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Historical development in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’

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The idea of this story as representing a protagonist subject to a very nineteenth century medical regime of isolation by a domineering husband will be familiar, but I see it more as dealing with the notion of phases of historical development. The walls, gates and labourer’s homes her windows look out onto partaking of the residua of a feudal order, her husband with his reliance on that which is quantifiable, not to mention her own desire being channelled through a wish to make herself useful in gainful labour are all suggestive of the new order of things yet to consolidate themselves, the yellow wallpaper its interior accompaniment.

Under the sustained gaze of the unnamed protagonist, the wallpaper becomes a site of contradiction, its ‘outrageous angles’ and ‘unheard-of contradictions’, seeming to warn of self-destruction and suicide, the subtext to the avant-garde, but in this oscillation between its ‘debased romanesque’ classicism and abstraction, it holds out great promise, particularly in the woman who will occasionally appear behind it, and seems to move with more freedom than the protagonist does.

The discourse occasionally will identify this woman with a projection of her unconscious, but this seems to me to be a misprision, or concession to the idea that she is mentally ill; l; based on physical descriptions of her stalking the house, it seems fairly clear to me that it is her or how she might be, given some revolutionary re-ordering of things as they are

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Herman Melville’s ‘Mardi, and a Voyage Thither’

One of the consequences of quantitative literary theory gaining ground over the past while is the growth of mediating theories that attempt to account for stylistic development when so-called empirical evidence now exists to justify it. Hence the emergence of what you might call a selfish gene theory of literary history. I’m a bit dismayed to see how many critics have made hay of a eugenic concept in literary criticism and while Frederic Jameson is one of the more peculiar converts, it is through his and others’ writings that I have become aware of the term ‘ideologeme’, a term meaning a single unit of ideology, used as a means of giving a name to the operationalising of formal tropes in hegemonic, or counter-hegemonic projects.

If I’m dubious about the overall thrust of this I’m definitely unsure how to talk about ideology in discrete units, though it is probably the least offensive thing about the new formalism. Nevertheless it makes for an interesting framework for discussing Herman Melville’s novel Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849), a picaresque account of a voyage around a sequence of islands in the pacific ocean. The formal logic of Mardi is straightforward enough to characterise. Its nested narratives, extended diversions into philosophical dialogue, lists, songs and poems, historical archetypes, esoteric vocabulary, flighty metaphors, circumambulatory and self-conscious prose style over-inflated with alliteration and wordplay — medieval and Latinate diction make themselves known occasionally— moving easily from from picaresques to weighty reflections on the nature of time, puts one in mind of some culmination of Quixote, Jonathan Swift and Voltaire’s Candide.

On a thematic level these comparisons too remain apposite; Mardi’s assault on narrative authority and formal logic, its dismissal of organised systems of power and ambivalence regarding human rationality, shows Melville beating a path for Pynchon before the twentieth century had even begun (complete with his Orientalism ofc) his extreme prescience is contained within a sequence of tropes dating from previous centuries.

All this serves to remind me that in my undergraduate days, I chose classes with texts set later than 1922, under the assumption that literature written in modern or contemporary contexts were more experimental or outré than medieval or early modern texts. It was the most wrong I’ve ever been about anything and tells us why, in my opinion, any credible account of literature’s ‘evolution’ must contend with how capitalism has made it worse.

The Capitalist Universe of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

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The film’s main character is Stewart from Bedford Falls, New York, who inherits a savings and loan association from his father, and runs into financial difficulty due to the machinations of Barrymore, a representative of Big and therefore Bad Business. Barrymore owns everything in Bedford Falls apart from Stewart’s Savings & Loans. During a meeting between the two, Barrymore mentions they were the only two businessmen were the only two to keep their heads during the depression and presumably this means, to hold sufficient amounts of liquid assets to keep afloat while others haemorrhaged funds and lost everything. It should be noted though, that Barrymore seems to have done significantly better out of the depression, and that Stewart has not only been bested by old money, but all of his contemporaries; his brother is a war hero, one of his best friends from college became an auto parts magnate, etc.

