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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Amanda Claybaugh, Part 1: The Fiction of the Thing

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/15/07 at 04:27 AM

Those of you interested in the social and political functions of literature should seek out Amanda Claybaugh’s new study, The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World.

Because Claybaugh’s text is so crucially informed by the history of her period (the 19th Century), it is natural to describe her accomplishment in terms of the literary specializations with which it overlaps (19th Century American studies, Victorian literary studies), and which it seeks to challenge. It is also natural to describe Claybaugh’s project as “fundamentally historicizing,” as Paul Giles has done in his illuminating post.

For my part, I have no wish to confine The Novel of Purpose within a disciplinary frame, even one re-imagined more generously; to do so seems to me to fall short of a text that challenges boundaries and limits wherever it finds them. If Claybaugh’s book is historically grounded—and it is, brilliantly so—it historicizes in a fashion that allows Giles to quote relevant examples from Alexander Pope and Chaucer.

Furthermore, I am afraid that Ms. Claybaugh’s decision to cite historians and primary documents exclusively, without citing any theorists besides Georg Lukacs, may create the impression of a historicism that ranges itself “against theory.” For me, the most exciting feature of The Novel of Purpose consists in its challenging appropriations of Continental philosophy.

Part One: The Kantian Thing

To understand Claybaugh, one has to understand the philosophical resonance of the notion of purposive aesthetic objects. Even for English-speaking subjects in the 19th Century, an aesthetic object endowed with a “purpose” would have represented a break with Immanuel Kant’s aesthetics. According to Kant, beautiful art was “merely a matter of a contingent use of the representation, not for the sake of cognition of the object, but rather with a view to another feeling, namely that of the inner purposiveness in the disposition of the powers of the mind” (Critique of the Power of Judgement 20: 250). In other words, the work of art allowed the subject to reflect on her own purposive subjectivity. Art could not (since judgement was not identical with practical reason) legitimately impose specific moral obligations, nor enable represented objects to be conceptualized in terms of a specific practical good, and therefore a use.

Ultimately, for Kant, the human being comes through the exercise of judgement to recognize that there is “a moral being as author of the world, i.e., a God” (5: 455), but this intuition can only ever be reflective rather than “determining,” because the mind of God is inconceivable by definition.

Claybaugh introduces her topic by observing that all the authors with whom she is concerned “shared a specific conception of the novel. This conception is best captured by a term commonly used in the literary criticism of the time: the novel of purpose” (7). With this move she introduces the fundamental structure of her analysis, which is a reflection on the social value of reflective consciousness. Accordingly, she introduces us to a group of contemporaries who were situated between the production of literature and the production of criticism, and who were therefore highly self-conscious. By reintroducing a term from the period, rather than coining a neologism or borrowing from a more recent theoretical text, Claybaugh announces her premium on self-consciousness.

Claybaugh goes on to explain the specific nature of the reforms, different from acts of charity, that concerned novels of purpose:

Reform emerged at the end of the eighteenth century as an alternative to charity....Charity seeks to assuage a suffering that is understood to be inevitable, a result of either accident or God’s will....Reform emerged as an alternative to charity once charity’s fundamental presupposition, the inevitability of suffering, was doubly challenged, first by the Enlightenment and then by the evangelical revivals. (21)

Thus the idea of the moral authorship of the world, which for centuries had underwritten a belief in the inevitability of suffering, was revised so completely that the very nature of reflective judgements changed. A doubling had occurred, as happens so often in Claybaugh’s reflective text: God had been evicted by the Enlightenment, and then had returned in a form accessible to human reason, such that it became possible to “imagine heaven achieved on earth” (22) via reform. The evangelical revivals ironically achieved the fully conscious embrace of humanism and rationalism, and purposiveness became an entirely human domain.

Once the Kantian distinction between determinate concepts and uses on the one hand, and unconditioned purposiveness on the other, gave way to the evangelical humanism of reform, it became possible to challenge the parallel distinction between subjective determinations of a thing and the thing-in-itself. This is precisely what Friedrich Nietzsche set about doing in his critiques of Kantian objectivism, written at the end of a century of reform. Nietzsche wrote,

Suppose all unity were a unity only as an organization? But the ‘thing’ in which we believe was only invented as a foundation for the various attributes. (The Will to Power, par. 562)

Since the boundaries of the “thing” are arbitrary boundaries, it follows that such boundaries are invented to serve a particular set of interests. In fact, this conclusion is immanent in Kant’s own logic, since the non-conceptual purposiveness of the aesthetic object leads the subject to reflect upon a universal intelligence (the mind of God) in which all things are simultaneously comprehended and enmeshed, and not differentiated.

