Mark Vareschi ~ Assistant Professor ~ Department of English ~ University of Wisconsin – Madison – e-mail
My current book project Everywhere and Nowhere: Anonymity and Mediation in Eighteenth-Century England considers the ubiquity and near invisibility of both anonymity and mediation in the publication and circulation of literature. Anonymous authorship was typical and therefore everywhere; James Raven, for example, has shown that 80% of new novels from 1750- 1790 were published anonymously. However, because anonymity is largely characterized as absence, it was also nowhere. So, too, has anonymity been consigned to “nowhere” in literary studies. Literary critics and literary historians have been generally unable to account for anonymity as anything more than a footnote or curiosity.
Everywhere and Nowhere takes the opposite tack and attends to the widespread phenomenon of authorial anonymity in the long eighteenth century. Focusing on anonymity allows the relationship between mediation and literariness to come to the fore. The literary is a complex of human, material, and verbal action whose ontological status shifts over time through processes of circulation. Anonymity is the condition under which these multiple forms of action become most evident. Mediation names these processes and the intertwining of human and nonhuman action in communication, yet, like anonymity, that mediation is taken to be invisible. In the absence of the authorial name, putatively transparent media and processes of mediation finally become visible. What is revealed when mediation comes to the fore is not simply media as passive intervening substances, but media as active agents. Part of why literature “works,” and continues to work over time, my book suggests, is because it is inherently a complex of agents and actions.