At Work

March 19, 2007 at 3:10 pm 5 comments

I’m at work with Pizer’s Theory. Just quickly I’d like to note how Pizer, at a moment when Walcutt’s Two Streams was the standard text in the field, dug in his heels, and said no, a naturalist’s naturalism is not a textual excrescence marring what might otherwise be good fiction.

Pizer demonstrate’s how Dreiser’s naturalism strengthens and is of a piece with his thematic content. Part of what I like about Pizer’s approach, in addition to generally agreeing with his close readings of Dreiser, is the sympathetic approach that he takes to a major movement in American literary history, when it was considered disreputable at best to be interested in a group of writers dismissed for their leftist commitments and “confused” philosophy. Prior to Pizer (though it still continues to this day) a critic would describe naturalism as a form of pessimistic determinism, of which Zola’s fiction is exemplary. The critic would then complain that the American naturalist’s fiction is confused in so far as it is not sufficiently deterministic, and thus he (typically) is represented as a bad naturalist, or that his fiction is overly deterministic and hence, limited. Pizer’s close readings demonstrate naturalists like Dreiser’s frequently complex treatment of consciousness.

Pizer shows that naturalism has three major periods.

1.) The 1890s (Crane, Norris, Dreiser)

2.) The 1930s (Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Farrell)

3.) The late ’40s, early ’50s (Bellow, Styron, Mailer)

And I would submit, a later group: (Proulx, DeLillo)

Naturalism for Pizer is decidedly a boys club, and a lot of recent work explodes this. I’ll be headed there in the near future. What is interesting in Pizer is his affirmation of the claim that naturalism never dies in America (by which he means the United States. I imagine there are some astonishing South American and Canadian naturalisms). The reason naturalism sticks with us is its peculiar interrogation of materialism and the ideal. A combination well suited to periods of crisis.

I’ll have more on Pizer soon.

Entry filed under: American Literary Naturalism, Pizer.

Final Gold Standard Pizer and Michaels

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. cerebraljetsam  |  March 19, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Talking about boys club: where would you fit in Josephine Herbst, or Meridel LeSueur (I assume 1930s red feminism) and how is what they do different than what the boys club may do? Is that a differert naturalism? Does Pizer mention them?

  • 2. skunkcabbage  |  March 20, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    An excellent question. I need to read Herbst, LeSueur, and really a variety of ’30s naturalisms and get back to you. Appreciate being put in mind of it.

    Pizer doesn’t mention them. As far as women go, he discusses Wharton. In his Cambridge Companion he seems open to the possibility of a broadly understood naturalism that encompasses a variety of writers. Primarily, his own work is a pitched battle for the literary merit of Dreiser, Norris, and Crane.

  • 3. cerebraljetsam  |  March 20, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    That is really interesting. I heard these two women were really big in the 30s but no one talks about them any more. The only book in which I have read more detailed accounts of their work is in Alan Wald’s _Exiles from a Future Time_ (or was it in _The New York Intellectuals_?). Seems like you could really produce some badly needed scholarship here.

  • 4. skunkcabbage  |  March 20, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    I have a dim primordial memory of borrowing Tim’s New York Intellectuals. I remember the names being mentioned. I’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Exiles.

    The funny thing about naturalism is that there’s a ton of work to be done. I’ll have some posts on more contemporary scholarship soon. A lot of people are interested in a much lager, oops!, larger canon.

  • 5. Friendly Comment Spammers 29/40 « !anaj ,em s’taht  |  March 21, 2007 at 6:32 am

    […] still (Baudrillard in particular, and read about Capitalism 3.0 and learn about the different epochs of American Naturalism). Hope to get around to this […]


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