Claybaugh follows Nietzsche in her description of literary “realism,” taken from Peter Demetz and Richard Brodhead:

This conception of realism as syndrome has since been taken up by Richard Brodhead, who uses it to emphasize that the features of realism, while tending to manifest themselves together, have no necessary relation to one another. (44)

Here Demetz’s “syndrome” substitutes for the Nietzschean “thing,” but the ontological claim is identical: a unity is an arbitrary construction.

Through this lens, we can understand Claybaugh’s concerns about copyright, an issue that obsesses her throughout The Novel of Purpose. Claybaugh seems contemptuous of the effort Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and others put into realizing profits from overseas sales. She contrasts their pettiness with the unselfish behavior of Harriet Beecher Stowe:

She had suffered just as much [as Dickens] from unauthorized reprinting. But where Dickens complained about such reprinted, Stowe calmly received compensation. Her readers arranged a so-called Penny Offering in her name, which yielded, along with other gifts, more than twenty thousand dollars. (83)

All of this is historical fact, and yet Claybaugh cannot help representing it to us in noticeably sentimental terms as Unselfishness Rewarded. She also lingers approvingly on the equanimity shown by Theodore Weld and the daughters of Samuel Gridley Howe when Dickens stole large portions of their texts for his own American Notes.

Claybaugh understands the need for authors to support themselves. Her ambivalence about intellectual property rights stems from her ontology, which is grounded in purpose rather than in a transcendant reality. If abstract concepts like “realism” or the “thing” are fictions, it follows, as Nietzsche has written, that “the ‘subject’ is not something that creates effects, but only a fiction” (WP 552) and therefore that copyright laws perpetuate this fiction by reifying authorship. In the 19th Century, literacy and political awareness were aided by violations of copyright, and the effort to recoup profits was at cross purposes with universalist principles of reform.

For Claybaugh, the critique of discrete subjectivities has specific political implications that go beyond matters of authorship. In response to the posited unity of the subject, Claybaugh posits the utopian collectivity that seems to her to be the most radical and promising possibility of reform. A hint of this appears in the introduction, when Claybaugh mentions Harriet Martineau’s socialistic belief in collective property. At the end of the book Claybaugh analyzes the scene in Jude the Obscure where seventy students stand up for Sue Bridehead:

The seventy bring radical possibilities into the world of the novel. They are a community that recalls the existence of those real-world alternatives for women like Sue, the schools and settlement houses in wich many women found refuge from heterosexual marriage. At the same time, the seventy also allude to alternate modes of writing, in particular, the utopia. (213)

Claybaugh insists on the students’ collectivity by representing them metonymically as “the seventy.” She argues that Jude and Sue can never be happy because of the insufficiently collective nature of their society, in which the inherently unsatisfying marriage-relationship is the only one open to them. The same sort of collectivity puts its stamp on her description of the “Penny Offering” and her (tempered) approval of Dickens’s description of the mass of prisoners in The Pickwick Papers.

This line of argumentation does have dangers. The utopian collectivities that interest Claybaugh are, at best, the immanent revolutionary possibility of highly advanced forms of discipline from which groups of prisoners or students may never escape. In fact, the students have only become “the seventy” out of compassion for Sue, making Sue precisely the sort of exemplary figure that Claybaugh finds so problematic elsewhere in The Novel of Purpose, and perhaps explaining why Sue takes matters into her own hands and runs.

The fact that “the seventy” are organized by Sue’s exemplary plight points to an even more disturbing ambiguity inherent in collectivities: they can be an effect of individual perceptions, rather than a liberatory possibility of solidarity. Jude the Obscure is a novel about Jude and Sue: it necessarily filters the experience of the other students through Sue’s immediate crisis. What appears to be a collectivity, even a radically utopian one, may be the effect of a rapacious egotism that greedily consumes otherness, or the hapless solipsism of a woman’s miserable confinement. Claybaugh connects the the fiction of individuality to the fictional conventions of narrative in her remarks on Helen’s diary in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

But even though she writes only occasionally, her entries nonetheless resemble on another to a remarkable degree. Brontë resolves the problem of repetition by taking up an alternate plot, namely, the cautionary temperance tale....the novel is structured by the interchangeability of men—and the repetition of their promises. (102, 107)

