Printing Publics

Paul Yachnin


     1. The four essays in this issue demonstrate with great intelligence and creativity the utility of a theory of public making for understanding the social and political dimensions of works of art and intellect in early modernity. Except for Edward Test's account of a "botanical public," which is not focused on the formal features of the texts it studies, the essays also make clear the value of "publics" theory as an interpretive approach able to open up multifaceted texts from the inside-out, to quote Kris McAbee (¶ 9). The essays focus on different kinds of printed texts, including verse miscellanies, sonnet sequences, works of botanical science, and a tract that is at once devotional, confessional, and fatherly. The authors of the essays are interested in what poetry, herbals, or admonitory confessions can do in social terms as well as what they might mean in themselves. They are interested in the ideological content of the practices that foster and are fostered by print publication as much as they are interested in the ideological content of particular printed texts. Their work shows how the practices of writing, printing, publishing, selling and buying books, reading, conversing, and responding are formative of new kinds of association among people, many of them commoners who would not ordinarily have had robust public lives. They follow thinkers such as Michael Warner, the members of the Making Publics (MaPs) Project, and Jürgen Habermas himself by calling these new forms of association "publics," a complex term well worth our careful attention.1 To think about printed texts as able to make publics and thereby able to expand the forms of public expression, space, and identity available to early modern cultural producers and consumers, is to begin to move decisively beyond the neo-Foucauldian account of culture as something ruled by a relentless internal logic -- to the exclusion of individual and collective agency -- that has dominated literary studies for the past thirty years.2

     2. The four essays draw on and extend the work that Richard Helgerson began so auspiciously, both as one of the founding members of the MaPs project as well as in his path-breaking book, Forms of Nationhood, whose publication preceded the start of MaPs by more than a decade.3 On a visit to Montreal for what would be his last meeting with the research team, Helgerson remarked that he had been writing about publics before the group had come together and before we had decided upon "publics" as our key term. Indeed, the Nationhood book, though focused on nation-building rather than on the making of multiple publics, is a brilliant account of how groups of people gather around particular kinds of made things and areas of intellectual and artistic interest, how they make those things, interests, and themselves public, and how they develop particular ensembles of practices, canons of texts, common languages, and bodies of shared knowledge. The essays follow Helgerson's example by showing how texts and images -- made public by print publication, sale, written response, re-use, rewriting, and movement from hand to hand and even continent to continent -- are able to make new forms of public space, language, and individual and collective identity. The essays also make excellent use of an idea of culture that is implicit throughout Helgerson's work, which is that culture is primarily processual rather than structural, a mode of change rather than a principle of stasis. Since culture, on this account, is always being made by individual and collective producers and consumers, their making of and partaking in cultural products can be reconceived as forms of social action. Such a view allows us to recapture the early meaning of the word "culture," which, as Raymond Williams pointed out some time ago, was at first primarily a noun of development, nurture, or making: "Culture in all its early uses was a noun of process: the tending of something, basically crops or animals. . . . From [the early sixteenth century] the tending of natural growth was extended to a process of human development . . . Thus More: 'to the culture and profit of their minds'; Bacon: 'the culture and manurance of minds.'"4

     3. By developing an account of writing, publishing, and reading as processes of individual and collective cultivation and as interventions in the traditional divisions between the private and public (more about that below), the essays help us see printed literature, broadly defined, as an indirect form of social action. My task is to engage critically with the essays, to put them in productive dialogue with each other, and to use that critique and conversation in order to advance our understanding of the cultural and social agency of print publication in more general terms. We need to ask, just what kind of social action do these texts perform? What theoretical, historical, and critical models and methods will serve best to develop a history of print and publicity? In what follows, I will try to answer these questions by looking at three areas of concern that are featured variously in the essays. These are (1) publics and "the public"; (2) privacy and publicity, under which heading may be subsumed questions about gender and social rank; and (3) the agency and movement of texts.5


Publics and "The Public"

     4. Much work on the history of print literature takes at face value the claim, often found near the start of pamphlets and books, that the work in question is addressed to the world, the nation, or all mankind. Hugh Peter's A Dying Fathers Legacy to an Onely Child, which is the subject of Katharine Gillespie's essay, begins with an innovative promise about the text's universal influence:

