When cultural commentators lament the decline of the habit of reading books, it is difficult to imagine that back in the 18th century many prominent voices were concerned about the threat posed by people reading too much. A dangerous disease appeared to afflict the young, which some diagnosed as reading addiction and others as reading rage, reading fever, reading mania or reading lust. (...)Isto fez-me lembrar o meu post A opinião socialmente correta sobre os jogos de computador.
What some described as a craze was actually a rise in the 18th century of an ideal: the ‘love of reading’. The emergence of this new phenomenon was largely due to the growing popularity of a new literary genre: the novel. The emergence of commercial publishing in the 18th century and the growth of an ever-widening constituency of readers was not welcomed by everyone. Many cultural commentators were apprehensive about the impact of this new medium on individual behaviour and on society’s moral order. (...)
The consensus that emerged was that unrestrained exposure to fiction led readers to lose touch with reality and identify with the novel’s romantic characters to the point of adopting their behaviour. The passionate enthusiasm with which European youth responded to the publication of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) appeared to confirm this consensus. (...)
The scale of the reaction to Werther perturbed authorities throughout Europe. (...) The novel was blamed for the unleashing of an epidemic of copycat suicides throughout Europe among young, emotionally disturbed and broken-hearted readers. The numerous initiatives to ban the novel indicated that the authorities took these claims very seriously. In 1775 the theological faculty of the University of Leipzig petitioned officials to ban Werther on the grounds that its circulation would lead to the promotion of suicide. The city council of Leipzig agreed and cited the increased frequency of suicides as justification for banning both the novel and the wearing of Werther’s costume. The ban, which was introduced in 1775, was not lifted until 1825. The novel was also banned in Italy and Denmark. (...)
Warnings about an epidemic of suicide said more about the anxieties of their authors than the behaviour of the readers of the novels. An inspection of the literature circulating these warnings indicates a striking absence of empirical evidence. The constant allusion to Miss. G., to nameless victims and to similarly framed death scenes suggests that these reports had little factual content to draw on. Stories about an epidemic of suicide were as fictional as the demise of Werther in Goethe’s novel. (...)
The association of the novel with the disorganisation of the moral order represented an early example of a media panic. The formidable, sensational and often improbable effects attributed to the consequences of reading in the 18th century provided the cultural resources on which subsequent reactions to the cinema, television or the Internet would draw on. In that sense Werther fever anticipated the media panics of the future.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 11:35