In other words, the temperance plot is a failed attempt to disguise a numbing interchangeability of men with a “plot” set in motion by promises and concerned with individual natures. Unfortunately, this very interchangeability and repetition is structured partly by the temperance promise itself, which like the marriage vow substitutes its binary of fidelity or rupture for a conversation between equals. One can hardly hold Helen accountable for the monotony produced by such limited means of recourse. She has no choice but to embarrass her husband by making everything an effect of drinking, though “even she admits that [his adulterous] flirtation is ‘not referrable to wine’” (102). Thus, Claybaugh understands drunkenness to be a useful, posited syndrome much like that of realism:

Female temperance reformers used this plot to articulate a range of otherwise inarticulable complaints about marriage: a husband’s drunkenness licensed complaints about his absence, his insolvency, his brutality. (48)

It is not a good enough solution, though. It creates new problems of its own, because it ultimately depends on the man’s promise, and that promise is subject to reversal and inflation. The Tenant at Wildfell Hall is as much a critique of the temperance plot as it is a protest against insincere vows and oppressive inequalities.

Finally, in her analysis of Jude the Obscure, Claybaugh raises the radical possibility of collective parenting—but that dream goes all the way back to Plato, and his radically tyrannical Republic.

***

What applies to individuals also applies to nations: supposedly sharp national boundaries are little more than convenient fictions, upheld in order to place artificial limits on our compassion and thus make it more manageable. Claybaugh writes that Martin Chuzzlewit “posits an absolute separation between the two nations that, as Dickens’s own experience of the United States showed, simply did not exist” (80). This leads to a new emphasis on “parochial” (83) concerns, like the idea of reforming the Chancery courts that preoccupies Dickens in Bleak House.

Claybaugh contrasts Dickens’s myopia with Stowe’s supposed transnationalism; the comparison is not particularly revealing, since Stowe’s transnationalism consists of the fantasy of permanent settlement in Liberia. This is a displaced fantasy of the American Dream of coming to the “promised land,” and living in freedom. However, Claybaugh does an excellent job demonstrating the galvanizing effect, on Dickens, of his travels in America; though they led him to become stubbornly English in his manner and concerns, they also inspired him to become a more fervent advocate of reform, and a self-serving shadow of this remains in the American “ordeal” (82) that changes Martin Chuzzlewit for the better. America was Dickens’s opportunity to gain perspective.

Above all, Claybaugh finds an exemplar in Henry James. She writes,

His greatest hope, he confided in 1888, was to write in such a way that no one would be able to tell whether he was ‘an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America’ This is a remarkable conception of cosmopolitanism, one that envisions not transcending national boundaries but rather always remaining on their other side. (150)

James attains this remarkable vision after he passes through a moralistic rejection of French literature, and allows himself to become a disciple of Balzac and a supporter of Zola. Just as, for Claybaugh, the doubled promise of marriage and temperance is invaded by adulterous desire, the threatened insularity of circulating and re-circulating “literature in English” is relieved by the irruption of French writers and models at key points in her book. In my next post, I will consider why she finds the French writerly tradition so admirable.


Comments

As I understand it from Thomas Bender’s A Nation Among Nations (and the historians he builds on such as Daniel Rodgers), modern progressivism was a truly transnational and global movement, not limited to the Anglo-American world, so perhaps it’s not surprising that there would be continental resonances in this Anglo-American study.  This is really a question for everyone in the event, as I can’t get my hands on a copy of the book here in Fukuoka just yet, but since you mentioned that she cites historians a lot, I’ll ask it here:  to what extent does she engage with the scholars of transnational progressivism in the modern era?

By The Constructivist on 04/15/07 at 09:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph, I’m not sure I follow your argument here.  So I’ll just comment on a minor point you raise at the end, concerning Stowe’s transnationalism.

Let’s just remember that Stowe’s novel is not transnational—it simply refuses free blacks a space in one nation: the United States.  At the end of *Uncle Tom’s Cabin*, blacks have a few possible positions: (a) slave in the South; (b) free in Canada or Liberia; (c) dead in the North or the South.  Stowe wants to free the slaves, but after freedom, she reverts to a proto-NIMBY attitude toward black folk.

By on 04/15/07 at 11:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther,

I totally agree with you re: Stowe, which is why I think James is much better model for Claybaugh’s desired transnationalism.

