Looking More Closely
I would not be the first to modify the codex. Previous repairs were evident: machine made paper and leather glued over the interior of the lower cover and flap to strengthen it; a thin thread used as reinforcement sewing. The nature of the paper and the method of application suggest that these repairs were done by an amateur in the 1950s. The cover’s leather spine was disintegrating to the point that one could see the backs of the quires and the heavy tanned leather supports. The exposed quires revealed another set of sewing holes and evidence of old adhesive, indicating that there was a previous binding, most likely the original one. This second set of sewing holes explained the incongruity of the binding with the text-block, an observation that had perplexed me from the beginning: the worn and damaged binding was historical but was not completely contemporary with the text-block.
Physical evidence of past changes draws attention to the artifact’s ongoing life. With every turn of the page or pixel shift of the screen, we must grapple with temporal syncretism. Authenticity is a moving target. What state do you seek to “restore”? Is the fifteenth century more valid than the sixteenth? The twentieth? We can have legitimate questions about each. The evidence of past practice provides a model for current and future practice, leavened with an archeology of the codex. How can we make visible as many aspects as possible of the object’s life? Centuries from now, the actions taken today will be evidence of our own historical epistemology, about which future curators and readers will hopefully be curious.