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Cover of The Antechamber by Helmut Puff
The Antechamber
Toward a History of Waiting
Helmut Puff


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October 2023
262 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503635418
Paperback ISBN: 9781503637023
Ebook ISBN: 9781503637030

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Helmut Puff invites readers to visit societies and spaces of the past through the lens of a particular temporal modality: waiting. From literature, memoirs, manuals, chronicles, visuals, and other documents, Puff presents a history of waiting anchored in antechambers—interior rooms designated and designed for people to linger.

In early modern continental Western Europe, antechambers became standard in the residences of the elites. As a time-space infrastructure these rooms shaped encounters between unequals. By imposing spatial distance and temporal delays, antechambers constituted authority, rank, and power. Puff explores both the logic and the experience of waiting in such formative spaces, showing that time divides as much as it unites, and that far from what people have said about early moderns, they approached living in time with apprehensiveness. Unlike how contemporary society primarily views the temporal dimension, to early modern Europeans time was not an objective force external to the self but something that was tied to acting in time. Divided only by walls and doors, waiters sought out occasions to improve their lot. At other times, they disrupted the scripts accorded them. Situated at the intersection of history, literature, and the history of art and architecture, this wide-ranging study demonstrates that waiting has a history that has much to tell us about social and power relations in the past and present.

About the author

Helmut Puff is Elizabeth L. Eisenstein Collegiate Professor of History and Germanic Languages at the University of Michigan. His other books include Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland (2003) as well as Miniature Monuments: Modeling German History (2014).

"Written with imagination and erudition, this delightful book fills a lacuna in the growing literature on time and temporality while also making an important contribution to the fields of historical anthropology, the history of emotions, and the history of art and architecture."

—Daniel Jütte, New York University

"Puff does for eighteenth-century European elites what we all need to do for ourselves now: consider carefully, critically, and with some degree of humor how, why, and where we wait. This beautiful book provides new historical insight into early modern mentalités."

—Annabel Wharton, Duke University

"Puff's history of the antechamber reminds us how supple and strategic waiting can be, a form of practice for those attuned to time's affordances. The book you never knew you were waiting for, this is cultural history at its best."

—Mitchell Merback, Johns Hopkins University