In this way, the film anticipates the television series Breaking Bad, in representing the travails of hypercapitalist men too invested in doing what they do well to make it in the world as the ‘success’ they should have been, while being swept up more in the process of accummulating capital according to some masculine ethic of domination, despite their claims to be doing it for the benefit of their wives or children, who they in fact transparently resent and certainly aren’t above threatening with violence. Stewart does almost nothing around the house but scream at his kids, kick or punch objects, and I don’t think it’s an egregious overreading to suggest that the ending will mark only a temporary improvement on his mood, based on his wife’s reaction to him coming home on Christmas eve.

In all this, the film represents nothing less than the religious imaginary of the bourgeois, especially in their incarntion as ‘small to medium business owner’. despite owning a financial institution, Stewart is a proletarian, put upon by Barrymore, providing the poor working people of bedford falls with a service, rather than inflating speculative bubbles with their money and turning a decrepit building into a mansion just by virtue of having a plucky wife willing to slap up some new wallpaper. The film is a dream of speculative capital redeemed by its putatively collective qualities, as if the negotiation of a mortgage was not a stratified relationship, as if goodwill rather than politically enforced imperatives were what was actually connecting a bank manager with his customers.

More than all this though, is the film’s cosmology. The angel sent down to convince stewart not to commit suicide does so due to heaven being a tiered workplace, with each angel seemingly required to spend a few generations in the lower tier as a guardian angel. Now, i don’t think we get sufficient insight into heaven’s overall functioning to tell whether or not it is capitalist rather than a bureaucracy, preventing one’s charges from committing suicide being the only clear means of advancement we see, but one should note its apparent similarity to Stewart’s building society, a vision of philanthropic capital which can work from both sides of a fundamentally unequal relationship. The bartender ringing the bell on the till and declaring that he’s giving out wings is heavy-handed, but indicative of the profound incuriosity and myopia of bourgeois art. Even in the furthest reaches of the known universe and inthe next life, the extent of their social vision is high-financial capital incentivised in the direction of philanthropy

Songs I Enjoyed During the Year That Was

 

 

Brand Modernism and Hemingway’s ‘Torrents of Spring’

Ernest Hemingway’s novel Torrents of Springis not very good. An author’s note at its end informs us that it was written in ten days and if this account of its composition is true, it very much shows. The reason I am choosing to inflict this reading experience on myself is because of my PhD research; my stylometric analysis of nineteenth and twentieth century literature, which involves identifying words which are particular to each author, informs me that Torrents of Spring marks a departure from Hemingway’s usual range of expression, away from words like ‘hell’, ‘bottle’, ‘drink’, ‘hit’ and ‘you’re’, to words like ‘wife’, ‘woman’, ‘happiest’, ‘agreed’, and ‘herself’, words Hemingway does not use anywhere else in his oeuvre. It’s worth pointing out that Hemingway wrote Torrrents of Spring as a satire of Sherwood Anderson’s novel Dark Laughter. How successful it is in this regard I don’t know, what I am more interesting in tracing, is the opportunity Hemingway takes to launch a broadside against the modernist project at large.

There’s not a page that goes by that Hemingway does not satirise the prose styles of either Gertrude Stein (‘Yogi Johnson walking down the silent street with his arm around the little Indian’s shoulder. The big Indian walking along beside them. The cold night. The shuttered houses of the town. The little Indian, who has lost his artificial arm. The big Indian, who was also in the war. Yogi Johnson, who was in the war too’) the more folksy thoughts of Leopold Bloom (‘What is that old writing fellow Shakespear says?’) or the weightier thematising of D.H. Lawrence (‘In some ways the pump-factory had hardened him. His speech had become more clipped. More like these hardy Northern workers’). More than these individual examples however is the broader alienation or discomfort intergral to modern life in industrialised Anglosphere after the first world war, summed up in the persistent refrain: ‘What was it all about? Where was it taking her?’

This is a familiar story underpinning literary modernism’s emergence, and we know well the formal strategies which emerge as a means of containing the modern sensibility, be it fragmentation, referentiality, the drawing on literary antecedents as a guarantor of one’s own fundamental seriousness. And none of these emerge unscathed either. The waitress at the diner to whom one of the main characters becomes engaged is from the Lake District (‘Wordworth’s country’ comes the helpful gloss), for instance.

