Of Woman Born: The Evolution of Pornography in Medieval Print Culture

Nota Bene

Before delving into the main body of my material, I want to take a brief detour to discuss some of the narrative style choices made for this undertaking. For those who do not know me, I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in the MA in English and Writing Professions program at Eastern Kentucky University located in Richmond, KY. This blog began in the Spring of 2021 as part of a multimodal project for one of my classes. As the name suggests, a multimodal project is one that allows for multiple types of products or outputs. Those products can take more traditional forms, such as the research paper, or they can be interactive in nature, such as a YouTube channel VLOG, Prezi, or podcast.

Such a variety of modalities is made possible because of the development of digital mediums. Like the invention of the printing press, the advent of the Internet has precipitated a revolution in the way we create and receive information. However, the most interesting effect of digital technologies could be the manner by which we engage with others. As Nicholas Carr asserts in The Shallows:

THE NET DIFFERS from most of the mass media it replaces in an obvious and very important way: it’s bidirectional. We can send messages through the network as well as receive them… But the Net doesn’t just connect us with businesses; it connects us with one another. It’s a personal broadcasting medium as well as a commercial one.

p. 85

Carr was not the first to consider the impact of revolutionary technologies on human engagement. Looking to the distant past to make sense of an unknown future, media visionary, philosopher, and communications professor Marshall McLuhan examined the transition from an aural/oral-based form of literacy to one that was, ostensibly, print-based. In his The Gutenberg galaxy: the making of typographic man, McLuhan quotes H. J. Chaytor in From Script to Print,

No one is likely to contest the statement that the invention of printing and the development of that art mark a turning-point in the history of civilisation. Not so readily appreciated is the fact that association with printed matter has changed our views of literary art and style, has introduced ideas concerning originality and literary property of which the age of manuscript knew little or nothing, and has modified the psychological processes by which we use words for the communication of thought.


The invention of printing not only affected the means by which content could be delivered, it also precipitated a corresponding shift in perceptions of self and community. Technological advances such as the printing press or the Internet force individuals to evaluate themselves in relation to the new medium.


In 1964, McLuhan crafted a phrase with which he has since been interminably associated. McLuhan might not have been aware of the long-reaching implications when he wrote, “the medium is the message,” but it can be argued that he forecasted the advent of the digital era with these words. Ironically, the very message McLuhan was attempting to communicate may have been subsumed by the pithy adage. For McLuhan, the content of a given message was less important than the mechanism used for delivery. The medium itself can have a far more potentially invasive, if not subversive impact, as he argued:

This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

Understanding Media:
The Extensions of Man, The Medium is the Message, p. 1

McLuhan died in 1980, so he could not witness the rapid development of digital technologies, the advancement of the World Wide Web, or the inception of social media. But, it is possible to understand these new mediums through the old. When McLuhan wrote,

The grammar of print cannot help to construe the message of oral and nonwritten culture and institutions.

p. 6

McLuhan appears to envision new digital media as a means for construing the older print artifacts. However, creating material for these new mediums is not a simple act of verbatim translation. As Michael Cronin argues in Translation in the Digital Age, translating is always a constrained task:

There is the external experience of limits, which is the recognition of irreducible differences in the structure and lexicon of two languages. It was these irreducible differences that greatly exercised the minds of translation scholars who were strongly influenced by the linguistics paradigm … A standard example is the use of the formal and informal second person (tu/vous, tu/Usted, du/Sie) in many European languages, and the difficulty of rendering the nuances of this usage into modern English, which has only one form of the second person singular, you. The difficulty of translation resides in having to contend with these limits and finding satisfactory or creative ways of dealing with them.


Creators in the modern era face similar difficulties when reconciling the differences between two mediums, print and the digital, which, in effect, represent two diverse linguistic systems. Each system has its own grammar and understood formal/informal elements. However, turning a print product into something ready for digital consumption can incite feelings of uncertainty in writers. At times, the new medium can be overwhelming juggernaut:

The omnipresence of online translation options, the proliferation of smartphone translation apps, the relentless drive towards automation in large-scale translation projects, the fundamental changes in literacy practices as reading migrates from page to screen, the unforgiving instantaneity of electronic communication as responses are demanded ever-changing wardrobe of digital translation props such as endlessly mutating translation memory software – all of these factors contribute to the sense that ‘this feels different’. There may have been changes before but this time, the ‘confusion is more frightening. More total.’

Introduction, Translation in the Digital Age, p. 1

I must admit to feeling total, frightening confusion at times when approaching this project. However, unlike previous endeavors, I am not translating a priorly printed (is a Google document print?) work into a digital format. This research project was always going to be digital, which is why I consider the end result to be something more closely resembling a transcreation. According to Digital.gov,

Transcreation is a relatively new term that blends the words translation and creation. In a nutshell, transcreation involves taking a concept in one language and completely recreating it in another language. A successfully transcreated message (either written or visual) evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language, but in a way that resonates with the target audience.


How might a transcreation differ from its print cousin? For me, it begins with tone, or voice. I am a product of an educational system that views the formal academic voice as something almost sacrosanct. In that arena, the first person I or second person You are verboten. But, such formality creates a barrier between myself and my audience, which only serves to derail any sense of bidirectionality to which Carr alludes.

Writing in this more familiar manner, directly addressing my audience (whoever that might be aside from my professor, best friend, or sister — HI SUBSCRIBERS!), adding hypertexts–all of these were facets of digital production that initially felt unnatural to me. However, the further I delved into this project, the more I realized could be accomplished. And, much of what is possible through digital media would not be possible through a traditional research paper.

End note.

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