Accepted paper:

Publishing and publics in a world without print


Tyler Williams (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes the paratextual and material aspects of four types of manuscripts in two literary vernaculars— Brajbhasha and Urdu— to reconstruct a notion of what it meant to make a work ‘public’ in early modern North India, and of the type of public that these manuscripts presuppose.

Paper long abstract:

In a society like that of early modern India that deliberately resisted the technology of print, how did one make a work 'public'? How do we distinguish manuscripts copied for private or limited circulation from those intended for wider circulation? Do any of these audiences constitute what we would call a 'public'? This paper examines four types of textual artifacts— the gutka, the pothi, the bayaz and the kitab— in two literary languages, Brajbhasha and Urdu, in order to identify paratextual and material elements that signal participation (or lack thereof) in particular reader communities. The paper provides the example of two lyrical forms, the Brajbhasha pad and the Urdu ghazal, demonstrating how a single lyric could appear in multiple types of manuscripts corresponding to very different performative contexts and reader communities. These lyrics appear in the private notebooks of individuals, in the communal anthologies of religious sects, and in 'books' clearly intended for an unknown but imagined audience. Examining elements like prefatory and concluding formulae, pagination, rubrics, paper, format, marginal notations and bindings can tell us much about the type of 'imagined community' the text addresses. In this respect, the form of manuscripts tell us as much as do their contents, and the imagined audiences suggest a textual field that is much more complicated than the 'published/unpublished' distinction of print culture. This provides a foundation for reconstructing the 'book market' in the pre-colonial North, an historical object that has thus far proved elusive.

panel P33
New approaches to manuscript variations in South Asia