I can try to summarize this first part of my argument simply: for Claybaugh, such abstract entities as “realism,” the individual subject, and the nation are constructed fictions. This means, first of all, that they should be rejected in favor of revolutionary re-constructions of the social—for example, replacing sovereign individuality with utopian collectivity. It also means that they will be support and be supported by fiction as a genre: the myths of individuality and national identity are one with the conventions of narrative progress.

***

The Constructivist, let’s hope Ms. Claybaugh jumps in and speaks to your question; I’m simply not knowledgeable enough in this area to discern who among her citations might be such a scholar.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 04/15/07 at 03:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I would like to hear from Ms. Claybaugh as well, Luther.

By P. G. on 04/15/07 at 04:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph, one quick comment—you may already be planning on addressing this, and if so, ignore me—but doesn’t the idea of a “novel of purpose” imply not only an attitude toward one’s own work, but a belief in one’s ability to communicate that attitude to others.  (What’d be called in an earlier context “sympathetic identification.") Claybaugh speaks frequently (if not explicitly) of what I’ll call “communities of sympathetic readers,” i.e. readers whose “communities,” such that they are, exist only on the basis of their being able to understand the intention of these reformist plots even when they’re distorted by realist conventions.  Obviously, her focus on texts which don’t advertise this purporsiveness makes this point seem less important; but still, it seems to me that the readers of James are constituted as a community only inasmuch as they can recognize (on some level) the call of the reformist narratives.

(To show my hand a bit, I’m thinking about these issues in terms of the eventual development of realism into naturalism, i.e. a genre which shares realism’s (stated) conventions, but not the commitment to sympathy Claybaugh challenges.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/15/07 at 04:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Constructivist (and PG), I think that transnational progressivism is a very productive way of thinking about the United States in the twentieth century, but I think that in the nineteenth century the more useful category is the more specific one of Anglo-American reform. In the nineteenth century, both Britain and the United States understood social reform to be the one thing that distinguished them from Europe: it was reform, they believed, that had saved the two nations from the revolutions that were convulsing the continent. We may agree or disagree with this account of the nineteenth century (and we can certainly wonder where the US Civil War fits into it), but I think we shouldn’t ignore this felt sense of Anglo-American distinctiveness in our eagerness to connect the United States and Britain to broader trajectories of social change.

But I sense that you both, The Constructivist and PG, have more to say about this. Am I right to presume that you’re both working in the twentieth century? I’d be eager to hear how you think things change in that period (or what you think about the Bender and Rodgers). And Luther,
am I right to sense that you are dissenting not only from the suggestion that Stowe might be transnational, but also from a too-quick embrace of the transnational more generally? (If so, I think I may be joining your dissent).

By on 04/15/07 at 05:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Dr. Claybaugh, I suppose I am suspicious of the way in which “transatlantic” has come to signify “liberatory” or “full of new possibilities.” There’s an excellent Jim Crow play called “Flight to America,” in which English women run away to America to escape arranged marriages.  They run into Jim Crow, who’s a fugitive from a slaveowner who happens to be a relation of one of the women’s spouses-to-be.  The play is all about new possibilities, new social relations, available not only in the New World, but via transatlantic travel in general.  The women find spouses of their own choice, and Jim Crow remains free—but slavery itself, and the market in women, remain untouched as systems. 

But that same network of transatlantic travel—or of shipping in general—was built by the mercantile monopolies and brutal capitalists of Empire. 

This is one of my huge problems with Bharati Mukherjee’s fiction.  It adopts classic American tropes—the pioneer, the new self in the new world—for postcolonial subjects, but it fails to consider how these tropes of travel, however feminist they may register in her fiction, rest on networks of global capitalism, uneven development, &c.  (Pynchon does a good job with these ideas in *Mason & Dixon*, but then loses the plot in *Against the Day*.)

By on 04/15/07 at 08:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, hopefully my new post, which addresses your comment in terms of problematic communities of sympathetic readers, answers your question—if not, let me know.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 04/16/07 at 12:53 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I am supposed to be an antebellum specialist, but I’ve done as much teaching and more publishing on contemporary U.S. and world lit than in my supposed specialty.  Feel free to check out Citizen of Somewhere Else, where I blog interminably about Hawthorne, postcolonial studies, Morrison, and mooninite invasions.

