Containing Multitudes: Realism,
Historicism, American Studies
CHRISTOPHER P. WILSON
Things tell a story. Their parts hang together so as to work out a climax. . . . Retrospectively, we can see that altho no definite purpose presided over a chain of events, yet the events fell into a dramatic form, with a start, a middle, and a finish. In point of fact all stories end; and here again the point of view of a many is the more natural one to take. The world is full of partial stories that run parallel to one another, beginning and ending at odd times. They mutually interlace and interfere at points, but we cannot unify them completely in our minds.
History is what hurts, it is what refuses desire and sets inexorable limits to individual as well as collective praxis . . . we may be sure that its alienating necessities will not forget us, however much we might prefer to ignore them.
It is hardly news that much of postmodern theory seems to be fulfilling Roland Barthes's unwitting prophecy that "a little formalism turns one away from History," but that "a lot brings one back to it." Yet if current interpretation takes place, as one critic has rather grandly put it, on a "Homeric battlefield," then this (re)turn of literary theory to historical inquiry has often been greeted as the proverbial Trojan horse. Charges of anti-humanism, covert conservatism (Fascism, Reaganautics), overspecialization, overproduction, cultural literacy and canon-busting have superheated an already-hyperbolic critical climate: shared assumptions have become "complicity," oversight has become "blindness," pedagogies have become beachheads for "scenarios" and covert actions. Even sympathetic reviewers, whether in the spirit of deconstruction or just plain debunking, customarily resolve avant-garde critical approaches into rearguard actions: historicism is revealed to be "really" formalism, radical criticism conservative, new literary history orthodoxy in disguise. To some, the proliferation of modern theories is a "Bartholomew's fair," a Rabelaisian carnival; to others it is a "Babel of contending approaches" spouting suspiciously "Eurocentric" tongues.1
The mood swings these debates express, of course, are quite real--I have experienced just about all of them. To read Fredric Jameson, for example, is to encounter a virtual labyrinth of conceptual debts; to follow the new pragmatists is to grope along secret passageways, where programmatic statements are snubbed as evidence of a tendentious foundationalism.2 And since it is hard to think of a term whose current critical stock is lower than "disinterestedness," it is probably utopian to wish all the acrimony (or even the flippancy and condescension) away. All the same, much more of substance needs to be said about the methodology and procedures of some of the new historical criticism in light of recent American Studies concerns. Rather than evaluating these new historical studies as "theories" (that is, as general accounts of interpretation), what do they mean for the practice of cultural history? What do they mean, in particular, for scholars shaped by revisionist history and the American Studies "crisis" writings of the mid-1970s?
Any investigation of this kind must acknowledge that interpretation right now is a demanding task. The most I can hope to do is raise questions that have no doubt already occurred to the practitioners I will discuss. At best, my story can only be a "partial" one (in both senses of the word). I will discuss only three recent studies in detail: Walter Benn Michaels's The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (1987), June Howard's Form and History in American Literary Naturalism (1985), and Michael Denning's Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America (1987). To some, this focus may seem unduly narrow: all these studies operate within a field conventionally delimited to American realism (or naturalism, once thought simply as realism's extension). Yet in many ways this field is especially revealing. Not surprisingly, what was conventionally assumed to be realism's unproblematic reflection of its cultural milieu--only recently so suspect under poststructuralism's anti-mimetic assumptions--has now become one of the more prominent fields where historicist interpretation is being recouped and redefined; here too is American literature's supposedly natural affiliations with democratic values under reexamination.3 Moreover, these studies represent a range of approaches (Jamesonian, new pragmatist, Foucauldian, Birmingham cultural studies) now making their way into American Studies at large, and challenging some of its habitual procedures--particularly about textuality, ideology, and power.
