Symbolic Caxton is the first study to explore the introduction of printing in symbolic terms. It presents a powerful literary history in which the fifteenth century is crucial to the overall story of English literature. William Kuskin argues that the development of print production is part of a larger social network involving the political, economic, and literary systems that produce the intangible constellations of identity and authority. For Kuskin, William Caxton (1422–1491), the first English printer, becomes a unique lens through which to view these issues. Kuskin contends that recognizing the fundamental complexity inherent in the transformation from manuscript to print—the power of literature to formulate its audience, the intimacy of capital and communication, the closeness of commodities and identity—makes possible a clear understanding of the way cultural, bibliographical, financial, and technological instruments intersect in a process of symbolic production.
While this book is the first to connect the contents of late medieval literature to its technological form, it also speaks to contemporary culture, wrestling with our own paradigm shift in the relationship between literature and technology.
“ Symbolic Caxton is an important study of the origins of printing and print culture by North America’s leading younger scholar of William Caxton. It is an immensely learned book.” —Seth Lerer, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University
“This elegant, closely-argued study is one of the most important books to have yet appeared on Caxton and fifteenth-century English literary culture. Kuskin’s fine-grained attention to book history, his allegiance to the conceptual methodology of ‘history of the book,’ and his command of literary history all combine to reconfigure our view of early print production, patronage, commerce, and literary authority. This is a major contribution to the history of vernacular textual production and vernacular knowledge in the fifteenth century—and to media history as a whole.” —Professor Ruth Evans, University of Stirling
“There are certainly recent books on Caxton, but none that takes the literary approach used here, which is what makes this book such an important contribution to the field. It serves as a solid introduction to the subject of printing in England in the fifteenth century. William Kuskin shows how print, through a ‘logic of reproduction,’ constructs and shapes its audience.” —Maura Nolan, University of California, Berkeley
“The 2006 anthology of essays he edited, Caxton’s Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing, articulated some implications of 15th-century printing. Kuskin presents a companion volume exploring the dynamic nature of culture during the last quarter of the century, which he finds less thoroughly studied than other literary periods.” — Book News
“William Kuskin’s new study of Caxton’s career, and his significance in English literary history, grows directly from the essays assembled in his edited collection Caxton’s Trace. . . . Kuskin has read all the relevant literature and is keen to engage with it. His arguments are also enhanced with copious and appealing illustrations.” — Speculum
“Kuskin’s writing is richly associative, animated by an energetic eclecticism of reference. This wide-ranging approach is suited to the book’s goals, since the importance of considering all these aspects of books together, of uniting the material and sociocultural history of books with the critical study of the literary texts inside them, is one of Kuskin’s central contentions. It is hoped that this conceptually complex and valuable study finds an audience with both literary critics and historians.” — Renaissance Quarterly
“Kuskin’s Symbolic Caxton offers an important and thorough reading of Caxton that considers the importance of examining the historical nature of English literary culture along with the symbolic forms that same culture took as it developed.” — Arthuriana
“Thoughtful interpretation is not as common or ambitious as it should be in the studies of the history of the book or of Caxton’s work, and so Kuskin has done something useful and enjoyable. I enjoyed being made to think about capital and being made to think about the big picture in relation to Caxton. And I hope that this book inspires others to research and think in this vein.” — Studies in the Age of Chaucer