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Making Waste

Making Waste: Leftovers and the Eighteenth-Century Imagination

Sophie Gee
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Making Waste
    Book Description:

    Why was eighteenth-century English culture so fascinated with the things its society discarded? Why did Restoration and Augustan writers such as Milton, Dryden, Swift, and Pope describe, catalog, and memorialize the waste matter that their social and political worlds wanted to get rid of--from the theological dregs inParadiseLost to the excrements in "The Lady's Dressing Room" and the corpses of AJournal of the Plague Year?InMaking Waste, the first book about refuse and its place in Enlightenment literature and culture, Sophie Gee examines the meaning of waste at the moment when the early modern world was turning modern.

    Gee explains how English writers used contemporary theological and philosophical texts about unwanted and leftover matter to explore secular, literary relationships between waste and value. She finds that, in the eighteenth century, waste was as culturally valuable as it was practically worthless--and that waste paradoxically revealed the things that the culture cherished most.

    The surprising central insight ofMaking Wasteis that the creation of value always generates waste. Waste is therefore a sign--though a perverse one--that value and meaning have been made. Even when it appears to symbolize civic, economic, and political failure, waste is in fact restorative, a sign of cultural invigoration and imaginative abundance. Challenging the conventional association of Enlightenment culture with political and social improvement, and scientific and commercial progress,Making Wastehas important insights for cultural and intellectual history as well as literary studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3212-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Making Waste
    (pp. 1-17)

    In 1772 the Frenchman Pierre Jean Grosley’sTour to London; or, New Observations on England and its Inhabitantspraised London as Europe’s most sophisticated metropolis: well-paved, well-lighted, convenient and modern. The best passages, however, leave us with an altogether different impression of the capital, a dirty, difficult place, darkened by pollution and contaminated with filth:

    In the most beautiful part of the Strand and near St. Clement’s church I have, during my whole stay in London, seen the middle of the street constantly foul with a dirty puddle to the height of three or four inches; a puddle where splashings...

  5. 1 The Invention of the Wasteland: CIVIC NARRATIVE AND DRYDEN’S ANNUS MIRABILIS
    (pp. 18-40)

    During 1665, the plague evacuated London’s streets and public buildings. Then in September 1666, as citizens were returning to the capital and resuming normal life, the Great Fire razed central London in four days.¹ The city was debilitated, its streets filled with blockages and displaced persons, its buildings in ruin, its crowds dispossessed: “[T]he people who now walked about the ruines, appeared like men in some dismal desart, or rather in some great Citty,lay’d wasteby an impetuous and cruel Enemy,”² wrote John Evelyn, the celebrated seventeenth-century diarist. Evelyn was giving a term to the new geography of postfire...

  6. 2 Wastelands, Paradise Lost, and Popular Polemic at the Restoration
    (pp. 41-66)

    The hybrid wasteland ofAnnus Mirabilis, partly drawn from the Bible, partly a reflection of reality, created a new literary terrain: a setting in which personal and social desolation became themes in modern secular writing. Dryden’s wasteland figured political and cultural disaffection, and yet, like the sacked cities of the Bible, its strange, alienated landscape commanded memorialization. Once invented, this hybrid wasteland became the landscape through which writers articulated a sense of belonging and yet being alienated—the landscape in which modern literary selfhood would come of age. Living amid leftovers was to become perversely pleasurable, and English writers would...

  7. 3 Milton’s Chaos in Pope’s London: MATERIAL PHILOSOPHY AND THE BOOK TRADE
    (pp. 67-90)

    This chapter is about an instance of literary and philosophical nostalgia. Pope, writing in the secular, commercial environment of eighteenth-century London (the finalDunciadwas published in 1743), looks back to the landscapes ofParadise Lost, the great theological epic of the previous century. He chooses as the setting of his mock epic one of the most complex locations in Milton’s poem: Chaos, the landscape through which Satan struggles in his ascent to earth, and the matter from which Milton’s God makes the world. Milton’s Chaos is a material surfeit that can be turned into an abundance of life, seeming...

    (pp. 91-111)

    Nobody relished leftovers like Jonathan Swift. His writings are filled with waste matter: excrement, snot, sweat, nail clippings, garbage, dead dogs. With a meticulous attention that often looks like neurotic obsession,¹ Swift rehabilitates matter that has been discarded by the polite worlds of eighteenth-century London and Dublin, playing endlessly with the fact that filth and abundance can be made to look the same. In political terms the similarity meant that English Whigs—in Swift’s view, opportunists looking to defraud the Irish economy—could pass off debased coinage, devalued exports, and worthless imports as precious surpluses. In cultural terms, Swift prized...

    (pp. 112-136)

    In 1665 the plague took hold of London, killing more than forty thousand people.¹ It was the first of the calamities to fall on England’s capital in the 1660s—to be followed by the fire of 1666 and the invasion of the Medway by the Dutch fleet in June 1667. Nearly sixty years later, in 1722, Daniel Defoe published his quasi-historical account of the epidemic,A Journal of the Plague Year. TheJournaldescribes London as a city bereft: emptied of healthy, prosperous citizens and filled instead with the corpses of plague victims. As many commentators have observed, Defoe’s city...

  10. AFTERWORD: Mr. Spectator’s Tears and Sophia Western’s Muff
    (pp. 137-144)

    In one of the most remarkable essays that he wrote for theSpectator, Joseph Addison describes the pleasures of the Royal Exchange at the busiest moment of the trading day. “There is no Place in the Town which I so much love to frequent as theRoyal Exchange,” he begins.¹ The ’Change is, for Addison, a secular Eden, paradise in modern London. He watches with satisfaction and pride “so rich an Assembly of Country-men and Foreigners consulting together upon the private business of Mankind, . . . making this Metropolis a kind ofEmporiumfor the whole Earth.” In Addison’s...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 145-168)
    (pp. 169-186)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 187-196)