Bad Idea 1

Nonlinearity

{Table of Contents}


This book began when I checked a book out of the library and didn’t understand that book. I was searching for the original publication of a well-known romantic novella by E.T.A. Hoffmann, for reasons which I can no longer remember. When I received the book, the object and its contents didn’t make sense to me. I don’t mean that I had trouble reading the German text, but that I had never seen a book like this before. It belonged to the popular format of the literary almanac, gift book, or Taschenbuch and even though I had taken courses on romanticism we had never discussed the way such romantic short fiction and poetry made its way to readers and how these books might have shaped the meaning of the texts that they contained. Like most graduate students, we read cheap paperback editions or copies from critical and collected editions.

Trying to understand that book led me to try to understand the role of the book in romantic literary culture more generally.

Initially, I was thinking of refracting my observations through Goethe’s final novel, Wilhelm Meisters Travels, which seemed to me to be about – and to take advantage of – the entire universe of available bibliographic formats. This approach had the advantage of specificity, but it seemed to exclude other important actors from the story. So in the end, I chose to make the book about romantic books more generally and Goethe’s experiments with the book became one chapter. I am returning now to that monograph on Goethe and the book that I never wrote, only now in the larger context of how the book came to shape the making of nineteenth century knowledge. Both projects are driven by a desire to recover the fundamental heterogeneity of the book, that books could and can serve numerous different social, communicative, and creative functions.

Below is a sample of an alternative table of contents that I was experimenting with for a long time. It was a first attempt at delinearizing the printed book. You’ll see that the final chapter was still something of a mystery to me at the time I made this chart. It emerged in its final form in the book from a very simple question posed by an astute member of the Montreal / Ottawa Working Group on Romanticism, who asked me: “But what about illustrated books?” Chapter six became an answer to that question.