Tomorrow I leave for the SHARP conference at Scripps College in Claremont, California, where it looks like the weather will be hot, but not humid. I feel pretty good about my paper, in which I position John Wesley’s monthly Arminian Magazine (initiated in 1778) as an interesting case study for considering the institutional and social milieu in which religious publications were produced, distributed, and consumed in eighteenth-century England.
Working on this paper has forced me to reconsider some of the key assumptions I was holding regarding the unifying power of print and specifically of periodicals. Benedict Anderson attributes a great deal of this sort of power to newspapers, but the example of Wesley’s magazine argues against this assumption. By endorsing and vehemently propagating dissenting opinions, periodicals can fragment readers as much as they might unify. Much work remains for me to consider religious affiliation alongside nationalism. This is a good thing.
Meanwhile, I’m also thinking ahead to the paper I’ll be giving at the annual meeting of the Midwestern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Chicago this November. My paper is entitled “Comic Anxiety and Anxious Comedy: Anti-Methodist Satire on Stage, in Print, and in Person.”
“Anxiety” is one of those words that everyone seems to be using lately with regard to new media, new technologies, and their impact. It’s also used by those who wrote about the impact of print in the eighteenth century and about the reaction to Methodism. But what exactly does the word mean? I’d like to interrogate this term and see if we might complicate what we think we mean by our use of it. And what relationship does it have to laughter?
Among the definitions in The Oxford English Dictionary for “anxious” is the following:
a. Troubled or uneasy in mind about some uncertain event; being in painful or disturbing suspense; concerned, solicitous.b. Const., of an issue dreaded (obs.); for an issue desired; about a thing or person involved in uncertain issues.
And the OED definition of “anxiety” includes these:
- The quality or state of being anxious; uneasiness or trouble of mind about some uncertain event; solicitude, concern.
- Strained or solicitous desire (for or to effect some purpose).
What I find interesting is the mixture of a positive and negative; hope that something will not happen joined perhaps with hope that it will. I’ve really only just begun to think about this issue, and I would appreciate any recommendations for further reading.