Daily Archives: October 15, 2009

a few questions about Sher’s Enlightenment and the Book

I’m still working on my post on chapters one and two, but in the meantime I wanted to throw out a few opening questions in response to Eleanor’s overview of the book and its aims.  I know Rick will be chiming in at some point, but I’m hoping that others might be interested, as well:

  • from the perspective of  literary studies (as opposed to book history), the biggest surprise is the active, entrepeneurial, and editorial role of the publishers detailed here, particularly figures like Strahan and Creech, who tend to disappear when treated alongside the better-known authors they published.  We get a sense of the deliberations they made (individually and collectively), the pressures they were under, and the costs (literal and figurative) of the decisions they arrived at.  This model of author-publisher collaboration seems indispensable to me, because it can illuminate aspects of both production and reception, but where are its limits?  And how might it revise otherwise over-idealized accounts of the author in isolation, as literature, intellectual history, and certainly philosophy tend to do?  In other words, what, besides the outward form of the commodity, do the books in those appendices share?
  • if we are talking about this period’s “print capitalism” (Anderson), so to speak, can we say that there is such a thing as an Enlightenment theory of the “organization,” or better yet, “firm”?  In other words, to what extent does the ability of author-publisher collectives to work outside established institutions help them respond creatively to the demands of an amorphous, indeterminate public?  And to what extent does this model of transnational diffusion work against the nationalist histories of print?
  • it seems to me that any story of modernization and economic development in a specific time and place tends to feature both winners and losers.  So who are the losers in this story of modernization in Edinburgh and more generally, Scotland?  This seems to me to be what’s at stake in the debates over the status of Fergusson, Macpherson, and Burns, for example.