Yet his last breathings shall, like incense hurled
On sacred alters, so perfume the world
That the next will admire and out of doubt
Revere the torchlight which this age put out.6

Just as Hugh Peter's "last breathings" cannot have fulfilled the promise to "perfume the world" (they reached only perhaps a readership of several thousand in the late seventeenth century and left whole groupings and classes of people untouched), so printed texts have actual readerships that are limited even though they routinely address themselves to some entity commensurate with "the public." "The public," Warner tells us, "is a kind of social totality. Its most common sense is that of the people in general. It might be the people organized as the nation, the commonwealth, the city, the state, or some other community. . . . But in each case, the public, as a people, is thought to include everyone within the field in question."7 The public or the public sphere is an indispensable and powerfully influential idea -- a way of conceiving of the social world, rather than a measurable reality. The idea of "the public" or "the world" motivates public making since it provides individual writers with a promise that they might achieve boundlessness or even immortality and since it offers groups of people a picture of themselves as boundlessly inclusive and influential. As Nancy Fraser has argued, claims such as "my speaking or publishing is addressed to the public" or "this is the space of public exchange and debate" can also be subtle forms of domination, by which certain groups of people make their social dominion seem natural or even seem like the realization of egalitarian liberation.8 All this is not to say that we are precluded from speaking about society as the total sum of people, things, discourses, and practices that exist within a particular demarcated space (say London or England) at a particular time (early modern or early seventeenth century); but it is to insist that when we use the term "the public" to denominate this social totality, we misrepresent the plural, contestatory, exclusionary character of any society as if it were an inclusive space for conversation among people who are assumed to be able to speak a common public language with more or less equal authority.

     5. Another way to think about this question is in terms of spatiality and visibility. Traditionally, the space of the public has been characterized as unified and uniform -- an open, visible, inclusive space in which people engage in what Habermas calls "rational-critical debate."9 Hannah Arendt makes explicit the idea of heightened visibility: "It is the space of appearance in the widest sense of the word, namely, the space where I appear to others as others appear to me, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things but make their appearance explicitly."10 In her discussion of Hugh Peter's Legacy, Gillespie speaks about the "public sphere" as if it were a virtual place into which Peter could enter on the strength of his authorship of the text he wrote to his daughter when he was in prison awaiting execution. We are told at the start of the essay that "[a] fairly stable consensus has emerged around the idea that a public sphere developed in England during the revolutionary and republican eras of the mid-seventeenth century rather than in the eighteenth century as Habermas claimed" (¶ 1). Since the Habermasian "bourgeois public sphere" of the eighteenth century has been subject to rigorous historical and theoretical objections, it is best not to adopt the idea for our period without the most careful reconsideration and reframing.11

     6. By endorsing a theory of publics, we jettison the idea of a totalized public space in which the significant discoursing of the whole community is imagined to take place. Where there was "the public," there is instead a congeries of publics. "A public sphere," Craig Calhoun says, "comprises an indefinite number of more or less overlapping publics, some ephemeral, some enduring, and some shaped by struggle against the dominant organization of others."12 The space of public life on a grand scale may accordingly be imagined as a contact zone where different publics encounter each other, but irregularly, unpredictably, and at odd angles. Publics may come into conflict because they are competing for customers or resources; but their struggles as well as their alliances are founded primarily in their working assumption that they are competing for the attention and approval of "the public," a totality that is conjured into existence on the strength of each public's address to "the world" and each one's aspiration toward growth. What has been called the public sphere is, in this view, a misrecognition of the jostling interactivity of publics that develop differing, competing forms of public expression, knowledge, and action. But the misrecognition itself is telling since the idea of "the public" is formative of individual publics; they bend their address toward the commonweal as it is traditionally understood even though their actual membership remains sectoral.

