The Work of Writing
Literature and Social Change in Britain, 1700-1830
As today's new technologies challenge the reign of writing, Clifford Siskin puts our current concerns about such change into history. In the 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain, he argues, the "new" technology was writing itself. How did its proliferation—in print and through silent reading—coalesce into the dominant forms of literary modernity, and with what consequences?
What changed, strikingly and fundamentally, were ways of knowing and of working. Admonitions against young women reading novels were not merely matters of Augustan conservatism but signals of those shifts: they warned against the capacity of the technology to change those who used it. Despite such caution, Britain saw, between 1700 and 1830, the advent of both modern disciplinarity and modern professionalism. These new divisions of knowledge and of labor were the work of writing, as was the engendering, at their intersection, of the discipline that took writing itself as its professional work—Literature.
About the Author
Clifford Siskin, author of The Historicity of Romantic Discourse, holds the Bradley Chair of English Literature at the University of Glasgow.
"Once again, Siskin has pulled it off brilliantly. I do not know how complicated the historicist's task will be ten years from now, but I am sure that Siskin will be taking it on, breaking new ground well ahead of the rest of us."
"Despite the ferociously abstract character of these subjects, Siskin is always able to exemplify and particularize."
"Siskin's already influential book goes even further, raising serious questions about the methodologies and founding principles of print-culture research."
"What is most striking about this book is its sense of the intricacy and mobility of the connections between these changing categories of knowing and working—disciplinarity, professionalism, and Literature."
"Siskin successfully relocates literature within a broader history of culture, writing, social change, economics, sociology, and communication theory."
"Siskin's book proposes an entirely original synthesis. It draws very creatively upon recent discussions in a number of disciplines, chiefly literary studies broadly conceived. The scholarship is excellent, using both primary materials and recent research to brilliant advantage."
"The Work of Writing is a deeply mature piece of scholarship involving dozens upon dozens of authors from all over the long eighteenth century. Not only is its sense of the 'textual' very broad, ranging from literature, to philosophy (which, Siskin argues, once occupied the disciplinary space that Literature does today), to economics and sociology, but in requiring that we wake up and think about enlightenment processes of cultural formation, it is itself exemplary of that process. Thinking very hard and on every page, it passes its own test in an exhilarating manner."
"The Work of Writing establishes Cliff Siskin as one of our most subtle and theoretically sophisticated scholars of Romantic cultural studies and the New Historicism. This book, breath-taking in its range, documents the growing professionalisation of writing in England in the eighteenth-century, as well as the ways in which both nationalist and entrepreneurial impulses worked to exclude women writers from the new category of 'professional writer' in the nineteenth century."
"In an enterprise strikingly termed 'dedisciplinary,' Clifford Siskin's book undertakes a daring fusion of literary and social theory. Drawing with remarkable breadth on scholarship in history and in the social sciences, Prof. Siskin aims not just to understand a group of literary texts, but to rethink on a historical basis the whole concept of literature. Meticulously detailed and closely argued in its attention to a large range of major and minor writers, to questions of the public, the nation, gender, and genre, it has had an immediate impact on Romantic studies and is essential reading for any scholar wishing to know what matters in the field today."
"This book has an audaciously grand sweep to it-Siskin appears to have read everything composed between the Restoration and Victorian England-and a vast conceptual territory-the emergence and interrelation of three central abstractions: discipline, profession, and literature. As with all of his previous work, this too effectively combines vast historical knowledge with theoretical sophistication. I know of no one else who can move so easily among Dryden, Wordsworth, and Foucault, and hold all three in rich historical relation. The results are everywhere startling."
"A tour de force that pulls together Siskin's work on Wordsworth and Austen with an extensive array of lesser known literary figures and represents them all as major players in the historical drama of professionalizing writing, a drama whose outcome determined the kind of work we now perform as literary scholars."
"Clifford Siskin's important and original new book provides a sustained and often provocative material history of writing during what some now call the long eighteenth century. He questions received wisdom on the relation of writing and work, remaining alert to the implications of his findings for our own moment of disciplinary crisis. His comments on disciplinarity and professionalism, gender and georgic, nationalism and 'novelism' should reach a wide audience."
"This powerful book is at once a contribution to theory and to the literary history of the long eighteenth century. Siskin brilliantly engages terms such as 'profession,' 'disciplinarity,' 'nation,' 'lyric,' 'novel,' and the two nouns of his title to give these words a new resonance as he maps out the profound changes that British literature and society underwent during the 18th and early 19th centuries."
"Siskin is a magnificent synthesizer, perhaps the best in the field of British Romanticism. He assimilates data from many different disciplines and puts them all together with a new clarity and economy and energy. Not only does he synopsize work in literary studies, history, sociology, and political theory, but he makes the so-called Augustan and the so-called Romantic periods cohere—a major feat. The book is as clear and as thrilling as any work in the field I have recently read."
|Johns Hopkins University Press|
Other Titles in LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Other Titles in Literature: history & criticism