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The Tactility of Authorial Names

From: The Eighteenth Century
Volume 54, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 195-213 | 10.1353/ecy.2013.0019



In the 1760s, authorial names, far from being merely linguistic phenomena, were routinely treated as marks, which is to say, as the visible traces of a touch. Reconstructing these seemingly eccentric practices can give us an unprecedented sort of access to a then pervasive conception of authorship that has been strenuously ignored by modern scholarship, one in which authorial reputations—and the names that stood in for them—were dependent on being handled, both literally and figuratively, by others. Indeed, this tactile subjection, far from being a bad thing, was what enabled the sociable wit that still largely defined what “literature” was.