Of course, to posit a "habitual" critical practice in American Studies is a construction on my part; the recognition of dissensus is by now a commonplace. But it is useful to recall, briefly, the revisionist attacks within American Studies itself which established critical parameters (and audience expectations) beneath much of this interpretative plurality. Suffice to say that earlier approaches to literature and culture, notably the "myth-symbol" method, had been faulted on many grounds: for their holistic, consensual, and ideational model of culture, which often conflated humanistic and anthropological definitions of the term; for their neglect of American race, gender, and class conflict; for relying on canonical texts, and justifying that reliance by employing New-Critical notion of "intrinsic" literary power, rather than a historically-reconstructed sense of cultural production and reception; for equating textual meaning, audience reception, and popular belief; for employing tautological historical reasoning which reduced literary texts to redundant reflections of other historical documents; and much more.4 R. Gordon Kelly was hardly alone when, in 1974, he concluded for American Quarterly readers that "it seems equally unwarranted to conceive of America as a unitary culture. . .or to define a handful of literary figures as qualitatively superior cultural informants," and that time was ripe for attention to "factors which historically have shaped the production and consumption of literature in American society."5 Much American Studies scholarship of late has centered around (a) the literary vocation (following William Charvat's lead); (b) reader-response criticism, often in light of Hans Robert Jauss's "aesthetics of reception" or Stanley Fish's "interpretive communities:"6 (c) l'histoire du livre (or, to use Cathy Davidson's term, du texte); and (d) various critiques of canon-formation and the reconstruction of more "subversive" literary genealogies. Even in its occasional turn to collective mentalitiés, American Studies has, as often as not, retained its alliance with symbolic anthropology's notion of cultural knowledge as a cognitive interpretive grid, a "set of control mechanisms--plans, recipes, rules, instructions--for the governing of behavior" (Kelly, 147); yet the guiding spirit has often been, of late, local and miniaturist, "dialogic" in the Geertzian sense of mediating between a sociocultural system in its own terms and the critic's own fiction-making.7 Much of this criticism has shared the new social history's desire to open up the past to the voiceless, to the marginalized, to collective portraiture--so much so, that some have complained that literature was simply being turned into history.8 To scholars working within the parameters described above, the most extravagant proclamations of a "new" (or newer) historicism thus can often seem exclusive and self-aggrandizing, especially when they seem unduly focused on canonical texts, or to be rewriting American exceptionalism in a deconstructionist register.
In point of fact, what is commonly identified as the "new historicism" in Renaissance studies (Stephen Greenblatt's "cultural poetics") is only now finding its way into Americanist studies.9 For Greenblatt, "the study of the literary is the study of the contingent, particular, intended, and historically embedded works"--embedded, especially, in prevailing discursive practices. Distancing himself from both conventional source study and monologic formalism, Greenblatt examines
not an internally organic text which embodies the views of a period-Zeitgeist, but instead locates texts as "fields of force" with permeable boundaries, "places of dissension and shifting interests, occasions for the jostling of orthodox and subversive impulses." In T. Walter Herbert, Jr.'s felicitous phrase, texts become locales for a "continuous scrimmage of meanings" (TWH, 288), genre formulas, intentions, and historical situations. None can be "pure" (that is, untouched by history); on the other hand, neither do they meld into a "single socio-ideological 'language.' "10 Greenblatt's method has definite affinities with the Americanist critics discussed below, but positioning any of them under a "new historicist" label can be misleading.11 "Discourse" itself is a notoriously variable term: for Catharine Gallagher, discourse covers what is said and unsaid, the internal rules and antinomies operating within and between ideologies;12 for Greenblatt, discursive poetics are commonly generated by elites in response to social disruption; for those influenced by Foucault or Donzelot, discourses can have an even more pronounced "policing" or disciplining function, yet operate in a system where power is diffused, disguised, even out of the hands of its originators.13
Their serious variations aside, for the moment, all three of the critics I will discuss nonetheless share a set of interpretive concerns. First of all, they interrogate texts as instances of ideology and belief, not merely in the sense of false consciousness, myth in its derogatory sense, or mystification, but as exercises in effects of truth and meaning-making. In these analyses, the imaginary and the ideological are not secondary to social structure, but part of the real.14To these critics the New-Critical distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic considerations is therefore beside the point. Second, in contrast to the poststructuralist insistence that literary history is implausible at best, these critics have responded with an interest in the "temporality of rhetoric," the historicity of a specific discursive context; they focus on the network of discourses and representations which inform or inhabit texts, or (to use the seminal term) are "inscribed" into them.15 Consequently, all dispense with a monologic text, positing instead either a plurality of texts, or a single text which speaks with a multitude of voices; these texts are not seen as emanating from individual geniuses or "subjects," but as accumulative, intertextual, even collaborative productions. Third, each study is interested in literary texts as instruments of power--power both in the negative sense of containment and repression, or as positive technologies through which desire is enlisted, diffused, and even augmented. And finally--in direct contrast both to myth-symbol analyses or traditional "source" studies--they all assume that power can reside in marginal or unexpected textual moments, in "indirect" representations, and in reader investments in apparently hidden, peripheral, or "semiphilosophical" moments.
