Blind items : anonymity, notoriety, and the making of eighteenth-century celebrity
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Blind Items examines the multimedia production of celebrity through the eighteenth century, especially the way in which the same texts, images, anecdotes and poses were recycled and updated to evoke a series of public notables. In the multimedia explosion accompanying the Enlightenment, cultural productions typically read as static and self-contained – from mezzotint prints, shilling pamphlets and novels to popular songs, fashions, jokes and gestures – were instead constantly repurposed to suit successions of public figures, each passing luminary determined by the present cultural moment. Surveying three arenas in which eighteenth-century celebrity was manufactured – fashion, sex, and sport – my archive demonstrates that even canonical authors and artists of the period built their careers on the passing celebrity of others, and indeed maintained the relevance of their productions by perpetually remaking and updating their celebrity referents. Blind Items contests critical assumptions regarding the singularity of celebrity, instead focusing on interchangeability, commutability and disposability. In so doing, the project troubles ongoing assumptions regarding the rise of the individual, as it explains why modern-day celebrity still retains aspects of the Enlightenment mold that first gave it shape.