The culmination of all this comes in Hemingway’s solicitous addresses to the reader which are interleaved throughout the text, about his luncheons with John Dos Passos and how F. Scott FitzGerald’s just been by, and how difficult it was to research the history of Native American tribes in the last chapter and if the reader has a manuscript themselves to drop it by one of the cafés, etc. Subtlety is obviously not what Hemingway’s about here, but it’s an interesting observation on the tension between what the modernist project said about itself and how Hemingway regarded it in practice. Rather than being founded on autonomy and transcendence, it inculcates a cult of the author and whatever mastery they exhibit over their materials. The insular gossip culture of Paris travels as far as Petoskey, Michigan, with factory workers and waitresses trading anecdotes about Henry James’ last words and Ford Madox Ford’s encounters with high society. It is this sublimated, parasocial aspect to the modern that is most noteworthy in Torrents of Spring, and certainly appears to be the most enduring, based on how the vast majority of them are now marketed (‘just think of it, H.G. Wells talking about you right in our home. Anyway, H.G. Wells’). The final author’s note, injuncting the reader to tell their friends about the book if they enjoyed it because of how hard it is to shift units these days, make clear in precise terms what these poses, aesthetic though they may be, are really all about.

Books I would like to read that don’t exist

On the ruinous tweeness of webcomics, popular existentialism, Kraftwerk’s role in ideologically laundering the EU project, Marxism and paranoia, a sociology of creative writing workshops, the rich, anti-communism in Irish literature, a literary history of Fine Gael and the avant-garde, on the hauntology of tacky dubstep, how the fash/Heideggerian ‘authentic relationship with nature’ was commodified, a novel that reads like an encyclopedia/history of an invented country, Alice Spawl on the Brontës, Aphex Twin’s cornishness,a collection of the best (justified) literary hatchet jobs, a non-anthropocentric treatment of experiments with animal communication on the consequences of cross-species communication, Enzo Traverso on Irish left melancholia and Judith Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

A collection of essays considering the crossover between illness and the avant-garde , a book that locates the blame for Brexit at the foot of Ian McEwan and Martin Amis’ ouevre, a book that blames Jonathan Franzen for Trump, a book on the Britpop psyop , a dystopian sci-fi novel where art is a means of oppression rather than the straightforward force of resistance it’s usually represented as.

The Gathering if Anne Enright had written it as the Faulkneresque three generations of the Free State it started out as, as well as the magical realism one she wrote in UEA about Colly Ciber adapting Shakespeare, a non-contrived historiographical metafiction, Emma Donoghue Hood sequel, Deleuze and Guattari critique cryptids, the novel Lucia Joyce wrote that her brother burned on her death, the original draft of Nightwood, Derrida’s response to Gadamer, the novel Joyce would’ve actually written had he lived to be a hundred and lived in Iowa (Don DeLillo said this of the warren report).

Maggie Nelson on purple.

Network Analysis

Once the network has been imported into Gephi we can colourise it according to the century in which it was written, with twentieth century texts in pink, and nineteenth century novels in green

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No the resolution isn’t great here, WordPress has limits in terms of what it can accept, but you get the picture, there’s a clear separation here. There’s also some interesting intermingling of particular authors, in the upper part of the network we can see the novels of Stephen Crane, an American writing in the late nineteenth century, being drawn into a cluster of classical modernist works sucha s Woolf, Joyce and Ford, as below:

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What’s interesting about this, is that the kidn of fiction Crane is conventionally understood to have written, naturalism, is increasingly being discussed in the context of more recent literary criticism as a modernist, or a proto-modernist form, as opposed to the low, popular or proletarian traditions it was associated with in the past.

More importantly though, we can perform community detection algorithms on the network. Rather than using associated metadata to determine the nature of the network visualisation, we can use the weights between the novels to tell us how similar the writing styles of these authors are. The network appears below, the potentially more illustrative key follows.

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