January 7, 2008 at 4:38 am Leave a comment

Here’s a classic example of misreading Jack London’ s dog stories. Critic X opines:

London creates, instead, romantically realistic heroes in his dogs–and naturalism is dispelled. It is his socialistic works that reek of pessimistic determinism. His dogs not only survive but they triumph. Within the realm of actual behavior, the exceptional dog is capable of deeds that humankind finds noble. Because adaptability is more important than sheer savagery, the triumphant animal is more than the most powerful predatory beast. On the other hand, where he does follow the laws of survival that offend the morality expected of the human hero, he may be excused.

X has been arguing in preceding chapters that animals in American literature can be read as literal animals in addition to being read as symbol, allegory, and metaphor. These literal and literary whales, frogs, and asses highlight versions of the free exceptional individual. X begins the London chapter by invoking the hoary debate about who’s in and who’s out of the naturalism club. It’s a bit like the lit-critical equivalent of American Idol. Pessimistic enough? Sufficiently determined to suit Paula Abdul?

London’s dogs are in, the reeking socialist texts are out. X never bothers to mention which texts she has in mind, nor to demonstrate the manner of their determinism. What a relief! I’d really hate to suffer her Iron Heel treatment. If you’ve not read it, The Iron Heel is a graphic anticipatory meditation on American fascism from the perspective of a manuscript edited by the socialists of the future. It is grimly optimistic.

Like Budweiser’s real American heroes commercials, X suggests London’s dogs not only survive, but triumph! They’re probably McCain voters. She intends, I suppose, by “the realm of actual behavior” the kind of stuff that goes on outside of naturalism and reeking socialism, you know–the whole free individual rag. I wish X was free of opaque prose: “capable of deeds that humankind finds noble.” Like what? Namely?

The last lines about possibly being more than the most powerful predatory beast remind me of the typical ideological position of Ron Paul’s brutes. Government impedes their individual merit. If repealing the “welfare state” (that they believe it still exists is largely faith based) hurts the poor, the elderly, the less priviliged, it’s their (the less privileged) own damn fault. We (the sane) can’t blame the baleful outcome of childish economic policies on Ron Paul’s advocates. It’s about personal freedom.


Entry filed under: American Literary Naturalism, Jack London. Tags: , , , , .

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