Unbending the mind: Or, commercialized leisure and the rhetoric of eighteenth-century diversion


This essay opens by asking why the formative period in the "commercialization of leisure" in England (c. 1690-1760) happens also to be the period during which intrusion, obstruction, and interruption first began to thrive as conspicuous rhetorical techniques in commercial literature. The essay answers this question through a series of close readings that reveal the complex reciprocity between what I call "cultural diversion" and "discursive diversion," between those social amusements which provide relief from the serious concerns of daily life and those linguistic and textual devices which characteristically disrupt so much of the discourse of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century - devices such as extravagant metaphors, rows of asterisked ellipses, and, most pervasively, digressions. Where modern discussion of such devices has tended to rely on the critical touch-stone of "self-consciousness," this essay restores disruptive rhetoric to what I see as its original cultural context by demonstrating how frequently self-conscious authors associate the form and function of devices like digression with London's "Reigning Diversions.".

Publication Title

Eighteenth-Century Studies