     7. The adoption of an idea of the public sphere in Gillespie's essay is to a degree merely part of the set-up for what emerges as a deeply insightful analysis of how the Legacy negotiates its own conditions of public utterance and authority by privileging categories usually associated with the private, including womanliness, retirement from pubic life, and spiritual cultivation. But the use of the Habermasian model also imposes a substantial limitation because it seems to answer the question, "what was the social and political influence of the Legacy?" while in fact it does not address that question but simply assumes the answer. If there were a space called "the public sphere" into which texts and their authors could enter and thereby take part in debates about matters of public concern, and if the Legacy did take its place in such a space, then we might be able to see just how Hugh Peter challenged and changed the public world of his time. But there are good historical and theoretical reasons to doubt the existence of an early modern public sphere; and even if there were such an open, visible space for debate, it is not at all clear that the Legacy found its way there.

     8. To put aside the idea of the text in the public sphere, the hugely appealing picture of authors speaking by way of print to the whole polity or the wide world (think of Milton's sonorous voice in Areopagitica), is to begin to grasp how radical and challenging is the theory of publics. It requires a new understanding of writing and publication as socially meaningful practices, and it calls for a recognition that writing -- not to mention theatrical performance, painting, or music-making -- can have a weighty, formative public life that is not necessarily directly political. O'Callaghan opens the way for that kind of rethinking of the public life of art when she comments on the range of issues made public by print in the period: "the various and often overlapping publics that emerged during this period were not only formed around political and religious issues but were also concerned with pressing cultural questions as is evident in the late Elizabethan 'Poetomachia', as Thomas Dekker termed it, or the 'poets' wars'" (¶ 5).

     9. It is possible, however, to frame publics theory even more radically than O'Callaghan is doing in her essay; after all, the "pressing cultural questions" prosecuted by the warring poets sound as if they are different in degree rather than in kind from the political and religious issues that are the usual stuff of traditional public debate. Public-making discourse and practices might operate in more diffuse and less direct ways as well as by addressing the grand public as defined by the social elite. Test does not develop an account of the "botanical public" in these terms -- indeed he does not say as much as he might about why it makes sense to call this network of people, plants, and texts a public -- but it is nevertheless possible to see how they do make a public. The traffic in samples, new information about plants (including information imported from the Americas), and texts; the movement of people; and the development of a scientific methodology-and all of these features belonging to an increasingly self-aware group of amateur botanists -- introduced significantly new forms of knowledge and knowledge-making into the European "public sphere," one that contested, as Test shows, older, bookish knowledge about nature. On this account, the botanists, plants, herbalist writings, drawings, and publications, and the new botanical knowledge are well described as a public; they gathered themselves together in the process of "coming out" to the (notional) public; and by that association (a word whose primary meaning is "the action of combining together for a common purpose" -- OED), they also influenced and changed the broader social field in indirect as well as, no doubt, in direct ways.

     10. It is important therefore to understand the plural and multiform nature of public space, and necessary also to take account of the multiple kinds of expression that take place within this aggregation of spaces. We miss something fundamental about the formation of public life around works of art and intellect if we fold their various practices into an account of particular rational debates about matters of public concern, just as we mistake their nature if we view them as outside of politics altogether.


Privacy and Publicity

     11. Gillespie and McAbee are particularly interested in how printed texts deploy ideas about publicity and privacy, often in innovative ways, as a central feature of their public making. O'Callaghan also discusses privacy and publicity, but it is less a focal point in her wide-ranging essay than it is in Gillespie and McAbee. Gillespie's centre of interest, as we have heard, is Hugh Peter's moral and spiritual advice to his daughter, which, she says, made "a new sort of public with his daughter: a small and intimate 'private public'" (¶ 5). A Dying Fathers Last Legacy to an Onely Child is a fatherly book of Christian counsel and also, implicitly, an apologia pro vita sua by a man who had been condemned to death and widely reviled for treason and regicide. For the author, the text must have been very complexly private and public -- addressed directly to his daughter, implicitly to his few supporters as well as to his many enemies, and beyond that to potential readers outside his range of knowledge (including the readers of the future). And beyond these present and anticipated readers as well as underlying both the direct and implied addressees is the sublimely coupled publicity and intimacy provided by a divine auditor, which is an important feature of Christian publication at least as far back as Augustine's Confessions and an aspect of early modern public-making writing often underestimated by modern historians of publicity.