This painfully brief summary can only begin to establish my preliminary contrast: that, in large part, if American Studies has recently been intent upon delineating cultural production and consumption, redefining mainstream and boundary, and reasserting a plurality of voices and literary cultures, it is now encountering criticism which is in the best sense rhetorical, rooted in postmodern analyses of texts and their relation to discourse, ideology, belief, and power. Some friction between these two emphases is perhaps inevitable; I close with Denning because he tries in large part to balance them. Yet these three critics all broach new formulations of belief, ideology, and myth, terms which have long been central to American Studies practice and often unresolved there.16 This new criticism, in fact, often makes claims initially resonant to the American Studies ear: Michaels, for instance, announces his book as put of a program "shifting the focus of literary history" to "structures whose coherence, interest, and effect may be greater than that of either author or text" (174-75); "the only relation literature as such has to culture as such," he avows, "is that it is part of it" (27). Yet what these structures are, what they contain, and what they have to do with cultural history "as such" are in need of deeper investigation.
Walter Benn Michaels's Gold Standard can easily be underestimated as a familiar attempt to contextualize American literary naturalism within the social and economic philosophy of industrial America. His introduction takes as its keynote the current interest in the "culture of consumption," proposing to investigate the relation of naturalist fiction to the genesis of this modern marketplace (14). Subsequently, his book moves freely among Gilded Age and Progressive Era debates about such topics as the monetary system, corporate liability, speculation and the futures market. Michaels's individual essays proceed intertextually--that is, each "crosscuts" between a given literary work and a variety of texts from contemporary politics, psychology, or legal theory--in order to expose common (and contradictory) cultural beliefs among them: beliefs about the nature of money, legal contracts and property rights, artistic representation, desire and self-control.
Michaels defines his own project, however, as "an investigation of the position of those texts [naturalist novels] within a system of representation" (emphasis mine) and the fears and desires--including, notably, the "insatiable appetite for representation" itself (19)--which are produced by capitalism. "I want . . . to map out the reality in which a certain literature finds it place," he writes, "and to identify a set of interests and activities that might be said to have as their common denominator a concern with the double identities that seem, in naturalism, to be required if there are to be any identities at all" (27). By "double identities," Michaels means naturalism's seeming obsession with "internal difference or, what comes to the same thing, personhood" (22) as manifested in the contradictory "double discourses" around money, ownership, production and consumption, body and soul, and other issues. Naturalism exhibits, that is, a cultural situation in market capitalism wherein nearly everything is discovered to be different from itself: the self is neither body nor soul; the gold standard is neither purely "value" in itself nor a representation, and so forth. In his analysis, naturalism vacillates so radically over these differences that it eludes and undermines the simpler moral vocabularies--the easy oppositions of producer and consumer, agrarian and urban, art and finance, and so forth--with which these texts, authors, and political contexts have usually been categorized.
Michaels is therefore less interested in formal intellectual backgrounds than the covert commitments certain structures of belief often unwittingly entail: for instance, how an author's attitudes towards art entail, by logical extension, positions regarding monetary representation. Echoing Foucault's interest in statements and "the degree to which they depend upon one another, the way they interlock or exclude one another," Michaels's method proceeds primarily by exposing such an internal difference recognized by the literary text, and then mapping out the "associated commitments" (162) it implies. In this way, he illuminates cultural matters which he admits (135) may be mentioned explicitly only in passing within a given novel. His interpretation of Frank Norris's McTeague, for instance, interweaves William James's ruminations on avarice and ownership, Krafft-Ebing's descriptions of sadomasochism, and Richard Bly's massive monograph on property rights in order to describe a "phenomenology of contract" in which Norris participated. This particular essay, in fact, is typical of Michaels's overall effect. Taken as a whole, his essays propose to deepen our sense of naturalism's fascination with market capitalism--indeed, its complicity in imaginatively structuring (and assumably passing on to its readers) certain beliefs necessary for capitalism's perpetuation.
