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 11: The parchment codex and the “spirit” of Christianity

Thomas Vesting


The rise of the parchment codex (the Roman poet Martial appears to have been the first to mention the new medium in his Epigrammata, published circa AD 85) marks yet another break in the history of cultural evolution. Of course, the codex no more represents a “medial caesura” – a discontinuity in the field of culture in the sense of simply displacing and replacing a previous model – than did the earlier invention and introduction of phonetic writing in the ancient Near East, Israel, Athens, and Rome. Writing did not simply eliminate spoken language, but rather allowed for the emergence of a new “media constellation,”1 forms in which writing and speech were intertwined,2 in which speech – bound to the body in the form of songs, verbal formulas, rituals, verbo-motor skills, habitus, etc. – was externalized and reorganized in new ways in written texts, which led in turn to changes in oral language use and its associated practices. The rise of the parchment codex had a similar effect, facilitating encounters with longer texts, fostering the development of cross-referencing and other intertextual practices, encouraging silent reading, and creating the conditions for a complete transition to the author-as-writer. And this again had far-reaching epistemological and psychological consequences. The codex became a medium for complex noetic operations, establishing reading as a way of cultivating inwardness and thus urging (sinful) man toward a deeper understanding of himself.

The parchment codex also fundamentally changed the technological form of the book, ending...

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