     12. The prospective book-buyer and the wished-for boundless market for printed books determine the character of the public projected by the published text. The preliminary material in the printed version represents the text's public in terms tellingly different from Peter's written tract in itself (in as much as it can be prised apart from the printed text). The title puts an enabling distance between the author and the book-buyers, who are implicitly invited to overhear "A father" offering advice to "his daughter." The title-page also frames the text historically, even recounting the actual, poignant presentation of the written original: "Written by his own hand, during his late imprisonment in the Tower of London, and given her a little before his death." All this intimacy is being staged, we might say, for the person browsing in the book-seller's shop. The text projects a "private public" different from the father-daughter relationship internal to the text, a "private public" characterized by its collective and individual capacity to witness and judge. As noted above, the poem beneath the author's portrait on the frontispiece claims the world as the text's readership. The epistle, in contrast, is addressed to a single, unnamed person -- "The Impartial Reader." Taken together, these aspects of the paratext can be seen to be imagining an ever-expanding public of individual readers.

     13. Print disciplines and organizes the multifarious readership of the written original by projecting a public of private readers. By buying and reading the book, or simply by reading it, I become the "impartial reader" conjured by the epistle and my response is joined to those of countless other individuals (their countlessness is part of the point) who have also elected to become judging readers of this text. Warner gets the rhetorical strategy exactly right (note that he is talking here about print and electronic publication more than about actual speech-making):

Public speech can have great urgency and intimate import. Yet we know that it was addressed not exactly to us but to the stranger we were until the moment we happened to be addressed by it. . . . To inhabit public discourse is to perform this transition continually, and to some extent it remains present to consciousness. Public speech must be taken in two ways: as addressed to us and as addressed to strangers. The benefit of this practice is that it gives a general social relevance to private thought and life. Our subjectivity is understood as having resonance with others, and immediately so.13

     14. McAbee's study of Michael Drayton's sonnet sequence Idea's Mirrour (1594; revised and republished as Idea in 1599) introduces an important new element, that of exclusion, into our discussion of how print publication makes a public of private persons. Publics are made not only by projecting an open-to-anyone grouping of individuals around a particular art form, or social, political, or religious concern, but also by excluding certain other people -- the wrong kind, philistines, those who just don't understand poetry, theatre, scientific inquiry, or (for instance) the Family of Love's Christian communism. So McAbee describes the "sonneteering public" after the fashion of a counterpublic in that its membership is expressly limited by its discursive practices and because it is defined against what is construed as the dominant culture. "Sonnet culture," she says, "first imagines the public -- the public sphere that rejects, critiques, or misunderstands the efforts of the sonneteer -- and, in so imagining, defines itself as a public -- a specific subset community of relative strangers, posited against the outside world, who come together in the inspiration, composition, and circulation of sonnets among fellow poets as well as other consumers of verse" (¶ 2). The tendency of sonnet-writers to define themselves and their fit audience as radically private, inward persons against the public yields the fine irony that McAbee describes as an "aggregating community of loners" (¶ 12).

     15. The (notional) exclusion of others as one feature of public-making practice is intensified by print. Commercially available printed books have potentially such a wide and indiscriminate readership that it serves the authors and/or publishers of printed texts to posit a group of unworthy outsiders in order to enhance the exclusive appeal of their products. The outsiders are routinely cast as worldly people (as they are by Drayton), the insiders as private people -- often persons with no claim to or little investment in high public standing as well as persons with robust interior lives. In one of the founding texts of the literary public of private persons (Essais, 1580; English translation, 1603), Michel de Montaigne plays shrewdly with the principle of exclusion by pretending to be a private person and by excluding himself from any public that would be foolish enough to gather around his book:

Reader, lo! Here a well-meaning book. It doth at the first entrance forewarn thee that in the contriving the same I have proposed unto myself no other than a familiar and private end. I have no respect or consideration at all, either to thy service or to my glory. . . . I have vowed the same to the particular commodity of my kinfolks and friends: to the end, that losing me (which they are likely to do ere long), they may therein find some lineaments of my conditions and humors, and that by that means reserve more whole, and more lively foster the knowledge and acquaintance they have had of me. . . . Thus, gentle reader, myself am the groundwork of my book. It is then no reason thou shouldst employ thy time about so frivolous and vain a subject.14

