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In the Custom House

OCEANIC

      HUMANITIES 

             FOR THE 

      GLOBAL  SOUTH 

Oxford University Press

02 Feb 2020

314

Oxford University Press

Isabel Hofmeyr

02 Feb 2020

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.