In contrast to other studies which see discourses as extrinsic to literature per se, to Michaels the overall discourse of naturalism is the sum of these logics and commitments (172).17 Moreover, these commitments are quite often contrary to the author's professed ideological or political positions, hardly ever in line with each other.18 In part, this lack of alignment is attributable to what Michaels thinks these commitments are: not ideologies or interests but "beliefs," largely contingent, local, and contradictory notions generated by capitalism itself.19 Therefore, while at various moments Michaels veers towards the Geertzian model for ideology by describing beliefs as mechanisms "solving" (212) or "securing" (100) or "fending off" (193) historical dislocation, the comparison can be misleading.20 For Michaels, belief is neither equivalent to interest nor to ideology; rather it is proposed as a form of cultural knowledge that orders and gives meaning to behavior in the first place. As Michaels writes in an earlier essay, "Our beliefs are not obstacles between us and meaning, they are what makes meaning possible in the first place. Meaning is not filtered through what we believe, it is constituted by what we believe."21 Citing Foucault's critique of ideology, Gold Standard elaborates on this distinction:
My point is not that complicated literary texts resist ideology. It is instead that when we look closely at the structure of beliefs that constitute the logic of naturalism, we see no consistent connection between them and the political and economic interests of the people or groups of people (e.g. classes) who held them, Which is not to say that the interests of some people and some groups were not in fact served by the logic of naturalist representation, but only that their interest did not produce the beliefs that constitute that logic. . . . The subject of naturalism, however--at least as I have depicted him here--is typically unable to keep his beliefs lined up with his interests for more than two or three pages at a time, a failure that stems not from inadequate powers of concentration but from the fact that his identity as a subject consists only in the beliefs and desires made available by the naturalist logic--which is not produced by the naturalist subject but rather is the condition of his existence. (177)2
Most important, this definition of belief means that Michaels's first reflex will be to discount familiar ideological or allegorical readings--for example, readings which parallel characters and poles of political debate or ideological conflict. For instance, he deems the famous lobster-eats-squid image at the start of Dreiser's The Financier (essentially, an allegory of Social Darwinism) "curiously inapplicable" (76) to what actually occurs in the plot. Instead, Michaels prefers to traverse the structural parallels and gaps between less obvious "semiphilosophical" statements an author makes, determine their logics, and then use those logics to revise the apparent allegory an author forwards. With The Financier, Michaels extrapolates from Dreiser's stray observations on art and mistresses (both of which implicitly endorse natural excess and growth) to expose a broader logic of speculation and perpetual desire which, he claims, has been structured by capitalism into the novel--whatever Dreiser's own liberal leanings. At the very least, Michaels's journey, in this instance, serves to subvert the literary-historical label of "pessimistic determinism" that has long been associated with the genre of naturalism Dreiser epitomizes. Rather, at a crucial moment in our history--when the market tantalized Americans with a rhetoric of endless growth--naturalism actually shared the desire to escape biological and social limits. In a sense, Michaels has produced cultural "anti-naturalism," and that matters a great deal.23
The dramatic reopening of familiar critical vocabularies suggested by this brief example, not coincidentally, seems to challenge some rather habitual American Studies assumptions. In his introduction, Michaels pejoratively characterizes various well-known American Studies texts--Ann Douglas's Feminization of American Culture, Jackson Lears's No Place of Grace, Alan Trachtenberg's Incorporation of America--as instances of a naive "oppositional" criticism. For Michaels, the label "oppositional" refers to criticism which assumes that there is an essentially critical relation between "the most powerful works of American culture" (here, Michaels's Arnoldian usage is revealing), and the dawning world of consumer capitalism (15). For Michaels and some of his students, critical descriptions of a text's opposition to consumerism, often invoked by referring back nostalgically to the "hard" republican universe, the prudential ethos, or agrarian commonality, are only futile gestures which actually recapitulate a covert paean to industrial production itself.24 If logocentric thinking valorizes the myth of Man Reasoning, oppositional criticism ostensibly venerates Man Producing--man in the market.25 "As long as the best thing to do with consumer culture is renounce it," he says rather scoffingly, "literary criticism will be happy" [note, p. 15].) As Michaels's occasional substitution of "genteel" for "oppositional" suggests, this is a version of the familiar charge that American Studies revisionism has often seemed a vehicle for a veiled romanticism or even conservative moralism.26 But rarely has such an ingenious critic so forcefully challenged the complicity between American Studies cultural criticism and the authority it often gathers from its materials; this, needless to say, is what usually gives Michaels's individual essays their polemical charge. For example, he discovers a fascination with risk and speculation in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth that renders it, in his view, neither a critique of capitalism nor a feminist text; argues that Sister Carrie is a (nearly) "unequivocal endorsement" of capitalism's engine of desire; reads "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a tale about a woman "driven crazy (if she is crazy) by a commitment to production so complete that it requires her to begin by producing herself " (5). In instance after instance, texts are exposed as essentially complicitous with the system they ostensibly oppose. Authors--and by extension, speciously oppositional critics--repeatedly can't "get outside" capitalism's domain of discourse.