BTW, LB, I’ve published an essay on Mukherjee and Conde’s rewritings of Hawthorne in which I’m a little more charitable to Mukherjee’s awareness of the economics of transnationalism in The Holder of the World than your comment above, which seems to be about her earlier work.  And I update it somewhere or other on CitizenSE.  I still like Conde’s version better, but that’s another story.

I haven’t read Rodgers’ work or Kloppenberg’s or the others that Bender builds on in A Nation Among Nations, but I can say that in his 5th chapter Bender broadens their Anglo-American focus by bringing in insights from people doing world history, that he covers roughly 1850-1950, with more details in the middle than the edges, that he focuses on urban reformers in various world cities in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and that he takes on such issues as the turn to the social and the consequences of industrialization.  In other words, he presents evidence that even in the 19th C only some felt the distinctiveness of the Anglo-American reform world, while others were networking globally.

I’m hesitant to evaluate these claims, as I tend to look pre-1850 rather than post-1850, and I realize Bender’s book wasn’t released until 2006, so I was really just asking about The Novel of Purpose out of a combination of curiosity and laziness.  The libraries here in Japan are great, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get ahold of new releases from Fukuoka(unless one’s publisher has a generous review policy--hint, hint)....

A slightly less than idle question occurs to me in light of the Stowe discussion so far:  anything on The Blithedale Romance?  on Hawthorne’s skepticism toward reform in such places as “The Sister Years,” “The Hall of Fantasy,” or The Life of Franklin Pierce?  Because if so then I have to get the book one way or another!

By The Constructivist on 04/16/07 at 01:32 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, Hawthorne surfaces at several points. We here at The Valve play your requests:

“The contrast between these two styles of painting replicates the contrast between a nascent realism and Hawthorne’s own representational practices. Again and again in [The Blithesdale Romance], the real is etherealized by maks and veils, curtain panels and lengths of gauze, fevers, fancies, and champagne, anything that might come between an observer and a reality that would otherwise be too grossly, too immediately real” (46).

By Joseph Kugelmass on 04/16/07 at 02:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph, thanks for the same hospitality you showed me when I first commented at the Kugelmass Episodes--although I must say I prefer this quotation to the cold mashed potatoes! (I did ask for them then, though, so I got what I deserved.)

On a slightly more serious note, I wonder how Claybaugh deals with Hawthorne’s politics and representational practices, because he seems to share some of her epistemological and ethical objections to realism (at least as you summarize them), yet doesn’t seem to share her commitment to social justice.  Arthur Riss does an interesting turn on the relation between The Marble Faun and “Chiefly About War Matters” that may be quite relevant for the relation between his aesthetics, representational practices, and politics that this Claybaugh quotation brings up.  So it seems like I do have to look at this book, after all.  After I’m done teaching Wednesday I’ll do some serious digging to figure out how to do just that.  Thanks again.

By The Constructivist on 04/16/07 at 04:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Ah, Luther, I was right: we *are* suspicious of the same things. In another thread, you had argued that the “cultural flows” between Great Britain and the United States were crucially determined by “materialist frameworks,” such as trade. A similar claim is the starting point for my book. I argue that trans-Atlantic scholarship has so far fallen into two categories: 1) studies that focus on the US-Britain relation and ask how the two nations imagined one another (I’m thinking here of Robert Weisbuch, Lawrence Buell, and much of Paul Giles) and 2) studies that focus on the Atlantic world more generally and seek to uncover the material networks that constituted this world (Paul Gilroy, Joseph Roach, and Brent Edwards). My book tries to bring the insights of the second set of scholars to bear on the questions asked by the first. More simply, I argue that the United States and Great Britain imagined one another in ways that were determined by the material relations already existing between them.

The relations I focus on are the ones created by social reform movements: nineteenth-century reformers crossed the Atlantic to visit one another; they went on trans-Atlantic lecture tours and attended Anglo-American conferences for reformist causes of all kinds; they exchanged letters, petitions, and “friendly addresses”; they raised money for one another through reformist bazaars and penny drives; and they offered one another tactical advice and moral support, as well. It was within the context of these concrete exchanges that reformers in both nations imagined the other—and, in imagining the other nation, sought to transform their own.

And so we have Chartists hoping that the US President would intervene on their behalf with the Queen, and we have black anti-slavery activists thinking of England as their true ancestral home (Elisa Tamarkin has a fantastic article on this). But, of course, not all of these fantasies led to real change—and not all of these fantasies were ones that we would now identify as libratory or progressive. The politics of nineteenth-century reform are simply too complicated for that.

