The Antechamber
Toward a History of Waiting
Helmut Puff


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The literature on temporality in the social sciences and the humanities is burgeoning. Yet the recent sociology, anthropology, and history of time have mostly debated frames of analysis with a linear thrust toward modernity such as acceleration. By exploring speed's counterpart, in-between or still times, the present study works toward a comprehensive account of times as lived and experienced. It proposes that waiting as a temporal modality helps generate meaning in social interactions, both in premodern and modern Europe, and that waiting's built infrastructure allows researchers to sound out social life in process.

1 Times
chapter abstract

The following chapter unearths ideas about timing oneself in early modern Europe. It shows that for early moderns time was neither uniform nor universal. Rather, people embraced times in the plural, and conceived of the temporal as a force individuals could marshal for their interests or survival. Such opportunities to further one's designs were specific to every person, and contingent on someone's rank, age, gender, and similar factors. While a broadly apposite, if not a collective, outlook, this occasionalism did not function as a coherent set of rules. Instead, waiting for the due moment to act required being on the alert about the challenges of the moment. Such an approach needed to be learned. The maxims, manuals, visuals, novels, and texts under discussion here taught early moderns how to make and adjust plans under adverse circumstances in an ever-changing present.

2 Spaces
chapter abstract

This chapter explores built architecture as a spacetime infrastructure. Starting in the late medieval period, the residences of the elite featured rooms designated and designed for waiters, the antechambers, though in many cases such "before-chambers" had additional functions. By imposing delays and distance on waiters hoping for an interaction with residents, these spaces differentiated between people with different degrees of access. They thus contributed to the construction of social, cultural, and political authority by temporal and spatial means. Their interiors, iconographies, and layouts usually reflected on the builders and owners and their families or lines. This chapter pays particular attention to eighteenth-century palaces in the German lands. The antespaces discussed here not only helped shape the experience of social and temporal liminality but also the discontinuous movement of people through architectures of power.

3 Encounters
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on encounters mediated by early modern European antechambers. Select episodes shed light on the social, cultural, and temporal logics that informed scenarios of waiting in courtly contexts. They conjure up and investigate the experience of waiting in these spaces, including forms of disruptive behavior. As a forum associated with great promise and anticipation, antechambers attracted a great many hopes, anxieties, as well as scrutiny among those who populated them or received news about them. To make the most of a potential encounter, waiters often expended great efforts in preparation before entering such a room. Especially at major courts, making an encounter happen depended on a great many individuals. By limiting interaction with someone of high station, antechambers thus bring to the fore the limitations inherent in occasionalism as an approach to living in time.

chapter abstract

Advocates of the art of waiting in contemporary society notwithstanding, modern commentators have had little patience with waiting. As a spacetime infrastructure associated with the social order before the French Revolution, the antechamber lost in stature after 1800. Nascent civil societies strove to embrace individual rights as an organizational principle and envisioned forms of politics sans the necessity for personal encounters one-on-one. Yet in a variety of contexts, waiting in general as well as waiting in rooms designated for waiters persist, as do inequalities of access and privilege. Given this persistence of waiting in bureaucracies or the service economy, modern spacetime infrastructures have increasingly been organized so as to minimize or veil the endurance associated with temporal in-betweens for waiters. When waiting online, for instance, the collective of waiters has itself become virtual.