Little wonder, then--to use Wai-chee Dimock's term--Michaels's readings are already being received as perhaps the most "wayward" under discussion here.27 However, Michaels's disagreements lie mainly, I think, in how he defines capitalist culture as much as how he reads texts. The difference begins with a portrait of capitalism that can only be called a blend of Foucault, Tocqueville, and de Man. In these essays, capitalism is not figured as a system witnessing the division of labor, working-class exploitation, or imperial expansion; rather, it is essentially a system wherein "exchange is the condition of . . . [the self's] existence" (13). Necessarily, then, it is a system characterized primarily by instability, which in turn erodes the ideology of the self (by equating the body with property) and breaks down the moral distinctions (between gambling and speculation, production and consumption) upon which agrarian protest was based. To achieve its ends, capitalism employs various technologies, some of which are technical in the usual sense, some which are verbal, "fictional," or legal (e.g., the corporation's "immortal" and artificial body in law). This is a system whose signature is commodity fetishism, "the constitutive trace of subjectivity [desirable] objects bear what Dreiser calls 'the voice of the so-called inanimate'. . ." (20). For Michaels, importantly, capitalism creates allegiance not merely by producing pain or by repression, but by producing pleasure, wants, desires (Foucault, P/K, 119); through commodities, capitalism links certain tangible desires (nice coats, having a job) with the promise of continuous self-representation (a "possibility of mimesis" ).28 It likewise constitutes "subjects" (colloquially, persons) who both desire such renewal, yet who in other moments want to defy it, either by imagining escape from the system's instability or from biological limits altogether. Texts consequently attempt to contain or manage the disruptions such a system generates, and yet are themselves caught up in the system's working logic.
This portrait of capitalism is also a byproduct of Michaels's quite pronounced debt to poststructuralism. Reviewers have already recognized that his investigation of naturalism's "double discourses" merely applies a central theme of deconstruction--the futile quest of language for "originary" presence--to other cultural-historical forms (the body, money, and the like); Michaels himself admits as much (note, p. 28). "Undecidability," in his interpretation, has been made synonymous with the market's effect. This re-figuration of capitalism, quite obviously, accomplishes a great deal for his analysis, because it establishes preconditions whereby cultural or textual values habitually valorized by "oppositional" criticism--desire, in particular--now become constituitive of capitalism and its future.29 To an extent--as with The Financier's economics of excess--this is refreshing an important challenge to how we think about capitalism; his method (as does Mark Seltzer's) also opens up our criticism to new explorations of the relation between verbal "logics" and what might be called capitalist technics.30 By the same token, this refiguration can still seem premature: one can only wait, as Robert Berkhofer once suggested about cultural studies generally, for social historians to fill out Michaels's portrait--as, for instance, David Noble has in regard to legal fictions like patents.31 In the meantime, Michaels's "capitalism," used synonymously with "market economy" or "money economy" (and, I counted, once, middle-class market) can seem lamentably imprecise chronologically, and figurative in the sense of lacking empirical substantiation--a problem hardly exclusive to this critic.32 Naturally, uncomplemented by a more mundane sense of power relations, this version of capitalism will also seem as one-dimensional as the repressive hypotheses it proposes to replace.33
