A Note on Pizer

April 5, 2007 at 3:05 pm Leave a comment

I’ll be finishing Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature today, and will have a running series of upcoming posts on Jack London and Georg Lukacs.

For now I’d like to offer two quotes from Pizer that, put in dialogue, suggest some of the interest in naturalism of the 1890s.

Pizer writes that “American naturalism of the 1890s was largely apolitical, but in the 1930s the movement was aligned with the left wing in American politics and often specifically with the Communist Party” (43).

I’d like to argue that naturalism of the 1890s is as political as the naturalism of the 1930s. Frank Norris‘ faith in the blood-destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race was political. Dreiser‘s Carrie manages to be sympathetic and critical of desiring machines. And Crane‘s irony renders death in war profoundly unheroic.

Pizer notes that “the form of the naturalistic novel begins to create an effect of uncertainty, of doubt and perplexity, about whether anything can be gained or learned from experience–indeed, of wonder if experience has any meaning aside from the existential value of a collision with phenomena” (37).

I’m interested in the opening that this “effect of uncertainty, of doubt and perplexity” inaugurates. To the degree that the naturalist novel is realistic, this uncertainty throws into jeopardy our faith in the smooth progress of business as usual. Uncertainty, doubt, and perplexity, immediately attempt to find their satisfaction in something beyond themselves–a structure that is not “realistic”.

This is commonly how people talk about communism. “It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t work.” Naturalism works like capitalism. It throws into stark relief what happens when “what works” doesn’t work. In so far as the naturalism of the 1890s is concerned with the fall of proletarian individuals, it welcomes the possibility (without naming it) of a cooperative alternative that shifts the burden of experience from the individual to the collective.

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Entry filed under: American Literary Naturalism, Literary Criticism, Pizer.

Pizer Again London’s Representative Animals

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