In the past, I've written about some of the classics of fan studies. In this post, I want to briefly highlight a few books that do not explicitly address fandom but nevertheless deserve mention as works of scholarship that have addressed the subject of devoted or enthusiastic audiences. For me, these works all had to do with reading; in the late 1980s, I was a newly-graduated English major, growing tired of great authors and works (I think I had read Moby Dick five times at that point), and becoming more and more interested in marginal aspects of literary studies: the physical nature of books, the business of publishing, and, especially, the history of readers. To my astonishment, I found a number of fairly recent works on those subject. I wasn't studying fandom when I first encountered these books, but once I did start to think about fans a bit later, in the context of popular music, the book's arguments and stories came back to me, providing a rush of intriguing parallels, echoes, and connections. Rousseau readers and Springsteen fans, for example, separated by centuries, seemed to be thinking in similar ways--how could that be? It's something I'm still thinking about twenty years later.Robert Darnton, "Readers Respond to Rousseau: The Fabrication of Romantic Sensitivity" (1984). This essay appeared in Darnton's collection on French cultural history, The Great Cat Massacre. Drawing on a collection of letters between Jean Ranson, a French merchant book collector, and a Swiss publisher, Darnton unearthed Ranson's fascination with the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom Ranson called "L'ami Jean-Jacques" (my friend, Jean-Jacques) even though, as Darnton noted, he "had never met" Rousseau and could only know him through the printed word. This relationship was the set-up for an amazing analysis of what Darnton calls "Rousseauistic reading," a new way of understanding the world of a novel as an intimate representation of an author's emotional being. In some of the funniest passages, Darnton talked about Rousseau's alarm about the new type of readers he created; apparently Rousseau had to install a trap door in his home to escape the many admirers who sought him out for heart-to-heart chats and expressions of gratitude after reading books like La Nouvelle Heloise. In the described shift toward a Romantic "sharing of selfhood," I started to see patterns that pre-modelled modern fans' relationships to media celebrities.
a tombstone for Charlotte in the churchyard of New York City's Trinity Church, signifying readers' blurring of the lines between fiction and reality, and by the 1850s, weeping readers (men and women, working and middle-class) regularly made pilgrimages to the churchyard to pay their respects. Besides suggesting the ways in which readers worked to sustain the world of a narrative outside of their encounters with that narrative (much as music or theater fans stay in "audience" mode long after performances are over), the notion of pilgrimage really resonated with me. I knew fans for Springsteen who did the same thing as Charlotte Temple readers, imbuing real places with new layers of meaning known only to them.