On Form (the parts within books):
When these manuscripts are richly decorated—as most of them were—we call them illuminated manuscripts. The medieval period may be understood as intimated connected to bookmaking; its legacy is inseparable from the laborious copying of ancient writings and dissemination of texts. Such required innovation in language, translation, construction of books, etc. Under Charlemagne, himself illiterate, the Western world saw the greatest intellectual advance (return to its past glory?) of the middle ages (perhaps second only to the 15th c. invention of the Gutenberg Press in terms of import) with the introduction of the Carolingian Minuscule, a script, called a “book-hand,” that introduced clear uppercase letters, first contained the newly invented lower case letters, added spaces between words, and standardized overall the Roman alphabet. With this script, books could be reproduced with greater speed and more universally understood. The technical aspects of books should not be ignored—these elements can actually shed great light on the very content of the works.
Beyond the covers and titles, the first little element to hit one is often the EPIGRAPH. This is a short quote or quip, sometimes by the author, but much more commonly a quote of someone else. Their choice by authors is exceedingly intentional; much should be read into the work from what and how the epigraph reads. Cf., Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where Johannes de silentio begins with a quote from Hamann about Tarquinius Superbus, an early King of Rome, (“What Tarquin the Proud said in his garden with the poppy blooms was understood by the son but not by the messenger,” p.39 in Hannay trans.) which exemplifies indirect communication and features a father and son.
A PREFACE (Latin, prae-, before, -factum/-fari, spoken or made, borrowed into English through the Old French in the 14th c. where it mean “that opening part of sung devotions”) is written by the book’s author and typically addresses the ‘meta’ dimension of the book: how did it come to be or what gave him or her reason to write it; methods, pedagogy, or aims of the writing. (One can see these used very frequently in early Greek medical and scientific texts where they state method, but also in philosophical and literary works.) It may well end with acknowledgements of others who contributed in some way to the book, its coming to be, or to the author and thereby to the book. They are occasionally signed and dated by the author.
William Smellie begins the preface to his 18th c. work of natural history with what has become a well-cited remark on the nature and import of prefaces (read “f” as “s”):
“Every Preface, befide occafional or explanatory remarks, fhould contain not only the general defign of the work, but the motives and circumftances which induced the author to write upon that particular fubject. If this plan had been univerfally obferved, prefaces woulf have exhibited a fhort, but a curious and usfeful, hiftory both of literature and of authors”
Within Christianity, “preface” also specifically names the introduction to the central part of the Eucharist (the opening “thanksgiving” in which the priest glorifies and thanks God), hence forming the first part of the canon or prayer of consecration. However, one of the richest prefaces we will read is Descartes’ ‘preface to the reader’ in his Meditations, wherein close scrutiny of the tone tells us more about his work’s content than his introduction. Such tonal revelations should also be noted in Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous works.
(The preface’s opposite is the POSTFACE, which is a piece, typically written by the author, that follows the text; it can be like a conclusion, but typically one that stands at a distance, more a final reflection on the text, or like an appendix, concluding with information or ideas that are supplemental to the work.)
A FOREWARD is also a reflection upon the book in full (more so than just its content), but is typically written by another person besides the book’s author. They are almost always signed and dated by the forward-writer. The term in this meaning only really dates from 1842, perhaps borrowed from the German Vorwort, “preface,” yet meant to designate a difference from preface per se.
An INTRODUCTION is written by the book’s author, but addresses more closely the actual content within the book (versus reflections upon the nature or genesis or goals of the book). Such is deemed part of the book, as opposed to a part of the ‘frontmatter.’
In the tradition, a preface comes first (and, if there are multiple prefaces, the newest come first), then a foreword, then the introduction. Occasionally newer forewords will replace older forewords, but different prefaces will be kept. Where things become more confusing is in the consideration of prologues, proems/exordiums, etc.:
A PROLOGUE also is a “before” “word,” (in English, it originates in the early 12th c. from the Latin and Greek prologus) but is in between an authorial or non-authorial reflection upon the text (they may be written by the author, or added later by other writers or editors) and an introduction to the text’s content: it, more so, establishes the setting in full or theme or tone that is before what will be told in the content (sometimes a back story to characters or ideas, sometimes a prehistory, etc., sometimes epigraph-like, sometimes like a soliloquy, medievals enjoyed homilies serving as prologues). Prologues are perhaps most common in early Greek drama (esp. Euripides but can be traced back to manuscripts from the 5th c. BCE and also in Persian), although early Latin literature generally made them longer and more elaborate, esp. Chaucer’s excessive prologues, instead of one in the beginning, having many before all his stories in Canterbury Tales; Renaissance dramatic works saw fewer prologues and transformed them more to theatrical direct addresses from a character, or actor denuded of character traits, to the audience or reader (at which point they came to serve more like a text’s preface, adding a meta-reflection upon the work itself as a work).
PROEMS (Greek, pro-, before, -oimos, way or song, often prelude; in English, it roughly originates in the 14th c.) and EXORDIUMS (Latin, “beginning” or “to urge forward,” roughly originates in 16th c.) are the most confused. Often, a proem is meant synonymous with preface, although just as often serves more like an introduction, even as they are often deemed synonymous to exordiums, which equally blend aspects of the preface and introduction. Plato’s Phaedrus and Aristotle’s Rhetoric address proems as the prologue-like part of an ideal rhetorical address. Exordium are more often linked with late antique/medieval dispositios, serving as their first part and blending operations of prefaces and introductions: they come before arguments (the) and often delineate the flow of the argument, although also both reflect upon the purpose of the argument, its style and requirements, and the qualifications of the arguer (like prefaces) and the content itself (like introductions).
“Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean
by the word ‘being’?
Not at all. So it is fitting that we should raise anew the question of the meaning of being.
But are we nowadays even perplexed at
our inability to understand the
Not at all. So first of all we must reawaken an understanding for the meaning of this question”
—Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, xix.
Pre-Socratics on Various Sciences:
“For a woman to (re)discover herself could only signify, then, the possibility of not sacrificing any of her pleasures to an other, of not identifying herself with anyone in particular, of never being simply one … which for all that would not be incoherence”
--Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One, 166.