Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On Comments

We at the Reading Room would like to remind both our regular and occasional visitors that we are, indeed, an open interactive resource. Both the physical and the digital Rooms strive to provide an atmosphere of discussion which, though occasionally high-minded, often gleefully devolves into "mere conversation."

The goal of reproducing items, parts of items, and descriptions of items here is not, after all, to render obsolete the value and authority of the physical texts (whose loveliness and historical poignancy are indeed unusurpable by digital means), but to offer a daily starting point for ruminations on the breadth and sensibility of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century print cultures. To "always historicize" is, after all, always to be aware of the gulfs that lie between past consciousnesses and our own even while we are attuned to their often uncanny resonance. At no time are these competing senses of (perhaps false) distance and (often false) nearness more clearly in my mind than when I am reading a text in an early edition. I, for one, am an advocate for research in historical editions because I know no better way to position oneself as a reader in relation to a text in order to feel, as well as think, to understand it. Alas, I can't physically send each of you a Paine pamphlet or a page from Coke's Institutes each day. We go to print with the technology we have.

You'll notice that my own predilection in texts to reproduce is for passages that highlight an author's relationship to the individual reader, the contemporary era, and the concept of posterity. When I am typing out sections of text from these early editions, I am always imagining an eighteenth-century reader sitting down to open a bound Spectator or the preface to the Dictionary. I am wondering what unaccountable prejudices that reader might have had, and what reaction to these very personal introductions. Of course, I think of my own post-postmodern relationship to writing, scholarship, and self-presentation. But, most relevant to my current subject, I wonder what your reactions to these materials are. Are you, like me, trying to position yourself in a no-time outside your own subjectivity? Are you delighted by recognizable sentiments about language? Merely irritated?

Dear reader, let us draw up a contract between us two. If you give me feedback about what you would like to see here (more American? more maps? letters, music, pamphlets? more/less text/graphics?), I will attempt to comply. What I ask in return are your thoughts, in comments scholarly or not (as the Reading Room serves the curious at all levels of scholarship in their several moods). If you wonder something about the texts, perhaps a fellow reader can provide the answer. In short, if you have any particular reactions or suggestions, we'd like to know.
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