On the face of his account, his intended readership is small and well known to him, only his kinfolks and friends, and indeed he tells the person who is leafing through the new publications in the stationer's shop not to waste her valuable time (or money) on such a "frivolous and vain" book. The private world of intimacy with others and oneself is pulled into the teeming, anonymous public domain by dint of the book-trade, both by means of the technology of printing and by the practices of book-selling, which include wide distribution in the original language (and also translation into other tongues, which permits even wider distribution). The private life of the individual writer also enters the public world since the promise of intimacy becomes a selling feature of the publication. If, in the teeth of the warning brandished in the epistle, the prospective book-buyer still wishes not to be excluded from the intimate readership imagined by the author and seeks instead to join the private public projected by the text, she will have to defy the author's advice against buying the book and will also have to violate the privacy of the book itself by taking part in the commercial transactions that threaten to make Montaigne's personal book a mere object of public knowledge.15

     16. The printed texts of the period (and also performed texts such as Hamlet) play exuberantly with the categories of privacy and publicity. Moreover, since the two categories are mutually constituting, such play serves also to enhance both the private and public domains of identity and activity. Michael Bristol comments, "Descartes's discovery of his own interiority proceeds from a prior awareness of exteriority, the sense that one's public self is just a mask concealing or protecting, to use Hamlet's words, "that within which passeth show" (1. 2. 85).16 The deepening of both private and public and the elaboration of the relationship between them are of a piece with the emergence of publics, since publics, as Gillespie and McAbee's accounts suggest, are characteristically public-private hybrids.

     17. If we want to understand how publics reassemble the relationship between the domains of private and public and why that reassembling is socially and politically meaningful, we have to go back to Habermas' brilliant insight into the crucial interactivity of privacy and publicity in the formation of what he characterizes as the modern public domain, an event that he locates in the eighteenth century. The "bourgeois public sphere," he says, is "the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves."17 He grounds modern publicity itself in domestic life and the private experience of reading: "The sphere of the public arose in the broader strata of the bourgeoisie as an expansion and at the same time completion of the intimate sphere of the conjugal family . . . and as the subjectivity of the privatized individual was related from the very start to publicity, so both were conjoined in literature that had become 'fiction.'"18 It is important to note that the primary meaning of the word "private" in the early modern period (a meaning still current in modern English) had mainly to do with "privation" rather than with the authority and value of untrammeled inwardness. This privative meaning of "private" is well captured by how Antony petitions Octavius Caesar to allow him to leave public life and to live out his natural days as a nobody: "To let him breathe between the heavens and the earth, / A private man in Athens."19 In Antony's case, the privative life of a private man records a social distinction and also marks the threshold of humanity itself, since a life reduced to "breath[ing] between the heavens and the earth" is the life more of an animal than of a man.20

     18. Publics in early modernity could augment and refashion the public sphere because they were able to introduce increasing numbers of "private" persons into public space, speech, and action by inviting them to take part in forms of association that were both public and not public -- public in the sense of being open to strangers and oriented, if fitfully, toward political matters; and not public because of the non-purposiveness of their political dimension and because of their distance from what counted as real public speech and action in early modern society -- real public speech and action having to take place within a sphere defined largely by the social elite. Early modern publics were thus easier of access than was the public sphere itself. But publics were not merely gathering places for those excluded from public life on a grand scale. Importantly, publics contested the exclusionary nature of early modern publicity itself. They were able to do this because publics then as now retain an aspiration toward growth and public action (if they did not aspire to broader public relevance and membership, they would of course resemble private clubs). Publics, we might say, have the capacity to pass in and out of the state of publicity; it is precisely this shiftiness or hybridity vis-à-vis the realms of the private and public that allows publics to reshape the public sphere. Publics in early modern Europe enhanced the meaning and experience of private life and contributed to a formative change in the relationship between the private and the public by binding them together in a new complex interrelationship.

