When I was a graduate student in Arizona I lived my life in a series of small, windowless rooms: my studio apartment, my studio, and the letterpress shop at ASU. I referred to my various places as my “holes:” sleep-hole, work-hole, and type-hole, respectively. And then the other day I came across this passage in The Nature of the Book, by Adrian Johns (which is about printing & books in early modern England):
[…] A printing house, as already observed, must be represented as both private and public. One the one hand, it could not be open to all and sundry. The craft skills of the workers must remain mysterious, and it must be subject to the proper uninterrupted oversight of the master over his household. On the other, however, it must avoid being labeled “private” in the seventeenth-century sense, meaning illicit, secret, or seditious. Printers engaged in such dubious operations were said to do their printing in “holes,” or in “corners.” [Joseph] Moxon [1] defined a “hole” as “a place where private Printing is used, viz. the Printing of Unlicensed Books, or Printing of other Mens Copies.” That is, privacy immediately generated the two great evils of the trade: sedition and piracy. The notion was accordingly destined to become central to disputes over the status of printed materials. […] According to Moxon, printing in holes was lucrative and fairly common. There is reason to believe him. The Stationer’s Company certainly never lacked for spoils when it launched its periodic purges of offenders […]. Successive measures passed by both Parliament and the [Stationer’s] Company attempted to curtail such operations, […] aiming to discover “Printing-houses, and Presses erected in by-places and corners, out of the Eye of Government.” Parliament eventually ruled that printers must work only in “their respective Dwelling Houses, and not elsewhere.” […] The consequence is remarkable. It was not by chance that printing houses were set up in homes: the conjunction was formally obligatory. By corollary, a “private” press was one established anywhere but the space that society today considers archetypally private. Truth was made at home; lies emerged from holes. […] [2]

1. Joseph Moxon was the author of Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, published serially in England from 1680 – 1684.

2. Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.), 128-9.

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