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OverwhelmedLiterature, Aesthetics, and the Nineteenth-Century Information Revolution$
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Maurice S. Lee

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691192925

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691192925.001.0001

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(p.57) Chapter Two Searching

Maurice S. Lee

Princeton University Press

This chapter analyzes how literary meaning can be recovered under conditions of information overload. It discusses revitalizing debates over New Historical evidentiary practices that have become exponentially more powerful with the rise of digital databases. The chapter also discusses how the nineteenth century's expansion of archives and concomitant attention to bibliographic processes impelled some literary thinkers to assert a special authority in matters of archival searching. As if to vindicate the value of literary judgment, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens imagine the aesthetic retrieval of exceptionally meaningful texts, though in doing so they turn away from close reading and toward the management of information. An obverse irony is evident in reference books designed to manage textual excess, including the antiquarian journal Notes and Queries and John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, both of which privilege organization over aesthetics but cannot help but admit the pleasures of texts.

Keywords:   literary meaning, New Historical practices, digital database, information overload, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, John Bartlett

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