     19. Now we can see how the play with privacy and publicity in sonnet sequences or advice books (or Montaigne's Essais or Hamlet) might have exercised a diffuse but deep political influence. The reformulations of the language of privacy and publicity are part of how these texts make publics. The new words, new definitions, and new relationships among words in existing lexicons provide print publics with specific ways of representing themselves and the world. These texts are not usually directly political, but they develop special languages that take part in their public making and that also change the verbal landscape of early modernity and thereby change the conditions under which politics are done. Hugh Peter draws on traditional language about womanly nurture, the individual Christian's relationship with God, the Puritan critique of "the worldly self," and, of course, the familial, private relationship between father and child in order to assert -- in public -- the preeminence of the private as the ground of a life worth living over against a public sphere figured weirdly and memorably as a "sea of glass," a glistening and fatal kind of place. Sonneteers like Drayton invent new poetic forms as well as new words and ways of using words. As McAbee shows, the language of sonnets had from the inception of the form in thirteenth-century Italy a dialogical, centripetal character that served well to make a public knit together by shared knowledge, reading and writing competence, as well as literary taste. Drayton turned these inherited qualities of the form toward the project of making himself a public figure on the strength of his poetic talent, emotional authenticity, and intelligence as a private person; and his sonnet sequence (or, more precisely, the sequential publication of revised versions of his sequence) contributed to the creation of a sonnet public.

     20. As O'Callaghan makes clear, it is the innovative form of printed books as well as their experiments with language and style that contributed to their public-making rearrangement of public and private. First of all, however, she makes the valuable observation (by way of a critique of Lake and Pincus' idea of "episodic publics") that while print and other forms of publication, including performance, might become more prominent and plentiful at moments of political stress, yet these episodes of increased publication could foster readerly competence and awaken a taste for more of the same kinds of publication. Quite apart from the shifting purposes of the social elite, therefore, the pace and shape of printed texts had also a base in a broad popular readership created by print publication itself.

     21. The miscellany was one kind of text that readers learned to read and value. O'Callaghan makes a case for how the miscellanies themselves fomented public making by modeling it at the level of form:

The miscellany is an example of the way the space of the book functions as a meeting-place for various readerships. The socioliterary world of the 'gentle' classes was invoked by the bookseller Henry Disle in his dedicatory epistle to The Paradise of Dainty Devises (1576) addressed to Sir Henry Compton, and accompanied by Compton's coat-of-arms on the facing page. Disle took care to advertise that the printed book originated from a manuscript book of verse "penned by divers learned Gentlemen, and collected together" by its now deceased gentleman-compiler, Richard Edwards, and was originally intended for his "private use." The 1585 edition, now published by Edward White, removed Compton's arms and the dedication, and replaced it with the list of authors originally on the title-page. With no "gentleman" reader specified, the miscellany was now openly addressed to a more "general," albeit literate reader. The gathering of texts in the miscellany foregrounds the complex status of the printed book. While editors may have defined their readers prescriptively, the verse miscellany itself offered numerous points of entry for different readerships (¶ 2).

This miscellany is a public in that readers of different social ranks and with different reasons for entry, strangers to each other, come together to form an imagined community. Is it even clear that the editors' prescriptive defining of their readers is to be taken at face value? Are they perhaps playing with exclusion as a way of attracting book-buyers, as Montaigne might also be doing -- angling for readers of various stripes by seeming to bar the door? These complex and reversible signs of exclusivity are certainly among the elements of the text that readers learn to negotiate. "Private" persons, those of lower rank, who interpret the paratext ironically and buy the book, especially the 1576 edition, might wish to partake of what we could call "populuxe" cultural goods (here popular, commercialized versions of deluxe literary forms belonging to the social elite). They might want to acquire by their reading social capital and enhance their standing among their peers. Those of higher standing might wish to have confirmed their sense of elite community -- hence the phrase "private use" which here signals the exclusion of "public," that is, lower-rank, readers. But all the readers, of whatever social rank or reason for reading the book, become members of the miscellany public because they share an understanding of the language and presentation of the text and thereby acquire some comprehension of each other's responses to the text, where they in imagination spend time together.