For now, as well, Michaels's poststructuralist debts seem to overbalance his approach to history. For example, his desire to deconstruct the competing camps in what he calls the Gilded Age "standards debate" puts him rather uncomfortably in the camp of consensus historians. In his reading of The Financier, for instance, Michaels proceeds from art and mistresses to deconstruct the moral and political debate revolving around the futures contract and oil production, in order to argue that oil producers and speculators were, in effect, both gambling on Nature's bounty. This leads Michaels himself, in turn, to dismiss the "sentimentality" of both agrarians and muckrakers like Ida Tarbell, and concur with John D. Rockefeller that production and speculation were just different variations of the same thing, and that the independents' own overproduction was the source of the instability they complained about. Rockefeller avoids the sentimental and moralistic "naturalization of production [which] obscured the man-made, and hence controllable, character of all economic institutions" (83). Yet even admitting the sentimental or populistic dimension to reform rhetoric--even recognizing the complicity of overproduction--one would certainly have to say that Michaels's account is cut short. Subsuming the entire agrarian platform under fears of speculation rather conveniently elides the power of trusts to squeeze railroad rates, outmaneuver and overwork a labor force, or support a tax structure serving to funnel revenue away from rural areas. Rockefeller, needless to say, may have favored "control," but by whom and to what ends is a very large part of the question indeed. Michaels--in his debunking of agrarian opposition and its pastoral illusions, his invocation of causal anxiety (notoriously difficult to periodicize), and his dismissals of Populist sentimentality--shares more than a superficial similarity to another "rhetorical" critic, Richard Hofstadter, cited frequently in the text.34 Michaels's political views may be idiosyncratic, but to me this similarity raises questions about where the familiar poststructuralist distrust of sentimental logos takes us: here it takes us, despite Michaels's dogged attention to his "semiphilosophical" statements, away from cultural actors and what Geertz calls the "frame of their own banalities" (IC, 14).35 One ends up longing for the applicability of lobsters and squids, which Dreiser's protagonist himself identifies as the way life is "organized."36
It often seems that Michaels sacrifices balance by insisting unilaterally on reversing his "oppositional fallacy." It is not merely that certain of his own economies of value seem rather tightly integrated: that he describes hysteria as a symptom of the market (25), or that Vandover's "brute" is a minimalist (166) in wolf's clothing. Rather, it is that his readings seem unduly insistent, for polemical effects, on trumping up one side of a textual antinomy. In his opening account of "The Yellow Wallpaper," for example, Michaels skillfully foregrounds Gilman's commitment to production--to work--for which Gilman says the Neanderthal, original sign is the desire to "mark." Then, by focusing on the marking (and smooching) done by Gilman's narrator, bringing a body out of "dead paper," he imputes in that narrator a commitment to the market's essential promise, to make oneself out of what one produces.37 Along the way, consequently, Michaels deduces the conclusion mentioned earlier. But while Gilman surely was "committed" to work's therapeutic dimension, Michaels's conclusion that this belief produces her narrator's madness can only seem exaggerated; in fact, his case seems treacherously close to blaming a victim. To me, the point is that this desire to mark, under given social conditions, can in Gilman's view emerge only in deformed ways.
For cultural interpretation more generally, the larger point may be that the language of différance has never seemed a particularly precise tool for articulating gradations of power, complicity, or protest. Lumping agrarians, Progressive Era feminists, and current university critics into one belief in production begins to suggest the problem. It is unclear, as well, how texts which Michaels has brilliantly shown to contain beliefs and interests so out of alignment can in any sense be "unequivocal." I am also uneasy about the inflection Michaels gives the term "commitment," as if covert textual beliefs are, contrary to the pragmatist sense, simply given the same weight as public actions which, after all, manifested the commitments that ultimately held sway. At points--as when Hawthorne is described as "imagining" a technology of property (111) for capitalism's perpetuation-- it seems as if such commitments are scandalous only in the sense of where, in other hands, they might lead. (As Howard Horowitz writes, this conflates a commitment with a future application .) As I shall suggest in concluding, Michaels, like other critics, is unclear about how a text's final commitment is determined.
