Academic journal article Journalism History

Paperwork: Fiction and Mass Mediacy in the Paper Age

Academic journal article Journalism History

Paperwork: Fiction and Mass Mediacy in the Paper Age

Article excerpt

McLaughlin, Kevin. Paperwork: Fiction and Mass Mediacy in the Paper Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. 181 pp. $49.95.

The author offers a literary criticism of the impermancnce of paper by considering its use in several well-known works of nineteenth-century fiction. He examines work of British and American authors to discover their treatment of paper as a symbol, a metaphor, and an analogy for developments in western society. Authors considered include: Edgar Alien Poe ("The Gold Bug") Robert Lewis Stevenson (Treasure Island, "The Botdc lmp") Herman Melville ("Bardeby the Scrivener"), Charles Dickens (Rleak House), and Thomas Hardy (The Mayor of Casterbndge).

In a lengthy introduction (twenty-eight pages) the author broadly discusses the growing ephemeral nature of paper in nineteenth-century society, emphasizing the significance of paper to the development of colonial American independence, and its significance in the growing American economy. He notes the issuance of paper "IOUs" in colonial America offered a significant challenge to the crown, and it was the development of paper for commerce that contributed to the growing independent identity of the colonies and the new United States, the author contends. McLaughlin, in particular, draws from the philosophy of Thomas Carlyle, Georg Hegel, Jacques Derrida, and Walter Benjamin. As a professor of English and comparative literature at Brown University, he is a specialist on Benjamin and an author of another work on nineteenthcentury literature.

Nineteenth-century writers, working in a world of growing paper in the mass media and in economic exchange, borrowed from their experience to make significant use of paper in their literary work. Poe used it to advocate his belief in the superiority of paper money over gold, the author contends. Stevenson's Treasure Island offered a conversation about credit and money through the use of a paper map, and the author notes that in Stevenson, "paper dramatizes the elusive states of the material support under conditions of mass mcdiacy. …

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