And then there’s Luther’s crucial point, that these reformist exchanges (whatever their own politics might be) were made possible by the existence of other networks of exchange, which continue on unaltered by reform. Luther shows this through his elegant reading of “Flight to America.” I try to show it in my discussion of Elizabeth Stoddard’s *The Morgesons,* which borrows narratives from temperance and anti-slavery reform even while acknowledging that the protagonist’s family’s money comes from the trade in slaves and rum.

By on 04/16/07 at 11:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The Constructivist: Why, yes, I do indeed write a bit about Hawthorne. I can explain what I say about him more easily if I first sketch my argument more generally. The nineteenth-century novel got caught up, I argue, in the Anglo-American culture of reform, and the result was a conception of the novel best captured in the contemporary critical phrase, “novel of purpose.” Nineteenth-century novels were written, published, read, and reviewed in a literary world that was entirely structured by the expectation that novels would seek to act on their readers—and, through their readers, the world. And it is the purposefulness of the Anglo-American novel that distinguishes continental realism (which seeks to represent the world as it is) from what I call Anglo-American realism (which represents the world in the hope of changing it).

My main interest lies, however, with those novelists who had some reservations about the literary consensus I’ve just described. For some, the reservations were primarily political: Charles Dickens believed that temperance reform was a distraction from the real needs of the poor, while Thomas Hardy believed that marriage law reform would make no difference at all, and George Eliot became increasingly skeptical of universal manhood suffrage. For others, the reservations were primarily literary: Henry James showed the ways in which reformist impulses deformed the realist project, and Mark Twain showed how the sentimentalism of reformist writing had become a way of flattering readers (and presenting oneself as an important writer) rather than a sincere effort to change the world.

For me, then, Hawthorne is one of the most insightful observers of the phenomena I’ve seeking to describe. I read *The Blithedale Romance* as not only identifying (and satirizing) the culture of reform that interests me, but also as identifying (and parodying) the entanglement of reformist impulses with literary realism that I’m seeking to trace. And now I wonder whether this accords with your sense of Hawthorne?

By on 04/16/07 at 04:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Off to teach, but a quick thanks for framing your interest in Hawthorne, AC.  I wonder what role Hawthorne’s anti-abolitionism plays in your overall sense of his critiques of reform and realism.  That’s been one of my focuses over at CitizenSE.  More here when I have a sec!

By The Constructivist on 04/18/07 at 02:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

AC, Scott’s 4/19 post on Twain (among many other things) inspired me to begin working on a Twain post for 4/20 that, if I can find your book in Fukuoka today, will also be a quick response to your take on Twain and not only his.  Just a heads-up.

By The Constructivist on 04/19/07 at 09:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I apologize for my delay in responding to the substance of this post: it was so dazzling that at first I could only marvel and admire. Joseph Kugelmass is exactly right that my own historical approach is not intended to be anti-theoretical; my thinking is deeply shaped by the theorists he discusses, although I don’t think I could give nearly so elegant an account of them. But I do want to re-insert history into Kugelmass’s theoretical account at one point. Where he says that “a unity is an arbitrary construction,” I’d say, “arbitrary, but historically-determined.” I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over the various arbitrary constructions that seemed very real to my novelists and reformers, asking why a given mode of representation (realism) came to be associated with a given body of subject matter (the workers, the poor) and why movements that seem to us to have quite different politics (anti-slavery activism and temperance reform) were once seen as allied. And I try, in my book, to show how these associations and alliances took shape over time. This is why I’m so taken with Peter Demetz’s idea of the syndrome: it suggests that seemingly arbitrary constructions are best understood as the record of all prior—and often haphazard—choices. Novelists imitate novelists and reformers imitate reformers, modifying one another all the while, until something we can call “reform” or “realism” begins to take shape.

By on 04/20/07 at 06:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Dr. Claybaugh, thank you for your kind compliments; I had much the same reaction upon finishing your book.

The idea of describing ideological constructions as historically determined makes good sense, and is in keeping with your attentiveness to historical detail throughout The Novel of Purpose.

I suspect that your history of publishing in the 19th Century, and the history of book prices and circulating libraries in the English-speaking world, will prove very helpful to me in my own work on representations of the scene of reading, and the scene of writing, in Anglo-American and Continental modernism.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 04/21/07 at 07:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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