Author: AM

Article Overview of Heather Hicks’ “’This Strange Communion”: Surveillance and Spectatorship in Ann Petry’s The Street”

Heather Hicks argues that “a central concern in The Street has never been addressed: namely, the dynamics of spectatorship and surveillance that animate the racist social formation of Harlem” (21). She states, “Petry…produces a distinctive view…between spectatorship and surveillance” (22). Hicks foregrounds her argument by offering a brief overview of the British art historian Griselda Pollock’s essay “Feminism/Foucault—Surveillance/Sexuality.” Hicks discusses Pollock’s assertion that there is a “key distinction between ‘fascinated looking’ and ‘disciplinary investigation” (23). According to Hicks, Pollack “connect[s]” fascinated looking with “’the mechanism and processes associated with the unconscious’” and its “drives” which are “’unpredictable and destabilizing plays of fascination, curiosity, dread, desire, and horror’ complicate—or ‘furrow’—the will to know and the resultant relations of power’” (23).

Hicks asserts the following:
• “Petry’s novel constructs a picture of social relations…in which two distinct, but interdependent, modes of looking are in operation…spectatorship and speculation” (24).
• There are two characters through which Petry demonstrates modes of looking. (These modes are “distinct” from one another.)
o The “Super”
 “fascinated looking”
• which “Pollock associates” with sexual desire
• and “Psychoanalytic theory treats as male gaze” (24
o Mrs. Hedges (who runs a whorehouse in the building)
 Who “embodies a mode of controlling surveillance”
• While Mrs. Hedges sees Lutie’s body as a “sexual object,” she does so because she views Lutie’s body as “saleable” (27)
• She is engaged in “tireless surveillance” for Junto
o Junto is the white controller of the “large prostitution ring” Mrs. Hedges runs

Hicks admits Junto is also a type of “watcher” in the novel, but due to limitations of “space” in the essay, she chooses not to focus on him. However, Hicks asserts that Junto is, as Marjorie Pryse argues that Junto is, “not one man but a figure for a power that feeds on the color line but not reducible to it” (28). He is according to Hicks, also, as “Wurst put it, ‘invisible, invincible, and omnipresent” (28).

Hicks asserts that what makes the gaze of Hedge’s (“as the eyes of Junto”—though a gaze that is separate from Junto’s) and the Super’s important in the text is the way they each “represent a sexualized, fascinated looking, respectively” at Lutie’s body—for their own purposes (30).

Finally, Hicks states the hope that the argument she’s presented establishes “Petry’s novel is a subtle mediation on the relays and intersections between fascinated, sexualized looking and a regulatory gaze of surveillance that serves as a racist system of power” (33).

My thoughts on the article: Hicks presents an interesting and compelling argument in her reading of Petry’s The Street. Her use of Griselda Pollock’s essay works as a fitting underpinning to her assertion that Petry’s The Street exposes two important types of gaze that Lutie, as an African American woman is subjected to; and, through Lutie’s fictional situation, Petry is exposing a real world issue for African Americans, and African American women in particular.
How can we apply these two types of looking to other naturalists’ works we’ve read this semester?


An Overview: Donald Pizer’s “The Naturalism of The House of Mirth”

In “The Naturalism of The House of Mirth,” Donald Pizer argues that while “[i]n recent years” critics “often endorse” that “The House of Mirth can be best be read as a form of Naturalistic fiction” (241), there are some critical points “absent from almost all of this reexamination of The House of Mirth” (242). These are:

• “An effort to reconcile Lily Bart as naturalistic victim of her world” (242)
• And, “Wharton’s bold concerted attempt, at the close of her work to modify, an interpretation of this kind” (242)

Pizer further asserts, “The rediscovery of Wharton as a naturalist…has also led…to the redeployment of the critical assumption that American naturalism…is an unqualified representation of social determinism in action” (242). He challenges this assumption. To do so, Pizer first examines several examples of where Wharton uses social determinism within the text; he then argues that “[t]oward the end of the novel…Wharton juxtaposes this conscious deterministic theme of victimization by one’s familial social environment…with two striking alternative forms of belief and value” (242):

• Nettie’s “triumph” over the circumstances she is born to—representing “victim to victory” (244)

o Nettie’s “powerful will” in combination with “providential actuality of a man willing to take a chance on her” (244)

