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Fever Reading

Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere

Michael Millner

Publication Year: 2012

Drawing on a rich archive of scandal chronicles, pornography, medical journals, religious novels, and popular newspapers, as well as more canonical sources, Michael Millner examines the panics and paranoia associated with "bad reading" in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the Civil War. Weaving into his analysis a model of emotion recently developed in cognitive psychology, he provides the back-history to our present-day debates about "bad" reading and shows how these debates--both in the past and in the present--are in part about the shape of the public sphere itself.

Published by: University of New Hampshire Press

Series: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

One’s personal intellectual genealogy is difficult to trace because it entails so many blindingly intense transferences as well as unconsciously influential reaction formations—often with people you know only through their books. However, one thing I do know for sure is that this book would not have been written without the flesh-and-blood help of a number of...

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pp. xiii-xxii

Perhaps it is fitting to begin by addressing the reader. After all, this is a book in large part about how books and other forms of print culture attempt to govern their readers’ relationships with books and print culture. It seems appropriate, then, to make an effort at such governance and control by telling the reader what this book is about...

Part One

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1. The Senses of Reading

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pp. 3-28

A specific instance from the reading archive will help bring into focus many of the primary concerns of Fever Reading. William Hill Brown’s early American novel The Power of Sympathy (1789) raises the question of what form reading should take in a public sphere that aspires to produce “judgment,” “knowledge,” and “reflection”—all key terms for Brown (22, 25, 27, and elsewhere). With so much at stake, reading...

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2. Good and Bad Reading in the Early United States

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pp. 29-68

Although the indictments of reading badly are often accompanied by the breathless claim that we face a new cultural pathology (a “new kind of bacillus,” as one commentator warns), there is nothing new about an anxiety associated with reading.1 From Don Quixote’s romance-induced insanity to the suicide-inducing Wertherfiebre in Goethe’s Leipzig, from...

Part Two

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3. Obscene Reading

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pp. 71-94

This chapter counterintuitively argues that obscene reading—a form of reading which first became both popular and a problem in the United States during the antebellum period—is a kind of critical practice focused on the public sphere itself. The chapter is the first of three that attempt to outline the critical agency of what has in previous chapters been...

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4. Scandalous Reading

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pp. 95-120

The long history of the scandal press—from the Renaissance “intrigue” to the chronique scandaleuse and bruit public of eighteenth-century France, the Literaturbriefe of eighteenth-century Germany, the sporting press and spy papers of nineteenth-century America, and finally, to the twentieth century’s yellow journalism, Hollywood tabloids, and their televisual equivalents—often looks like the Habermasian public sphere gone...

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5. Prayerful Reading

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pp. 121-140

Susan Sontag observes, rather surprisingly at first blush, the similarity of religious and pornographic reading:
In some respects, the use of sexual obsessions as a subject for literature resembles the use of a literary subject whose validity far fewer people would contest: religious obsession. . . . Pornography that is serious literature aims to “excite” in the same way that books which render an...

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pp. 141-146

In late November 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld boasted— with a staccato inarticulacy commonplace in the Bush Administration— about U.S. success in building a democratic Iraq:
The country is—has a free media, and they can—it’s a relief valve. They could have hundred-plus papers. There’s 72 radio stations...


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pp. 147-152


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pp. 153-168

Works Cited

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pp. 169-180


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pp. 181-188

E-ISBN-13: 9781611682441
E-ISBN-10: 1611682444
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611682427

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies