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Space Is the Place


Almost every post I have written so far for this site contains a core statement to be developed in my dissertation. These statements are sometimes repetitive and sometimes tentative. This blog is a way to test stuff I am writing about. Instead of a statement, or even a speculation, this post is something entirely different. I want to open some questions about the formation of a geographical or topological imaginary in examples of production and consumption of books. The examples I will use come from my dissertation, but hopefully the questions they will raise are placed beyond the limits of this project.

Breviculum, Stoning of Ramon Llull in Tunisia

People make books. People read books. People buy, exchange, annotate, and gather books in locations that determine such operations to some extent. Printing houses are hubs of commercial and cultural activities and the books they produce can reach a wide public across the globe, connecting a network of cultural agents. Yet books not only travel, books also stay in places constituting deposits that are centers of diffusion identified with certain authors or even single items. Cultural agents traveled to these repositories so they could read and copy books. Books demarcate a cultural geography as they are gathered and sent, as they are made and sold. There is a tradition of cultural representations for these places. Images representing where and how scribes and printers work are attached to book consumption and contribute to this cultural geography. This may all seem obvious, but it is worth thinking about for a second. Libraries and printing houses are spaces of which any reader could have a mental image during the middle ages and the early modern period (probably more so than now). Moreover, various readers across centuries could identify the Accursian workshop, or St. Gallen, or the Golden Compass on Plantin’s books. Informed readers from different eras looked for books and knew where to find them. Books where read on the road to somewhere. Books went places. People knew where to find books.

I will talk now about two examples of that cultural geography and try to make sense of them. They both actualize the problem of the study of spaces of the history of the book while showing that there are several levels of analysis of such spaces. Preliminarily, I will point to two respective dimensions of place in relation to books: physical-places-as-books-travel-or-are-gathered and places-as-they-are-conceptualized-inside-books. For instance, the diffusion of a book such as Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) can demarcate a macro-geographical level, but it also represents a vision of geography as it is represented by the book’s maps. This division is obviously very pedestrian and inaccurate – please, indulge it for now since this text is trying to start a conversation. I will  explore any possible idea that will help conceptualize the texts I’m working with and that maybe points to a fruitful future direction of research.

My first example comes from Juan Seguí’s biography Vida y hechos del admirable Dotor y Martyr Ramon Lull (1606). The author was a Lullist priest who belonged to the court of king Philip II (1527-98) and in the prologue of the books explains the connection between the king and the Doctor Illuminatus. First, the king decides to gather manuscript books of the works of Ramon Llull at the Monastery of El Escorial as Cardinal Cisneros had done before at San Ildefonso. As it was the case with Cisneros, we have the account of a Lullist about the importance of Ramon Llull in the Escorial. Without a doubt, Seguí’s opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the evidence in both cases is that a spot in the Iberian geography should be added consciously to a map of mostly Mediterranean repositories. Second, the discovery of Ramon Llull is associated to a physical travel, Philip II’s coronation in Lisbon. Whether the king actually read Blanquerna in his way to Portugal or not, it is impossible to know for sure. Seguí’s narrative has an undeniable consistency that comes from the fact that he has imposed a spiritual meaning over the physical travel. Philip II goes to Lisbon in 1580 coming back both the king of all the Iberian Peninsula and a Lullist. The result is that a single act of reading determines the geography of Lullism creating a new repository and giving a new meaning to a known historical fact:

Para lo qual siguiendo yo la Corte de la Magestad Catholica del Rey Don Phelipe segundo deste nombre, que esta en el Cielo, procure muchas vezes con todas las veras que pude, assi de palabra, como por memoriales, darle noticia deste hecho, y como sin discreción, y Real ingenio, ornado de tantas virtudes con una inaudita inclinación a cosas de ciencias, era tanta; no solo quedo enterado del negocio, pero devotissimo deste santo varón y de sus obras y admirable Dotrina: tanto, que las demás noches se entretenía en leer libros deste santo, y en particular el Blanquerna, que con tanto artificio trata de Cinco estados del hombre: y en prueva desta su devocion, se hallan en la Librería de San Lorenço el Real muchos libros deste Santo, rubricados de la Real mano del dicho Santo Rey y Señor nuestro. Y como siempre estaba pensando en cosas buenas, no le estorvavan caminos, ocupaciones de negocios, estado, y guerras, que no leyes sus ratos, y platicadse cosas de doctrina. Y assi, marchando para la jornada de Portugal, me hizo entender, con la buena memoria de Iuan de Herrera, que gustaría de un breve discurso y relación de la vida y hecho del dicho admirable Doctor: lo queal hice con la brevedad que requeria cosa hecha caminando. Y llegado en Lisbona, cabeça de Portugal, acabe dicha relacion, y la di en sus Reales manos: con la qual quedo tan aficionado a esta santa doctrina, que desde entonces ha hecho mil diligencias para que se lea: y para que con mayor diligencia se hiziesse, ha escrito una y muchas vezes al Summo Pontifice, porque con su autoridad se quite la siniestra opinion que deste Santo ha escrito Nicolas Eimeric, y que se hiziesse el processo para su canonizacion. (3v-4r)

My second example comes from a prologue for one of the most important editions of the works of Ramon Llull, printed by the heirs of Lazarus Zetzner in Strasbourg at the beginning of the 17th century. The text makes a list of the masters of the Art of Ramon Llull by countries. At a certain level, the text is a catalogue of references for further reading. Many of those authors prepared editions, commented, and let the influence of Ramon Llull through their own works. In a more subtle way, the text probably tries to grant some authorial legitimacy to the Art of Ramon Llull too since the image that many readers had of it was that of an obscure if not heretical discipline. Scholars from such different origins with different mother tongues were able to master the Art and find it useful. It was a testament to the possibilities of the Art as a teaching device. The geographical dimension of the catalogue of references in the text is mostly European as mostly is the early modern area of diffusion of Ramon Llull, whereas during the middle Ages neither the Art was mostly European, or an academic discipline. At some point Lullism becomes a language spoken among intellectuals in Europe and gives up on being a language Christian preachers speak to other faiths in the north of Africa. Thus, the Art of Ramon Llull becoming European is tied to its becoming academic. A geographical imaginary can determine intellectual issues or even shape the ways of reading an author:

Tanta enim suo fuisse aeuo autoritatis atque existimationis legitur: ut iustissimi Arragonum Reges eum in priuilegiis eidem concessis, Magnum in Philosophia Magistrum, & mirandarum artium & scientiarum autorem nominarint. Planum id ipsum facient variis in nationibus varii: in Italia Petrus Daguinus Mediatus & Iacobus Ianuarius: in Hispania Ferdinandus Corduba: Petrus Iacobus Faber Stapulensis, & Carolus Bovillus in Gallia: in Germania Andreas, Petrus, Iacobus, fratres Germani, natione Frisiones cognomine Canterii: alibi alii: qui omnes vel exiguo temporis spatio, etiam in constanti, aut decrepida constituti aetate, à literis alias alieni prorsus: vel etiam in pueritia & iuuenilibus annis, huic arti Lulliana unicè cùm incumberent: in stuporem quasi, non admirationem, alios deduxerunt. Comprobant hoc etiam hodierno adhuc die, verè literati qui sunt: & quibus curae cordique eruditio solida & exquisita esse consueuit: & ita comprobant, ut autores quoque mihi & suasores extiterint, quo in Lulliano hoc artificio una cum Commentariis in hoc a Iordano Bruno Nol. & Henr. Cornelio Agrippa scriptis: & nunquam ante hac coniunctim in lucem editis, typis conmittendo operam quantulamcunque meam locarem. (5v-6r)

In both fragments, the text creates an idea of movement filled with spiritual and intellectual meaning. In lack of a better expression, I will call this meaning a geographical imaginary. This geographic imaginary is fundamental to the portability of Ramon Llull as his own life was one of constant travel. As I have often explained in this blog, Llull’s life described a Mediterranean itinerary trying to get attention, discussion, and funding for the diffusion of the Art. Even though it would be inaccurate to talk about a poetic presence of such spaces in his works, they inform an idea of Ramon Llull that his iconography and his intellectual project. It is impossible to understand the Art without describing the Mount Randa, his failure to communicate the Art to the scholars in Paris, or his death by stoning in Tunisia. All these places build the portability of the works of Ramon Llull, they constitute a scene for the visual representations of Llull and at the same time point to the natural area of diffusion of the Art – at least in the immediate years after the death of the Doctor Illuminatus.

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Noel Blanco Mourelle, « Space Is the Place », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on May 21, 2015. Full URL for this article

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