Why devote a special issue of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies to closeness and manuscript culture? What, we might ask, can the medieval period teach us about questions of technology, practice, mediation, proximity and the self that cannot be adequately addressed through an examination of the contemporary? What can medieval books teach us about the growing suite of technologies by which we now give shape to and reckon with our world?
One might reasonably imagine that there is little to be learned from our medieval ancestors. Our learned habit, when we look to the distant past at all, is to turn to the classical period for guidance and then, perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm, to the Renaissance. It is a story of genius and rediscovery, separated by a centuries-long gulf of darkness and superstition. And while for the Iberian Peninsula this story has held less influence thanks in large measure to Andalusi achievements (and those who make them known), there is yet a strong sense that a world such as ours can have no real connection to that of ibn Quzmān or Ramon Llull. The medieval world, we are told, is a centered and stable world, and God is everywhere. Ours, on the other hand, is largely unprecedented and contingent: God has vanished, only to be replaced by simultaneity, genocide, climate change, mass migration, techno-biopolitics and the theoretically endless state of exception generated by global (and intersecting) wars on drugs, poverty and terror.