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  • The Literary Market: Authorship and Modernity in the Old Regime
  • Joanna Stalnaker
Geoffrey Turnovsky , The Literary Market: Authorship and Modernity in the Old Regime (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). Pp. vi + 286. $59.95.

Geoffrey Turnovsky presents his ambitious first book as a counter-narrative to the usual story of the birth of the modern author. The standard account assumes that nothing could be more natural than for authors to assert their intellectual and economic autonomy as soon as the objective conditions of the book trade made it possible for them to do so. Yet Turnovsky contends that "accounting for these conditions is not sufficient for explaining the modernization of intellectual identities" (4). Without denying the economic realities of the book trade, he focuses instead on the symbolic field of the literary market, and on how and why images of the literary market became central to authors' quest for legitimacy during the period that spanned Corneille's Le Cid and Rousseau's Confessions. As this chronological span suggests, the account is revisionist in emphasizing continuities between early modern values and behaviors and modern authorship. Although he acknowledges his debts to Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Viala, Turnovsky has no interest in locating the first literary field. Rather, his "goal is to understand authorial modernity not in terms of a decisive break with an old culture of honnête cultural activity, but as 'modernity' took root and developed within early modern culture" (11).

Part I articulates Turnovsky's polemical reframing of the history of authorship by emphasizing the durability of the culture of honnêteté and reversing the typical causal explanation for the birth of the modern author. It is not contacts with the commercial book trade that somehow make writers modern, but rather "writers who transform their contacts with the book trade into powerful signifiers of their modernity" (18-19). Yet, in an original move, Turnovsky locates nascent images of authorial autonomy, and thus modernity, not within the literary market, but within the elite socialization of writing that was part and parcel of the culture of honnêteté. He begins with the seventeenth-century playwright Pierre Corneille, not because of the latter's "modern" interest in maintaining control over the publication and performance of his plays, but because the 1637 quarrel that erupted in response to the success of Le Cid highlighted the dilemma facing seventeenth-century writers: they could attain social prestige through writing and publishing, but only to the extent that they conformed to aristocratic social codes by rejecting or belittling those very activities. Turnovsky thus identifies an emerging field in which the book trade became integral to the quest for social legitimacy, but, significantly, this was a negatively viewed field from which writers sought to emphasize their absence. The anticommercial posturing of Corneille's detractors persisted into the Enlightenment, but in a new guise which Turnovsky terms "philosophical" publishing. The philosophes asserted their autonomy by addressing themselves to a broad, enlightened public; at the same time, their authority in the public sphere depended on their proximity to elite patrons. Philosophical publishing was thus a complex negotiation "between an abstract, idealized public and a more concrete readership of elites, in the course of which the philosophes had to adopt contradictory and equivocal postures, or at least postures that necessarily seem as such to us" (22). One of the virtues of this nuanced account is that it resolves the apparent paradox of the philosophes' "modern" attitude towards political and religious authorities alongside their "archaic" involvement in Old Regime systems of patronage. [End Page 318]

In Part II, Turnovsky questions the view that the book trade emerged during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a distinct and recognizable alternative to traditional systems of patronage. Instead, what Turnovsky calls the "literary market" took shape through the growing frustration of mid-level authors who found themselves unable to attain legitimacy through traditional means, and who thus constructed an alternative field in which to increase their social prestige. Focusing on the trope of "living by the pen," Turnovsky demonstrates that eighteenth-century authors tended not to make positive claims to authorial autonomy, but instead emphasized the impossibility of living by the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 318-319
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-13
Open Access
No
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