Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Edward Brerewood's Tractatus, 1659

It's been a while since I have managed to post anything on the blog. I'll blame it on a recent birthday, but the truth is that I haven't been finding much in the way of fun or interesting things to post.  

Title page of Brerewood's 1659
Tractatus, edited by
Thomas Sixesmith
But I did manage to get this little book from Edward Brerewood recently, more or less by accident.

I suppose I might need to explain how one buys a 350-year old book by accident: in this case, I saw it for sale; I thought the price was reasonable; and even though I didn't have a very clear sense of what might be in the book, I went ahead and purchased it.

I was delighted to find, when it arrived in the mail, that, even while its content was not something I am especially interested in (a long Latin treatise on the properties and situations of things), it was filled with page after page of complexly structured two-dimensional texts.

Pages 214-15, De Substantia [I love the up-side-down capital S
used in the heading of page 214!]

I have been thinking extensively for a couple of years now on how odd and interesting it is that we have an expectation that a poem, or novel, or text in general can be read aloud. And thus, I've been especially interesting in how some texts frustrate that expectation by organizing themselves in two dimensions, rather than three. Brerewood's book, to my surprise, is filled with many such examples.

On the pages shown above, we find numerous brackets and numbers, indicating various levels of subordination, and even two lines on the left hand side of p. 214 printed vertically. The brackets and layout and other visual components of the text, I believe, are actually doing part of the work here: they demonstrate relationships that readers are expected to perceive. And they do it in two dimensions.

Of course, diagrams in books have long had a similar purpose and effect, but here the text itself has diagrammatic qualities.  

At the end of the book, there are two additional tracts by Brerewood, one on meteorology and one on the eye; the latter includes two nice diagrams as well:

From Brerewood's separate work on the eye.
Books, sometimes, are to be read; there is no doubt of that. But sometimes, at least, they must also be looked at. 

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