Mass Literacy and Scholarly Expertise
James W Watts [+]
The spread of literacy did not displace the social prestige of scribal expertise that was established in antiquity. The every-growing number and complexity of texts account for the continuing cultural authority of scholarly expertise. The tension between expert and non-specialist uses of texts, however, also reinforced scholars’ avoidance of the subject of iconic books and texts while drawing constant attention to semantic interpretation instead. Scholarly ignorance about iconic texts allows us to insist that a text’s real meaning lies in its semantic interpretation alone, which we are the experts at elucidating. But many of our texts mediate power and legitimacy in ways that semantic interpretation alone cannot understand, much less control.