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7 Agents in Search of a Book


Whether we want it or not, we live in the shadow of Romanticism. We are culturally wired to value things such as originality, individuality, and people climbing mountains staring at the abyss while seeking for the doors of perception. We are also wired to believe that 1author=1book. I will suggest that the construction of meaning in a cultural object is always a collective endeavor, even when the cultural object is being considered only from the point of view of production.

Seal of the printer Leonard Hutz

Inspired by recent advice, I think it may be useful to clarify certain notions in order to progress towards the writing of the first chapter of my dissertation. In this spirit, I will talk about agency and the different kinds of agents that intervene in the making of books. Please, do keep in mind that I think about all this while reading king Fernando II of Aragón’s privilegium for Alonso de Proaza’s edition of Jaume Janer’s Ars metaphysicalis, an introductory manual for the practice of the Art of Ramon Llull. The book is an attempt to grounds the Art in its philosophical roots. Particularly, I aim to answer the three following questions. What kinds of agents participate in the production of Lullist books? How do they relate to the phenomenon of the early modern portability of Lullism? Is there an author for the books I am studying in Madrid the same way one can affirm there is an author for La Princesse de Clèves, or Mansfield Park, or L’isola di Arturo?

I will consider that only humans can be basic agents and although groups such as intellectual circles or academic communities, can present a collective agency, my post will not deal with that phenomenon. Agency is composed by two main factors. The first is the capacity of making a rational choice among several options. The second is the will of operating changes in reality so the decision of the agent will be put into action, given that the agent has the will and the power of making an actual rational choice. In terms of production of books, agents are those people who participate in its making affecting the content of the book and therefore the impact of the book in the world, even though such impact may seem very localized at first. The impact is quantifiable not only in terms of readership, but also in terms of institutional importance.

While reading the Ars metaphysicalis (València, 1506), I can count seven people involved in the making of the book: Ramon Llull (ca. 1232-1316), Alonso de Proaza (doc. 1500-1515), Jaume Janer (doc. 1489-1506), Bartolomeo Gentili (ca. 1450-1510), Fernando II of Aragón (1452-1516), Luis de Cabanyelles (doc. 1479-1503), and Leonard Hutz (active in València 1490-1503). It is not my intention, as anyone can see from the previous paragraph, to challenge the notion of agency from this post. I intend to engage with it in a more fruitful way further on, while writing my dissertation. For now, what I will describe different forms of human agency. To put it bluntly, I will tell you who does what in the making of the book. Ultimately, from the point of view of the organization of material, I am terrified of starting to write my dissertation and feeling trapped into the necessity of telling people’s lives since that is where the material would lead me without any effort on my behalf. Hopefully, I will be able to reframe people into agents. It may seem pretty obvious, but I have seen the best minds of my generation (and others) being crushed by the weight of their archives.

The first obvious agent in this book is Ramon Llull, although, paradoxically, he never wrote it or saw it printed (for obvious reasons). This book is an explanation of his Art motivated by the academic difficulties of the way his discourse was produced. According to the Vita coetanea, Ramon Llull struggled throughout all his life in order to be accepted by academic institution: “Having read this Commentary in Paris, and having observed the attitude of the students there, he returned to Montpellier [...].” (47) He tried to explain his Art three times in Paris and only the third he was not mocked (thanks to Thomas le Myésier and to the fact he lectured at a the Faculty of Medicine, and not at the Faculty of Theology as he had tried before) and seen as a lunatic enveloped in a sort of obscure Arabic logic. One of the reasons for this reception is the highly idiosyncratic nature of his Art, which makes it difficult to translate to medieval or early modern scholarly practices. Jaume Janer’s objective was to show how the Art could be performed in an academic way. Furthermore, Proaza’s edition of Janer tries to defeat the other great difficulty in translating the Art of Ramon Llull into academic language, Llull always avoided the quotes from philosophical and theological sources in order to maintain the very esoteric nature of his Art. His thesis was that the Art did not come from study, but that it was revealed by God. It is impossible to know for sure nowadays what he read and what he ignored or did not care for reading. So, Proaza’s work is to add a system of printed glossae to Janer’s text pointing to the sources of Llull’s thought. This was not only in order to show that the Art of Ramon Llull was translatable into academic practice, but also that it was linked to a legitimate tradition of both sacred and theological discourse.

