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"A New and More Elegant Edition": Franklin's Autobiography Mediated through Cultural Techniques



In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin compares himself to a book. More than once, he uses "errata" to describe the faults he has made in his life and prays for corrections of these errata in the "second Edition." The comparison of his life to a book, I argue, indicates his eccentric idea of a life that is perpetuated through the cultural techniques of the eighteenth century. This shows that the idea of "de-faulting," or removing faults, is embedded in his thoughts. Considering this, his request for the removal of his "errata" in future editions gains a posthuman implication. In this study, I employ "cultural techniques" proposed by German media theorist Bernhard Siegert to examine the use of the postal system and the memorandum book in Franklin's Autobiography. Formed as a letter addressed to his first son, the first part of the Autobiography shows how the modern subject was constituted in a postal/police system that gave birth to the idea of liberty but also demanded self-discipline at the same time. In the second half of the essay, I examine Franklin's use of the memorandum book in his "Art of Virtue." The table on which his errata are enlisted and checked from time to time paves a route for the development of the feedback loop. Both techniques bespeak Franklin's network thinking, anticipating modern cybernetics.

Parallel abstracts



Blair, Ann, and Peter Stallybrass. “Mediating Information, 1450-1800.” Siskin and Warner, This Is Enlightenment, pp. 139-63.
Bredvold, Louis I. “The Invention of the Ethical Calculus.” The Seventeenth Century: Studies in the History of English Thought and Literature from Bacon to Pope, edited by Richard Foster Jones, Stanford UP, 1951, pp. 165-80.
Castronovo, Russ. Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America. Oxford UP, 2014.
Chartier, Roger. Inscription and Erasure: Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer, U of Pennsylvania P, 2007.
Colclough, Stephen. “Pocket Books and Portable Writing: The Pocket Memorandum Books in Eighteenth-Century England and Wales.” The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 45, 2015, pp. 159-77.