Michaels is surely right, of course, that American Studies criticism (originally tied to lapsarian myths) has often been prone to nostalgia, to uncritically venerating the subversive, and to suspending critical disbelief in the face of putatively oppositional rhetorics.38 Raymond Williams's keyword genealogies should tell us, at the very least, that the "self-pleading ideology" of transcendent opposition (originally, to industrialism) is often embedded in the term "culture" itself.39 The challenge to a monochromatic "repressive" account of capitalism is, as I've said, a serious one. By the same token, however, it is finally difficult to find any critic who claims, as Michaels asserts, a text is oppositional to "culture" per se; in fact, this charge only reveals Michaels's rather holistic and claustrophobic notion of culture itself.40 What Michaels's system lacks, at this point, is an account of the technologies or devices by which economics of value are circulated in such a society. I would wager that he is interested in what Foucault himself has called the "political economy of truth," the "apparatuses" that produce and manage discourse; yet Michaels seems unaware how such a system might modify his cultural claustrophobia. He demonstrates too little interest in the mechanics of mediation, in which texts are made constitutive for which audiences, indeed whose structures of belief he is articulating except those, ostensibly, of a culture conceived rather holistically. American Studies readers will be troubled by the fact that he rarely broaches the representativeness of a chosen text (for example, a Berkeley Populist club's speech on dentists  is a clever, but rather brisk slice into Populism at large); others may find his account insufficiently interested in the archive from which his texts are drawn. But paradoxically it may be Michaels's own construction of commitments that leads to this feeling of claustrophobia. It is as if Michaels assumes a text's common logic with other texts verifies their cultural centrality; yet limiting one's account of "truth" to legitimated statements may, by its own operations, serve only to exclude alternative logics and voices.
If Michaels delineates a set of logics in which texts participate, June Howard presents the literary genre of naturalism within the dream-logic of turn-of-the- century American ideology. Indeed, in her account, naturalism's "generic" or generalized form "is an immanent ideology"--that is, a manifestation of how certain Progressive Era Americans made sense, and made narrative, out of the "comforts and discomforts" (ix) of their era. This study consequently uncovers a common ideological code, a "master narrative," within texts that seem to have a diverse array of subject matter, like Jack London's The Sea Wolf, Dreiser's Sister Carrie, or Frank Norris's The Octopus. In particular, certain characteristic features of naturalist novels--their obsession with "brutish" or degenerated characters, their interest in the struggle between agency and determinism, and their often covert fascination with disinterested spectators--actually encoded "ideological signals" (93) about class struggle, recent immigration, and the alienating effects of a market system. Howard thus presents "genre" neither as a prescriptive set of formal literary criteria, nor as a category for marking evolutionary stages of literary history, but as a profoundly "socio-symbolic" (22) idiom which mapped reality for its readers and managed some of history's more threatening features (151). Naturalism especially dramatized an unconscious fear of not "holding the Personality intact" (47) in the face of threats from immigrant and working-class "others"; it specialized in gathering privileged readers around the narrator to "stare anxiously at the specter of proletarianization" (105)--a gesture modern criticism, in assuming the modern reader's own middle-class status, has often unwittingly repeated.
As she freely acknowledges, Howard's main theoretical debt is to the work of Marxist Fredric Jameson, particularly the allegorical method of The Political Unconscious (1981). In this study, Jameson designates ideological analysis as the method most appropriate to Marxist criticism, both in "exploring the semantic and ideological intricacies of the text" (J, 47) and in restoring to its surface "the repressed and buried reality" of the "fundamental history," the "single vast unfinished plot" of class struggle (J, 20). Both Jameson and Howard disavow the poststructuralist insistence on the "textuality" of the real; rather History is an "absent cause," a presence with definite materiality, but something we can only intuit from texts and their inscribed ideological configurations (35).41 Following Althusser, however, ideology is not false consciousness but an active and lived force, both real and imaginary, neither purely interest-based nor a mystification. Whether "intellectual" or "formal" (narrative), ideologies are essentially "strategies of containment" as well as structuring devices for "possibility" (J, 58) in the world. In these formulations, the cultural text is not a secondary superstructural reflection of its economic base; nor are its structures simply homologous with that base. Rather, narrative ideology is part of a complex structure of mediation, essential to the continuing function of the political and economic system.42 A central task of criticism thus becomes, Jameson writes, to map "the limits of a specific ideological consciousness" and mark "the conceptual points beyond which consciousness cannot go, and between which it is condemned to oscillate" (47)--a passage Howard quotes directly (41 ).43
Jameson's notion of ideology thus has a strong narrative component. To a Jamesonian, textual exegesis is a matter of deciphering the symbolic acts (76) of a novel or romance which represent the imaginary resolution of a real contradiction in social relations. Texts become, as it were, optional trial runs on a historical problem (J, 164), daydreams about the nightmare of history (J, 174).44 Literature is thus seen as a "weaker form of myth or a later stage of ritual," often a "symbolic meditation on the destiny of community" (J, 70). Literary structure itself, much as in myth criticism, ostensibly encodes a culture's "political unconscious," thereby directing the critic to the "informing power of forces or contradictions which the text seeks to control," contain, or manage (49). In regard to Balzac's La Vieille Fille, Jameson writes in one example, the political unconscious attempts, in a symbolic struggle between textual typifications of the bourgeoisie and the nobility, to ask "itself how the force necessary to bring about a return to the old order can be imagined" without severe social disruption (173). Faced with such unresolved social contradictions, the mind generates a "more properly narrative apparatus--the text itself--to square its circles and to dispel, through narrative movement, its intolerable closure" (83).