So far, I have shown how there is an accumulation of processes of writing in the book. In their distinction, we cannot mistake auctores (Llull & Janer) for authors. Nor auctoritas for authorship, since what Janer and Proaza are doing is precisely conveying auctoritas to Llull. It would be also fatal to think that editor (Proaza) equals printer (Hutz). Nonetheless, they are all agents in the production of a very complex (and expensive, by the way) cultural object that carries meaning.

The institutional impact of the book remains clear in the privilegium issued by Luis de Cabanyelles, governor of València from 1479 to 1503, in the name of the Fernando II of Aragón. The privilegium talks about an unspecified controversy that happens around the teaching, the writing, or printing of the book, it does not remain clear what it was: “Expositione facta non sine grave querela facta pro parte dilecti nostri iacobi ianuari monachi cisterciensis ordinis monasteris sanctarum crucum magistri in sacra pagina et in artibus intelliximus que cum ipse sit valde peritus et in arte et scientia edoctus laudabilis magistri raymundi lulli.” (f. CCLXXVIIIr) I ignore whether this querela means Janer’s own efforts and travails in order to expose Llull’s doctrine or it is referring to some previous unknown debate. Nonetheless, after approving the Art of Llull as highly useful (utilissima), even divina, the privilegium names all the places that have approved the teachings of the Art: “esse approbatam per francorum regem et per cancellarium universitatis studii parisiensis et per legatum summi pontificis et per pontificem innocentium […] et per alfonsuum patruum nostrum dive memorie qui omnes suis cum litteris patentibus et privilegiis dictam laudabile et valde et utilem veram artem et bonam scientiam tanquam catholicam multorum in sacra theologia magistrorum testimonio laudarunt dogmatizarunt […].” (ff. CCLXXVIIIr-v) There is a fierce defense of the legitimacy of the Art from the authority of the king and the governor that is at the same time legal, theological, and academic. Ultimately, they are praising the book and supporting the teaching of Lullism at university level: “in civitatibus nostre maioricarum et barchinone sunt domus in quibus sunt cathedre constructe et dedicate cum redditibus ad artem et scientiam istam legendam docendam et manifestandam […].” (f. CCLXXIXr)

This post is long enough so I am not going to be very extensive this time about the role of Bartolomeo Gentile Fallamonica and Leonard Hutz. The first was a Genoese trader, poet, and author of Lullist inspiration who funded the expensive edition. He is known for his Canti, an imitation of the Divine Comedy in which he is the main character guided not by Virgil but by Ramon Llull himself. Alonso de Proaza would include a sonnet cycle by Gentile in 1514 edition of the Cancionero general. The second was a German printer who worked in València, Medina, and Salamanca, who would also print some other important religious texts such as Kempis’s Imitatio Christi and worked often in partnership with Pere Hagenbach.

I have offered here a short account on how to think about agency in historically located cultural objects, from the perspective of a singular case. This agency is actualized differently by each one of the seven participants in the making of the book. Nonetheless, each one of them brings a set of connections that comes from his specific function in the making of the book. Each one conveys a different layer of meaning that is both associated to their intellectual paths but also to their textual marks and physical traces in the book in the forms of bodies of text and images.

Last Updated 4 years ago


  • Berger, Philippe. Libro y lectura en la Valencia del Renacimiento. València: Edicions Alfons el Magnànim, 1987. Print.
  • Gentile Fallamonica, Bartolomeo. Canti di Bart. Gentile Fallamonica poeta genovese del secolo XV. Ed. Giuseppe Gazzino. Genova: Tipologia della Gioventù, 1877. Print.
  • Janer, Jaume. Ars metaphisicalis naturalis ordinis cuiuslibet rei intelligibilis arboris nature reverendi doctoris preclarissimi magistri Jacobi Januarii, monachi terraconensis diocesis. Ed. Alonso de Proaza. València: Leonard Hutz, 1506. Print.
  • Llull, Ramon. A Contemporary Life. Ed. & Trans. Anthony Bonner. London: Tamesis Books, 2010. Print.
  • Margel, Serge. “Le Spectre du nom. Notes sur la question lexicale d’une langue philosophique.” Rue Descartes 82 (2014): 101-3. Print.
  • Rovane, Carol. “What Is an Agent?” Synthese 140.1-2 (2004): 181-98. Print.



Noel Blanco Mourelle, « 7 Agents in Search of a Book », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on October 29, 2014. Full URL for this article

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