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Fleshing out the text: The transcendent manuscript in the digital age

Elaine Treharne
Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd

A medieval manuscript or document was crafted from the scraped and prepared skin of an animal, written upon with inks made from oak gall or crushed insects by the hand of a scribe who sometimes found the task spiritually inspiring, though physically arduous. The manuscripts were bound together with linen threads, often meticulously constructed and executed, but are now metaphorically dismembered for critical editions and academic studies, or literally broken up for digitization by expert scholarly teams, or for resale by unscrupulous booksellers. The textual object, though – the codex, document or remnants of codices – represents in its actual, real-world embodiment one of the most corporeal, fleshy and intimate links to peoples and cultures from centuries past. This article will seek to consider the bodies of books, their fleshy wholeness (even as fragments or single-leaf documents), and the ways in which their heft, their voluminousness and their textual potential are elided by modern scholarly techniques and representations.