The Movement and Agency of Texts

     22. I want to conclude by introducing "thing theory" into this discussion of print and publicity.21 Hannah Arendt's discussion of the "thing character of the world" and the Actor-Network Theory of Bruno Latour and his colleagues have taught me to attend to the social agency of things.22 That thing theory is potentially of great value for the study of early modern public making is well demonstrated by Test's fascinating account of how the movement of things -- samples, images, and texts -- contributed to making a botanical public.

     23. Arendt claims that "the reality and reliability of the human world rest primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they were produced, and potentially even more permanent than the lives of their authors" (95-6). The world's thing character not only anchors "the unstable and mortal creature which is man" (136), but also affords us the common objective reality that makes an authentically human life-world possible: "Only where things can be seen by many in a variety of aspects without changing their identity, so that those who are gathered around them know they see sameness in utter diversity, can worldly reality truly and reliably appear" (57).

     24. Upon this Arendtian foundation, we can pitch Latour's argument that the dominant mode of sociological analysis, which relegates objects to mere materiality and instrumentality in the hands of humans and which trains its gaze on the interactions among people and on such metaphysical constructions as "the social compact or the social structure," is particularly well-suited to the study of baboons but not to the study of humans.23 "If sociologists had the privilege," he comments, "to watch more carefully baboons repairing their constantly decaying 'social structure,' they would have witnessed what incredible cost has been paid when the job is to maintain, for instance, social dominance with no thing at all, just social skills" (70). What makes, say, human relations of domination different from similar relations in the world of baboons are things -- "entities," Latour says, "that don't sleep" (70). Latour suggests that the social world is best understood as a network of human and non-human actors:

The main reason why objects had no chance to play any role before was not only due to the definition of the social used by sociologists, but also to the very definition of actors and agencies most often chosen. If action is limited a priori to what "intentional," "meaningful" humans do, it is hard to see how a hammer, a basket, a door closer, a cat, a rug, a mug, a list, or a tag could act. They might exist in the domain of "material" causal relations, but not in the "reflexive" "symbolic" domain of social relations. But if we stick to our decision to start from the controversies about actors and agencies, then any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor . . . Thus, the questions to ask about any agent are simply the following: Does it make a difference in the course of some other agent's action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference? (71)

     25. In relation to this idea of the social agency of things, Test contributes an emphasis on movement. Many of the people he discusses are travelers, and the seeds, plants, letters, "friendship books," drawings and printed images, and printed herbals are in continuous motion across Europe and between Europe and the Americas. The botanical public is founded in a dynamic "Actor Network" where the social agency of things, the texts especially, derives from the fact that they move within "a global mobility of plants, seeds, texts, people, and ideas, which linked humans (botanists, merchants, sailors, Amerindians, etc.) and non-humans (plants, seeds, herbals, gardens, etc.) together into a system of cross-cultural exchange" (¶ 3).

     26. I suggest finally that one particular quality of printed texts is their great capacity for movement out into the world, a public world that is projected from the movements of the texts themselves. Of course hand-written texts and scribal publications are also capable of movement, but they travel more gradually and accountably among intermediary readers, borrowers and lenders, and re-writers, and most often among people who know each other. Printed texts move out of the stationers' shops in far greater numbers, more or less all at once, and immediately into the hands of strangers. While the difference in the mobility between scribal and print publications is a matter of degree rather than kind, it is clear from the elaboration of the contextualizing and situating paratexts in printed books that print is experienced by writers and publishers as an unpredictable adventure into the public world of strangers. Neither Michael Drayton, Hugh Peter, the poets and publishers of The Paradise of Dainty Devises, nor the amateur botanists discussed by Test could have done any public making at all without public-making printed texts. The material basis of the growth of the groups of "makers" and "partakers" (to use two characteristically early modern terms) included a vast array of printed texts that were made public and thereby became capable of small- and large-scale movement at the same time that they made it possible for their makers and partakers to develop an enhanced public life by creating new forms of public association among mostly private people.