• Lily’s death

o Though Lily dies, when she goes to bed, “something live[s] between” her and Seldon, “like an imperishable flame…it was the love his love had kindled” (245)
o Lily dies imagining she is holding Nettie’s child (245)
o Seldon at Lily’s bedside, “it was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which had kept them from atrophy and extinction (246)

Pizer asserts that these examples are textual evidence that Wharton is doing something not commonly done among the naturalists; Wharton’s The House of Mirth (Pizer also refers to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie) concludes, “Life seemingly defeats the human effort to believe in a spiritual force in life, but in fact that belief transcends defeat both in its functional force during life and in its permanence despite the transience of life” (246).

• “The naturalism of The House of Mirth is therefore different from and similar to Wharton’s Principal naturalist contemporaries” (246-247)
• “Wharton was…not committed to a doctrinaire or prescriptive notion of determinism” (247). “She…is adding to this premise [human life is…conditioned]…men and women also gain strength and derive meaning from their desires, hopes, and faiths” (247)

Pizer’s argument is well laid out. He carefully follows each point of he makes with strong textual evidence and frames that evidence within the context Wharton wrote the novel in.
Question: Can you think of other examples from the naturalist works we have read that conclude belief “transcends defeat in life and in its permanence despite the transience”?

Article Expert: Gillian Beer’s “Descent and Sexual Selection: Women and Narrative” and “Finding a Scale for the Human: Plot and Narrative in Hardy’s Novels”

In “Descent and Sexual Selection: Women and Narrative” Gillian Beer states, “During the 1870s and 1880s…further implications of evolutionary theory became apparent, particularly the social and psychological implications of Darwin’s theories and their bearing on relationships between men and women” (446). Beer discusses how Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1870) “brought humankind openly into the evolutionary debate and emphasized not only natural—that is unwilled—selection, but also sexual selection” (446).

Beer notes that questions such as, “[W]hat emotions, values, and reflex actions help the individual and the race survive?” and “What [is] the role of women, whose progenitive powers physically [transmit] the race?” and “How did relationships between men and women subserve generation and development?” began to be raised (446).

Beer discusses Darwin’s assertions that in “in contrast to all other species…among humankind the male dominates choice” (Beer 447). Beer quotes Darwin’s statement, “’Man is more powerful in body and mind than woman, and in the savage state he keeps her in a far more abject state of bondage than does the male of any other animal’” (447). Beer points out “The idea of sexual selection made for a complex confusion of biological and social determinants in descent, transmission and sexroles” (450). Finally, Beer reasserts, “The intersection of evolutionary theory and psychological theory became newly important” (450).

In Beer’s “Finding a Scale for the Human: Plot and Narrative in Hardy’s Novels,” Beer states, “In this argument I want to explore a more general question to do with the relationship of plot and writing. Most commentators have emphasized the point of connection between Hardy and Darwin in terms of pessimism, a sense that the laws of life are themselves flawed” (Beer 451 [emphasis mine]). Beers argues that, “Hardy’s texts pay homage to human scale by ceasing as the hero or heroine dies. The single lifespan is no longer an absolute, but polemical…It opposes evolutionary meliorism or pessimism by making the single generation carry the freight of signification” (452). Beer’s argument emphasizes the importance of Darwin’s influence in Hardy’s works.

Beer notes, “In reading Hardy’s work we often find a triple level of plot generated: the anxiously scheming and predictive plot of the characters’ making; the optative plot of the commentary, which often takes the form ‘Why did nobody’ or “had somebody…’, and the absolute plot of blind interaction” (453). Beer adds to this that, “The emphasis” in Hardy’s works is “upon systems more extensive than life span of the individual and little according to his needs is essential” (453).

Finally, because of the limit to the length of my analysis, it is crucial to note that for Hardy, according to Beer, “Sexual Joy is always dangerous, not only because of the possibility of loss, but because it is linked to generation, the law which rides like a juggernaut over and through the individual and lifespans” (454).

