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Abstracts 100.3–4

Mark Vareschi, “Lockean Persons, Data Bodies: Metaphor and Dataveillance”

This essay considers the intellectual and rhetorical origins of contemporary forms of surveillance that seek to observe the flecks of identity captured in digital spaces and assembled as the data body. I site these origins in John Locke’s discussion of memory in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) and the metaphorical language on which his account of memory depends. These metaphors, in turn, inform Locke’s theory of personal identity offered in the second edition of the Essay (1694), which relies on memory for the continuity of the personal self. Locke’s discussion of memory primarily draws on media for inscription for its metaphors. The conceptual work these metaphors do make possible ideas like the transference of persons across different bodies, much like a hard disk may be installed in different computer systems. Locke theorized a disembodied subject rooted in memory to answer questions about the nature of identity after death and resurrection; the afterlife of that theory, and its rhetorical underpinnings, are woven into the fabric of contemporary surveillance from the banality of a shopper’s loyalty card to the deadly workings of US intelligence.

Anne C. Vila, “Convulsive Theatrics in Eighteenth-Century France, from the Convulsionnaires to the Secular Stage”

This article examines the so-called convulsionnaires of eighteenth-century France, a strange but influential fringe group of the persecuted reform movement within Catholicism known as Jansenism. It follows one particular thread in the story of the convulsionary movement’s cultural entanglements: theatrics, broadly construed. I begin by reconstructing the mission underlying the Work of the Convulsions, including the functions attributed to sensibilité, spectacle, and dramatic effect. I then consider the rhetoric of theatricality which anti-convulsionist theologians and doctors used to discredit the Convulsionaries—and the ways in which that rhetoric was borrowed back by critics who disliked the “convulsive” acting style popular in secular theater. I end with a look at Voltaire’s curious role in the popularization of that style, and the equally curious, veiled manner in which he responded to the Convulsionaries through an Orientalist tragedy, Le Fanatisme, ou Mahomet le prophète (1741).

Janet Sorensen, “‘As the Vulgar Call It’: Henry Fielding and the Language of the Vulgar”

Eighteenth-century Britain saw efforts to establish a national vernacular in print. The dictionaries and novels that helped institutionalize that vernacular were sometimes wide-ranging and inclusive in their approach. This article situates the work of Henry Fielding within this context and argues that Fielding, particularly in his Jonathan Wild and “Modern Glossary” resists such efforts. The article tracks Fielding’s response to contemporary narrative techniques representing fictional character and his use of verbal irony to illuminate the terms of his rejection of the idea of an inclusive print vernacular that might represent the nation.

David Alff, “Samuel Johnson: Infrastructuralist”

This essay investigates Samuel Johnson’s ideas of public works, undertakings for the common good that became a basis and benchmark for collective life in eighteenth-century Britain. An enthusiastic arbiter of everything, Johnson drew upon his faculties of criticism to treat works no merely as sensuous objects or partisan metonyms, but events that occasioned and affirmed society’s judgment. I argue that Johnson’s evaluation of works in texts ranging from the Life of Richard Savage to The History of Rasselas can help us not only appreciate his contributions to the discourse today called infrastructuralism, but also discern from the vast Johnsonian corpus a blueprint for applying the tools of literary analysis to the study of infrastructures past and present.

Bradford Q. Boyd, “The Highland Tour through the Spectacles of Books: Johnson, Pastoral, and Improvement in Late-Georgian Scotland”

Contrary to received opinion, Samuel Johnson does not dispatch but instead revives the pastoral mode in English as, prior to the sixteenth century, normatively practiced and theorized. He achieves this improvement by a self-conscious return to sources, valorizing and reactivating the mode’s specifically Greco-Roman tonal and thematic repertoire, in particular the ironized characters, religious traditionalism, and skepticism of “schemes of political improvement” of Theocritus’s Idylls and Vergil’s Eclogues. This Johnsonian revaluation operates both in theory – in Rambler and other essays and individual Lives of the Poets which purge pastoral of its Renaissance-era romance accretions – and in practice: Johnson’s own imaginative writing, dating back to boyhood but expressed most clearly in passages of pastoral (and georgic) prose in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and in the Latin poems that he wrote from Skye.

Robert Markley, “‘Where the climate is unkind, and the ground penurious’: Johnson and the Alien Ecologies of the Highlands”

In this essay, then, I argue that Johnson’s characteristic skepticism extends to eighteenth-century efforts to treat the world, as John Locke does, as a storehouse of endlessly exploitable value open to human labor and ingenuity. In his Second Treatise, Locke describes the Golden Age of abundance by invoking an image of a wilderness waiting to be exploited: “in the beginning, all the World was America.” In contrast, Johnson turns the “barrenness” of the Highlands into a metonymic extension of world that resists the interlocking ideologies of bucolic retreat, georgic improvement, and the visionary productivity that underwrite fictions of English national identity. Rather than treating “all the World” as “America,” Johnson strips the world of its stocks of exploitable resources by reimagining it in the images of “barren hills” and treeless islands. In this respect, his Journey bypasses the arguments of Scottish advocates for planting trees in the Highlands and focuses instead on a metropolitan skepticism of agricultural and arboricultural improvement.