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Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.2 (2004) 304-311
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Reinventing the Sphere:
Reading One's Way Into, Within, and Out Of Öffentlicheit
Alan T. Mckenzie
Jonathan Bate. The Song of the Earth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000). Pp. xii + 335. $33.00 cloth.
T. C. W. Blanning. The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660-1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Pp. xiii + 479. £25.00 cloth.
George Justice. The Manufacturers of Literature: Writing and the Literary Marketplace in Eighteenth-Century England (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2002). Pp. 281. $46.50 cloth.
Geoffrey Sill. The Cure of the Passions and the Origins of the English Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Pp. x + 261. £40.00 cloth.
For all the hot air that keeps it inflated, and all the cold eyes that have been cast upon it, there is still something enlarging about the public sphere. It gives scope, scale and resonance to the lives and texts of those who once frequented and wrote for it, and consequence to those who now explore their writings and interrogate their assumptions. [End Page 304]
For Habermas himself, öffentlicheit was more a category or domain than a geometric figure, and he had much more to say about its functions than its dimensions (Strukturwandel der Öffentlicheit: Untersuchung zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, 1962; The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry Into a Category of Bourgeois Society, 1991). When he does put forth a figure, it is more often the circle than the sphere—a figure that works better for salons than coffeehouses. Neither venue can have been as hospitable to "traffic" as he supposes, while the quality of "news" there cannot often have been as liberating as he insists. The public sphere "functioned" only after the bourgeoisie left their households to take the selves they had fashioned in private into it, there to converse and consult print. Habermas's poster-children were Addison, Richardson, Wilkes, and Necker.
George Justice's The Manufacturers of Literature: Writing and the Literary Marketplace in Eighteenth-Century England shows how much material (which he persists, quite convincingly, in calling "Literature") this space produced, and how well it produced it. Habermas's public filled its sphere with talk, or rather discourse, mostly of politics; the readers Justice discusses inhabit and inform more private and less geometric spaces ("niches," he calls them, 42), filling their homes, minds, conversation, and lives with books, books sold to them by those who have contrived to elevate themselves into the lofty role of "Authors."
Even though these books were the products of very material forces, they somehow elevated those who bought them into readers and thinkers, rendering them gratifyingly disinterested (19), reflective (54), and genteel (68), as well as both sincere and self-conscious. These selves can shrug off that nasty French epithet "bourgeois," which is so conspicuous a part of the öffentlicheit. Even the "truth" and "virtue" they came to love were both, though nurtured by print, genuine. Justice maintains a lucid and refreshing emphasis on human agency in the writing and reading of books, while insisting on the materiality of the transactions regulating the publication, circulation, and reviewing of these books.
The chapter on the Spectator reads Sir Roger de Coverley as a cunning combination of anachronism and modernity designed to cultivate not just more, but better, and less ideological, readers: "Rather, Sir Roger complexly prods and questions, indirectly promoting reflection through print as a technology" (54): "By his ideological nature, Sir Roger prevents ideology from playing a direct role in the Spectator" (58-59).
Alexander Pope worked more actively and selfishly than Sir Roger to elevate the status of both author and literature, without lofting them into the irrelevant aristocracy: "As a private gentleman, Pope is a superior public figure" (79). He deeds to himself and other writers of whom he approves "property . . . in Literature rather than in real estate or commercial institutions" (92). This delicate elevation into "the meritocratic aristocracy of...