- Copyright Page
- List of Illustrations
- Notes on Contributors
- In Ancient Rome
- In the Classroom
- In the Custom House
- In Public
- Across Borders
- Mental Representation
- Mindreading and Social Status
- Dyslexia: Through the Eyes of da Vinci
Abstract and Keywords
In port cities, Customs and Excise fulfilled a number of literary functions. Their officials checked books to see that they were not pirated, seditious, or obscene, and they hence involved themselves in the protocols of copyright and censorship. This article examines the forms of reading associated with these activities and it argues that these modes of readings were shaped by the dockside procedures and routines that governed the work of Customs examiners. Customs officials functioned like dockside ontologists, assigning objects to categories for purposes of tariff duties. In doing so, they paid extensive attention to the nature, weight, composition, and marking of these objects, apprenticing themselves to the material properties of the commodities that passed through their jurisdiction. Their methods of reading were governed by object rather than text and were hence object-oriented.
Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Global Distinguished Professor in the English Department at New York University. Her most recent book is Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading (2013). Along with Antoinette Burton she edited Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons (2014). She currently heads up a Mellon-funded project “Oceanic Humanities for the Global South” with partners from South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, India, Jamaica, and Barbados.
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