Print culture in its self is very ambiguous to define, as the word culture is often characterised by various aspects of collective behaviour and social constructs.  In her exploration of such discourse, author Lisa Gitelman examines the role of noncodex work through her written piece fittingly entitled Print Culture (Other Than Codex): Job Printing and Its Importance. In this article Gitelman highlights the overlooked and almost erased history of job printing as a discipline of publishing that grew from distinct practices surrounding printers. As she reveals through her analysis, the meanings and definitions of print and print cultures are not only difficult to identify, but shaped by specific historical agents and structures. Thus by focusing on job printing, Gitelman emphasizes their economic importance and significance on changing the public as she argues from passive readers to active users (p. 192).

Beginning with distinguishing publication formats, Gitelman discusses how codices are essentially any form of text that resembles a book. In this sense the codex is interpreted in relation to older formats such as the scroll, in which she illustrates the dynamic connotations of media. Similarly, the semantics of the word print are also under scrutiny as it has “come to encompass many diverse technologies for the mechanical reproduction of text” (Gitelman, p. 184). As new advancements in print are presented over time, the use of the word print has become free of technology, and even human hand. While this may be a result of such technology, when discussing print as a culture one cannot ignore the influences of socio-economic circumstances in any given time period. Print culture as a whole is then subject to the developments and usage of print in affinity to modernity and the customs of social actors (Gitelman, p. 185). That the rise of other expanding institutions in Western society intertwined with print to create new decentralized industries, with revision to format and consumption.

Gitelman quotes Stallybrass in pointing out that “printers do not print books. They print sheets of paper.” (p. 186). The quote is symbolic because it communicates the idea that not everything printed is always traditionally published. This is in contrast to the historical belief and acceptance of publishing being typically in codex format as some sort of book. Although with printing capabilities being around for quite some time, it was not the technology that drove for innovation; but the social and institutional changes as discussed earlier. The surge in noncodex work that was heavily produced in the early 20th century brought upon a new use for print that left behind the old presumed characteristics of codex. Gitelman addresses this by looking at how noncodex works had slim survival rates, and were consumed immediately, losing value overtime. As a result, she views these textual snippets as vital aspects of the publishing industry that are often seen as meaningless, despite the overlapping implications they had on society, commerce and print culture overall. While being something to be indulged and not last the test of time, this type of work known as job printing was transformative in using the noncodex format as a way to expand the utility of publishing.

Since noncodex print is in contrast to conventional publishing, it was not measured and recorded in circulation. From this Gitelman suggests that job printing was not heavily monitored, and at one point might have even accounted for 30% of industry labour (p. 189). With such large numbers, work consisting of making receipts, labels, letters and so on are vastly underrepresented in publishing scholarship and studies. Ultimately, job printing became an underground section of the publishing industry that connected it to other forms of production as a dominate medium at the time through modern capitalism. This conversion from publisher to individual, now became business to the business as a way to “function as instruments of corporate speech” (Gitelman, p. 190). Gitelman observes that this stands in opposition to most literary works, as a way to simply see printing as solely printing instead of distinct publication. Thus with changes to the product, citizens as agents consume them differently within the public sphere. Gitelman argues that readers under the control of “corporate speech” become users of this text instead of readers because they do not read them, or share the same romanticized ideals as the text fades (p. 191-192). Job printing also then brought upon contemporary issues of copyright and ownership that are still debated in the digital age over the “idea-expression dichotomy”.

In consideration to my own interpretation of the topic, I think Gitelman presents a case of trying to understand publishing from its direct response and evolution to other establishments. That job printing existed not from a need of publishers, but from a society that saw its potential not being fully utilized. Just as with any technology, the changes brought upon format and usage were not dependent on the technology alone, but in conjunction with social actors as Gitelman noted. We see the same debates happening today with copyright noted in the article, but also with physical and digital books. That while print is free of technology, the definition of it just like print culture is constantly changing relative to the time and society at large. Whether it be the different format text takes on via codex, or the type of work performed such as job printing, we cannot undermine the ramifications of any technical instrument in shaping the future of publishing from the proceeding.


Works Cited

Gitelman, L. (2013). Print Culture (Other Than Codex): Job Printing and Its Importance. Comparative Textual Media Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, 183-198. doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816680030.003.0008