Manuel José Pedraza García, ed. Titivillus: International Journal of Rare Books

Manuel José Pedraza García, ed. Titivillus: International Journal of Rare Books, vol. I (2015). Zaragoza: Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 2015. 470p., ill. ISSN 23870915. €30.00 (paperback).

Titivillus is a fresh and new international journal devoted to the topic of rare books, a publication conceived and edited by the Department of Documentation Sciences and the History of Science of the Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain. This multidisciplinary endeavour, funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, is aimed at the field of book studies, with the purpose of spreading, at an international level, the results of research activities undertaken by relevant specialists and conducted in accordance with the highest academic standards. As it is pertinently claimed in the editorial, the current and increasing interest in the area coincides with the rise in importance and use of the digital and electronic book. Interestingly, within the framework of a general mutation of the material object into image, the old typographic text is being transformed into a virtual realm. The extended process and procedure of digitization, as a consequence of technological innovation in the educational and administrative systems, now takes precedence over the invaluable smoothness of paper as a medium, an everlasting witness of nations and cultures. No matter what, a rare book not only tells us an incredible and captivating story but also speaks of a social and economic history enacted by printers, editors, illustrators, bookbinders and librarians.

This exciting periodical is named after the “demon of scribes,” represented for the first time in Spain in a fragment of the painting La Virgen de la Misericordia con los Reyes Católicos y su familia (c. 1495), by Diego de la Cruz, preserved in the Monasterio de las Huelgas in Burgos. This famous figure patron is depicted in the right part of the image and is supposed to act on behalf of Belphegor, Lucifer or Satan to introduce errors into the work of scribes and, later, in the printing presses: Fragmina verborum Titivillus colligit horum quibus die mille vicibus se sarcinat ille (Johannes Gallensis, Tractatus de poenitentia, c. 1285). It is said that he used to visit the scriptoria every day providing an easy excuse for the errors that were bound to creep into manuscripts as they were copied. He introduced the mistakes made by the monks and typesetters in a sack, which he carried on his back. At night, he descended into hell, where all inaccuracies were registered in a book to be reclaimed on the day of the final judgement.

Behind such an evocative and exciting title lies the ambitious and meritorious intention to put forward a benchmark for the Hispanic world. Titivillus is concerned with the whole cycle of life of rare books in the widest sense, embracing manuscripts and imprints, incunabula and ephemera, paper and parchment. It broadly regards every issue related to the written world and the multiple aspects of the book (material, formal and historical), incorporating its presence in collections and libraries as well as its impact on society, economy and culture. Such a commendable initiative has to be applauded and encouraged in so far as it seeks to provide the academic community with a crucial open-access and peer-reviewed meeting point for international and specialized scientific debate.

A carefully reading of the essays collected in this first volume, which are judiciously selected and coherently assembled, is highly recommended. These articles explore the production, circulation and dissemination of the book in a variety of languages and traditions. Therefore, the textual artefact is approached not only as an extraordinary object endowed with its own life and power but also as a conceptual metaphor going beyond the social and cultural mechanism of its production. Furthermore, two integral sections of the journal (the first containing notes on scientific advances or research breakthroughs; the second, reviews of current works in the field of rare books), should contribute to the establishment of a solid publication for which I predict a promising future.

Ramón Bárcena
Universidad de Cantabria