'A unique instance of art': the proliferating surfaces of early modern paper

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This article takes issue with the concept of the ‘writing surface’. It responds to Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass’s insistence that ‘the crucial quality of paper – its absorbency – eludes the dichotomy’ of surface and depth central to the idea of the book (1993: 280), but also draws attention to the manifold uses of paper that have nothing to do with writing: the modes of knowing made visible when we attend to the transformations and possibilities of the surface in, for example, papier mâché, paper medicines, and paper models. This article explores these questions in response to specific early modern instantiations of paper and its tropes, arguing that paper formed both a practical and an intellectual resource. Early moderns looked into, as well as at and through, their paper, seeing it as a remarkable material and an instance of the changeability of matter. This article opens by arguing for the close connection between paper and thought. It goes on to offer a brief account of paper manufacture and circulation in early modern England, arguing that paper was considerably more commonplace than has been acknowledged. And it concludes by outlining the natural philosophical, medical, and domestic uses of paper: an everyday wonder, an object of study and a subject of thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of the Northern Renaissance
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2017

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© 2017, The Author(s).

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