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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 12: Print culture, print epistemology

Thomas Vesting


Books may exist in very different material forms, whether as papyrus scrolls, wax tablets, parchment codices, or, most recently, e-books. For the printed book – the history of which commenced with Gutenberg’s production of a Latin Bible in the fifteenth century, and which had already lost its quasi-monopoly position as a vehicle of culture (even if it did not simply disappear) in the nineteenth century with the invention of new audio-visual media such as photography, phonography, and cinematography1 – “typographic space” is critical.2 This refers to the breakthrough of a new way of formatting text by means of movable type, a medial technology that made possible both the lossless coding and decoding of information and the reproduction at will of the series of letters used therein.3 This same breakthrough also allowed for increased efficiency in the production of texts, drastically reducing both the cost and the time needed to manufacture an individual book. Whereas it took the average scribe three full years to copy a single Bible onto parchment, Gutenberg was able to print 200 or so copies of his Bible in even less time. This was all the more remarkable in that the printed book was in no way inferior to the old parchment codex in terms of its aesthetic aspirations and realization. Gutenberg himself was guided in his work by the ideal of calligraphy, of writing as a decorative art.4

Compared to papyrus, parchment was already considered the more high-quality writing material. It was...

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