How can we relate the quantitative presence of literary artifacts to their ability to make a difference, and how does the problem of scale define public accounts of what can be considered relevant literary value? The idea of a singular space of reception (one literary “marketplace,” say, or one “public sphere”) is unhelpful. Rather, literary artifacts have potentially multiple social lives that differ in their relation to “sacralized” and “everyday” practices. An aesthetic object can thrive in many simultaneous or successive practice spaces that use and value it differently and that embed it in differing sites of authority. Moving from the Romantic period to the present, this article looks at the trajectories of Walter Scott as an earlier and Toni Morrison as a recent candidate for culturally relevant authorship.

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