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Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century

, 216 pages

1 halftone

July 2018



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Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century


Books have always posed a problem of time for readers. Becoming widely available in the eighteenth century—when working hours increased and lighter and quicker forms of reading (newspapers, magazines, broadsheets) surged in popularity—the material form of the codex book invited readers to situate themselves creatively in time. Drawing on letters, diaries, reading logs, and a range of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novels, Christina Lupton’s Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century concretely describes how book-readers of the past carved up, expanded, and anticipated time.

Placing canonical works by Elizabeth Inchbald, Henry Fielding, Amelia Opie, and Samuel Richardson alongside those of lesser-known authors and readers, Lupton approaches books as objects that are good at attracting particular forms of attention and paths of return. In contrast to the digital interfaces of our own moment and the ephemeral newspapers and pamphlets read in the 1700s, books are rarely seen as shaping or keeping modern time. However, as Lupton demonstrates, books are often put down and picked up, they are leafed through as well as read sequentially, and they are handed on as objects designed to bridge temporal distances. In showing how discourse itself engages with these material practices, Lupton argues that reading is something to be studied textually as well as historically.

Applying modern theorists such as Niklas Luhmann, Bruno Latour, and Bernard Stiegler, Lupton offers a rare phenomenological approach to the study of a concrete historical field. This compelling book stands out for the combination of archival research, smart theoretical inquiry, and autobiographical reflection it brings into play.

Christina Lupton is an associate professor at the University of Warwick. She is the author of Knowing Books: The Consciousness of Mediation in Eighteenth-Century Britain.

"In Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century, Christina Lupton asks a simple and powerful question: When do we read? In this theoretically imaginative and historically grounded book, Lupton lays the groundwork for a phenomenology of reading by showing us how this question about the temporality of reading helps us understand our lives as readers anew."

"We usually think of periodicals as timely, books as timeless. Lupton's richly researched and boldly theorized account turns that assumption on its head, revealing that in the eighteenth century as today, a book was what you plan or at least hope to read, what you curse the news for depriving you of time to read, a space of deferred utopian potential."

"Lupton’s account of the personal, social, and political value of everyday time spent with, or wanted for, books draws eighteenth-century readers into company with more modern commentators on the temporality of reading as it makes visible the structures of our work and leisure. This is a clever, intimately intelligent book about everyday reading with much to say also about the value of the humanities and the terms on which we may best look to defend them for the future."

"The best of reads awaits—about making time for reading and books making time. Reading delayed, reading deferred, reading in the future, books that are never read and read at the hairdresser’s; books cut up, books abandoned. Wearing its theory and reader-autobiography with elegance and style, this book is also a glorious, elegiac love-song for codex."

"Readers have for centuries been complaining about a lack of time. But in this theoretically nuanced and archivally rich chronicle of eighteenth-century readers, Lupton shows us how books allow us to remake time in a more mindful and coherent way, where time is broken up but not broken."

"By challenging our understanding of time, this marvellously innovative study revisits the processes and resistances of past reading. Christina Lupton’s exploration of non-linear engagements with time uses recent critical and communications theory to offer an expansive and ground-breaking study of eighteenth-century reading experiences. Reading history is excitingly advanced and will not be the same again."

"What makes Lupton's thoughtful and learned new book, Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century, so interesting... is that she presents a set of exemplary readers and writers whose reflective encounters with books highlight the utility of the codex as a technique for thinking about time in its many meanings. The result is a vigorous and partially novel defense of the value of books and the humanities to a happy and meaningful life... Rather than seeing time as a scarce, homogeneous resource to be economized or optimized, Lupton invites us to follow her in seeing books as things that introduce difference, discontinuity, and even plasticity into time itself."

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