My reaction to Beer’s articles, particularly layered one on top of the other, as the Norton’s 3rd Critical Edition of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles has published them, is that Beer writes a powerful argument in terms of the way Hardy’s works must be read. Indeed, when we read Tess we cannot escape the systems the author has carefully laid in place, the generational limitations Tess is bound to and by, and the implications of male selection in Tess’ life and in that of her mother’s life before her.

Vocabulary Critical to the Reading of Beer:

meliorism: “The doctrine that the world, or society, may be improved and suffering alleviated through rightly directed human effort; a policy embodying this doctrine” (OED).

optative: “Relating to choice, or expressing desire; relating to the future and to the decisions it involves” (OED).

Works Cited

Beer, Jillian. “Descent and Sexual Selection: Women and Narrative.” Tess of the D’Urbervilles: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Sources Criticism 3rd Edition. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991. 446-451. Print.

Beer, Jillian. “Finding a Scale for the Human: Plot and Narrative in Hardy’s Novels.” Tess of the D’Urbervilles: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Sources Criticism 3rd Edition. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991. 451-460. Print.

“meliorism, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 10 September 2015.

“optative, adj. and n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 10 September 2015.

Submitted by Amy M.

Article Expert: Emile Zola’s “The Experimental Novel”

In his essay, “The Experimental Novel,” Emile Zola relies heavily upon Claude Bernard’s Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Zola states Bernard’s book is “set forth with force and marvelous clarity” (Zola 162). Understanding that Zola is using Bernard’s work is crucial to following Zola’s line of reasoning throughout his essay; Zola refers to Bernard’s Introduction to underline, or bring emphasis to, nearly every point or argument he asserts within “The Experimental Novel.”

Zola asserts that by “replac[ing] the word ‘doctor’” with “the word ‘novelist’” he will be able to “make [his] thought clear and bring it to the rigor of scientific truth” (162). He adds to this that “medicine, like the novel, is still an art” (162). He discusses the differences between the “experimental” and “observational” sciences, stating that “observation ‘shows’ and experiment ‘informs’” (166). He later adds that “[o]bservation shows” while “experiment instructs” (168).

According to Zola, the “naturalistic novel…is a true experiment which the novelist makes on men, with the support of observation” (167). Zola makes constant comparisons between the scientist and the novelist, or uses the sciences and the methods used therein to prove the work of the naturalistic novelist is scientific in nature. “We novelists,” he states, “are examining magistrates of men and their passions” (168).
Zola also makes a point to highlight the differences between the idealist novelists and the naturalists. In one example he states that the idealist writers “leave observation and experiment to base their works on the supernatural and the irrational” ([emphasis mine] 177). His comments on the idealists are not favorable. (See also middle of page 178.)

Ever drawing the experimental novelists’ close alignment with science, Zola asserts, “The experimental novel” or the naturalist’s novel, “is a result of the scientific evolution of the age; it continues and completes physiology, which…leans on physics and chemistry” (176). Yet, while Zola draws similarities, he also highlights a major difference, “Since our power is not the same as that of scientists. Since we are experimenters without being practitioners, we must be content to seek out the determinism of social phenomena, leaving to legislators, to those with power of application, the task sooner or later of directing these phenomena…to develop the good and reduce the bad from a standpoint of human utility” (180-181).

He defends naturalists against the accusation that they are fatalists. Zola explains that rather they are determinists (179). (For more on this see the top of pages 180 and 184)
In short, Zola sees the naturalist novelists “role” to be “experimental moralists” (181). “We show the mechanism of the useful or the harmful; we disengage the determinism of social phenomena so that we may one day control and direct these phenomena. In a word we work with the whole age at that great task which is the conquest of nature, the unleashing of man’s power” (181).

Zola’s incredible sense of importance (almost grandiose) that the experimental novelist holds within in society is evidenced repeatedly. He states that “[t]he genius of the experimenter dominates everything” (183). He then asks, “What…happens to genius in the experimental novelist? It remains genius…only if it is controlled by experiment” (183). He concludes this point with, “[i]n our scientific age, experiment ought to provide proof of genius” (184).
My questions are these: Can a novelist truly experiment upon, or only observe, his characters when he is their creator and writes every movement and breath they take? Can a writer help but be moved by personal biases when creating a novel? I say no. Does knowing how Zola viewed his work change your reading of L’Assommoir? How? Why or why not?

Submitted by Amy M.