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Knowing Books

The Consciousness of Mediation in Eighteenth-Century Britain

By Christina Lupton

Publication Year: 2012

The eighteenth century has long been associated with realism and objective description, modes of representation that deemphasize writing. But in the middle decades of the century, Christina Lupton observes, authors described with surprising candor the material and economic facets of their own texts' production. In Knowing Books Lupton examines a variety of eighteenth-century sources, including sermons, graffiti, philosophical texts, and magazines, which illustrate the range and character of mid-century experiments with words announcing their status as physical objects. Books that "know" their own presence on the page and in the reader's hand become, in Lupton's account, tantalizing objects whose entertainment value competes with that of realist narrative.

Knowing Books introduces these mid-eighteenth-century works as part of a long history of self-conscious texts being greeted as fashionable objects. Poststructuralist and Marxist approaches to literature celebrate the consciousness of writing and economic production as belonging to revolutionary understandings of the world, but authors of the period under Lupton's gaze expose the facts of mediation without being revolutionary. On the contrary, their explication of economic and material processes shores up their claim to material autonomy and economic success. Lupton uses media theory and close reading to suggest the desire of eighteenth-century readers to attribute sentience to technologies and objects that entertain them.

Rather than a historical study of print technology, Knowing Books offers a humanist interpretation of the will to cede agency to media. This horizon of theoretical engagement makes Knowing Books at once an account of the least studied decades of the eighteenth century and a work of relevance for those interested in new attitudes toward media in the twenty-first.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v

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pp. vii-xi

I began thinking about this book in England in the mid-1990s. In those days my interest in self-conscious literature led me to fairly well defined places. The reflexive play that made writing self-conscious revealed how language worked as a set of constructed meanings and conventions, and self-conscious fiction exposed the operation of narrative: Miguel de Cervantes, Laurence Sterne, and ...

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Introduction: Giving Power to the Medium

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pp. 1-20

In 1766, Evan Lloyd published at his own cost "The Powers of the Pen," a poem satirizing the mid-century market in literature. Lloyd presents readers mindlessly clamouring after sentimental tales, life histories, novels, and religious writing, and authors egged on by poverty and mercenary booksellers to produce these forms as efficiently as possible. In this energetic world of ...

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Chapter 1: Powerlessness as Entertainment

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pp. 21-46

In the years before and immediately after Tristram Shandy appeared, a significant number of lesser-known but equally self-conscious novels were published. Most of these contain only moderately interestingly romances, adventures, and life narratives. But they are framed and delivered by well-characterized narrators possessed of the disarming power to describe the flaws of novel ...

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Chapter 2: What It-Narratives Know About Their Authors

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pp. 47-69

In 1770, after reading Charles Johnstone's Chrysal, Adventures of a Guinea (1760), one of the century's most popular and extended it-narratives, Henry Mackenzie summed up the experience as being "like looking on a collection of dry'd serpants; one trembles at the idea of life in Creatures so mischievous to man."1 Mackenzie’s response captures the way speaking coaches and coats ...

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Chapter 3: The Theory of Paper

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pp. 70-94

While the last two chapters have described the bootstrapping operation of texts that invent an autonomy for themselves by dwelling on their reception and production, this one is concerned with texts that seem to have a more solid material referent: paper. The philosophical texts I discuss here all try to know the ground on which they are written. "This paper," which Hume and ...

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Chapter 4: Sermons Written on the Screen of Print

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pp. 95-121

As the last chapter suggested, one of the things that has made paper visible in the twenty-first century is what Derrida calls its "withdrawal" from the scenes of writing and reading.1 In place of the reality of paper, we are left, Derrida argues, with its figurative legacy. His point coincides with the case made more empirically by media theorists for the way the book and the letter ...

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Chapter 5: Gray and Mackenzie Printing on the Wall

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pp. 122-150

John Wilkinson, the second of these writers, accompanied his name with a small picture of himself, adding to the sense that these words protest against rather than announce the window cleaning. There are other things that make these inscriptions worth looking at: repetition suggests that the second two writers rely on the first inscription as their template, unsure of the words' ...


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pp. 151-168


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pp. 169-180


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pp. 181-182


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pp. 183-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205213
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243727

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Material Texts