I found Erin’s presentation, “The Writing’s on the Skin – The Medieval Agency of Animals” particularly provocative in light of the recent shift towards electronic texts. While Dr. Seaman and her fellow tech savvy Medievalists seem immune to it, many of us loyal print readers are feeling extreme anxiety over the shift. I agree with Erin’s assertion that when we engage in a text we also (if inadvertently) engage with the materials through which the text is communicated. Loosening binding, yellowing pages, even dog-eared corners add a sense of community to our reading of a text, an awareness of a shared experience (an assemblage, even). I imagine that engagement is even more intimate with paper as raw and organic as animal parchment, print as personal as handwriting.
I do not, though, quite feel that this gives the animal of the parchment, or even the scribe of the handwriting, much additional agency. For while they enrich the text with their own texture and style, they are ultimately tools for communicating the ideas of the text. Their most powerful influence over our reading (as I’m sure Bill Brown would agree) is the occasional disruptive, negative influence, the interference with our intentions for them. The parchment may rip or blot, the handwriting smudge. Otherwise, they seem to obey the command to communicate. While it’s a romantic notion that an animal’s agency transfers to its hide, I’m afraid it’s stripped and appropriated to suit the text. Erin presented our class with an interesting topic that we’re debating as a literary community today!