     27. To conclude and so make way for the four essayists themselves, who have the opportunity to have the last word, I want to point to the importance for their work (and also for the work of the MaPs project) of Richard Helgerson's penultimate book, Adulterous Alliances, which is where he develops a case for the emergence, in early modern drama and art, of the private, the family, and the household as a gathered locus of public value.24 Peter's Legacy fits neatly into a Helgersonian paradigm because it develops a critique of the grand political world from the point of view of family relations and personal Christian virtue. Since, however, Helgerson's account of the early modern emergence of the private as a public value attends to a broader range of writing and painting than is compassed within the personal and domestic, it also speaks to work on poets, botanists, and publishers, those whose publications do not speak first of all to the grand questions of church or state and those whose readerships include a majority of what the age called "private" persons. Just as Helgerson's book speaks to these essays, finally, the essays are able to speak back to it, able to bring it into an ongoing conversation about how public making, which is the creation of radically hybrid forms of private and public association, fundamentally refashioned both the life of individuals and the life of society.



Go to this issue's index.




1 Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002); for MaPs, see <>; as Michelle O'Callaghan points out (¶ 4), Habermas has acknowledged both the "pluralization of the public sphere in the very process of its emergence" and "the coexistence of competing public spheres." See Jürgen Habermas, "Further Reflections on the Public Sphere," in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge, MS and London: MIT Press, 1992), 421-61; quotes on 426. Of course, a theory of publics, which posits that the "public sphere" is always in reality a misrecognition of a pluralized field of competing publics, offers a picture of public life different from Habermas' idea of a pluralizing devolution from an emergent public sphere.

2 For a broader discussion of publics and public making, upon which I am drawing in this Afterword, see Bronwen Wilson and Paul Yachnin, "Introduction," Making Publics in Early Modern Europe: People, Things, Forms of Knowledge (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), 1-21.

3 Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

4 Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976; expanded ed. London: Fontana, 1983), 87-88.

5 I should also say that, owing to constraints of time and space, I cannot do full justice to the four complex and wide-ranging essays in this issue; also I will not address all the key issues that they take on, including the important question having to do with rational-critical and passionate modes of public expression, which O'Callaghan handles deftly in her essay, the question of how networks work, which is one of the central concerns in Test's discussion of botanical publics, the relationship between public making and mortality, which appears in McAbee's and O'Callaghan's essays, or the nature of a Christian public, which is taken up by Gillespie.

6 Hugh Peter, A Dying Fathers Last Legacy to an Onely Child (London, 1660), frontispiece.

7 Warner, 65.

8 Nancy Fraser, "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," in Habermas and the Public Sphere, 109-42, esp. 112-17.

9 Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 51.

10 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 198-9.

11 For critiques of the idea of the bourgeois public sphere, see Habermas and the Public Sphere. For a promising reconsideration of the idea for our period, see Peter Lake and Steven Pincus, "Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England," Journal of British Studies 45 (April 2006): 270-292.

12 Craig Calhoun, "Imagining Solidarity: Cosmopolitanism, Constitutional Patriotism, and the Public Sphere," Public Culture 14 (2002): 162.

13 Warner, 76-7.

14 Michel de Montaigne, The Essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, trans. John Florio, ed. Henry Morley (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1893), xxxiii.

15 I am drawing on and changing the terms of an earlier essay, "Eating Montaigne," in Reading Renaissance Ethics, ed. Marshall Grossman (New York and London: Routledge, 2007), 157-72.

16 Michael Bristol, "Shakespeare's Sonnets and the Publication of Melancholy," in Making Publics in Early Modern Europe, 193-211, quote on 207.

17 Habermas, Public Sphere, 27.

18 Ibid., 50.

19 Antony and Cleopatra, 3.12.14-15.

20 Antony's story itself is also of a piece with a more general rethinking in the play of the value of private emotion, romantic intimacy, and sexual pleasure over against the world of political intrigue and imperial power.

21 Bill Brown, "Thing Theory" Critical Inquiry 28 (Autumn 2001): 1-22.

22 Arendt, 93; Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); see also Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2005).

23 Latour does not mention Arendt, but in fact they share more than an interest in how things make the social world: they are the two most important modern philosophers of change and originality as the key salient features of the human life-world.

24 Richard Helgerson, Adulterous Alliances: Home, State, and History in Early Modern European Drama and Painting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).



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