Witherbee, Amy. New Conceptions of Time and the Making of a Political-Economic Public in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Boston College, 2009.
This project argues that the British “financial revolution” ushered in a new way of conceptualizing time based in mathematic innovations of the seventeenth-century. As it was employed in financial instruments and government policies, mathematics’ spatialized representation of time conflicted with older, more intuitive experience of time associated with consciousness and duration. Borrowing from the work of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, I examine how the interaction between these two temporalities reshaped conceptions of value, text, and the body in the first half of the eighteenth century.
The first two chapters of my study explore texts ranging from pamphlets that advocated for the establishment of banks to the periodical essays of The Spectator and The Tatler that advocated for political economic conceptions of time and value at the turn of the century. These texts reveal the subtle tensions and strange paradoxes created by the clash of disparate temporalities and open the door to new readings of fictional narratives like those of Daniel Defoe and Aphra Behn. My second two chapters focus on selected works by these two authors to explore how longer first-person narrative forms modeled both the possibilities and dangers of emerging political economic structures. My study concludes with two chapters that follow the development of the oriental tale in Britain. Making use of a seventeenth-century tradition that explores the tensions between representation and meaning in oriental fables, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments follows in the wake of John Paul Marana’s Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy and reshapes the oriental tale genre to reflect the new concerns of a global marketplace in which deferral has become essential to the production of value. I conclude these chapters with readings of Johnson’s Rasselas, Hawkesworth’s Almoran and Hamet, and Frances Sheridan’s Nourjahad, three tales that foreshadow late-eighteenth-century efforts to manage the public and its temporal paradoxes through an attention to the body.