Howard herself candidly acknowledges that one appeal of American naturalism is its apparent interest in class structure. But her goal is to deepen our sense of that interest by showing its manifestations in naturalism's formal design--its "characteristic set of conceptual oppositions, investments in characters, and organizational strategies" (10). The organization of naturalism's "semantic field" evidences a complex ideological battle among culturally-informed categories of will, instinct, understanding, and desire. Moreover, this battle is invested with strong "class markings" (88) around both instinctual brutishness and the spectatorial privileges the narrator often embodies: "autonomy, awareness, control" (96). Thus within naturalism's generic form she finds a psychic struggle of class significance: "Others" expressing fears of proletarianization and loss of control, offset by characters and narrators evincing professional objectivity and expertise with strong affinities to the Progressivism (and hostile to the Populism) described by Robert Wiebe, Burton Bledstein, and Thomas Haskell. Albeit with drastically different political assumptions than Michaels, Howard thus challenges naturalism's ostensible opposition to capitalism with similar force. Like Michaels, for instance, she reads Sister Carrie partly as an endorsement of capitalist disequilibrium and perpetual desire (42), seeing Carrie's desire as a mark of her participation in the commodity system. But she also goes further, seeing in that desire a contrapuntal "utopian" longing for a better life (107), albeit "marked" by the values (control, aloofness, and "understanding") represented by characters like Ames and Dreiser's narrator. Even so, although naturalism's retreat into such impersonal, professional figures (125) represents the need to contain social threats, that containment often threatens to become confinement as well (126).
For Howard, therefore, the formal characteristics of naturalism are all inscribed with cultural and class data. Like Michaels, she assumes that literary texts "are constructed not out of innocent 'facts' but on the basis of already complex structures of representation" (28), traversed by "extra-literary" discourses which inform and saturate characterization, plotting, and narration. If anything, for her a single text (layered as well by documentary, melodramatic, or sensationalistic narrative strategies) is even more "heterogeneous" (28) than for Michaels--a "productivity" of many texts:
Literary language interpenetrates with other discourses; the production, distribution, and consumption of tales takes place through particular social and economic structures; the experience out of which narration proceeds is always historically specific--and all of these circumstances are not causes but limiting conditions for literary production. Genres and novels, like history, are made by human beings--but not just as they please. We must encounter literary texts that are internally discontinuous and diverse and a literary realm that is both inextricably implicated in society and endlessly inventive. . . . [W]orks and forms are not cut from whole cloth spun in the imagination, but effortfully pieced together from available materials. (9)
For example, the recurrent naturalist Other of the brute (Jack London's wolves, the beast into which Norris's Vandover degenerates) is constituted by criminology, or prevailing anthropological metaphorics of the savage. Therefore, instead of debunking naturalism by resorting to a mythical extrinsic ground (that is, repeating its own spurious claim of mimetic fidelity), Howard accepts this figuration as part of naturalism's power. Nor does she use what might seem its clumsy metaphorics to discount naturalism's scientism. Rather, she shows that such imagery was a constituitive and class-marked part of naturalism's textual claim, a source of legitimacy since it implied substantiation from prevailing scientific discourses. Such "socio-symbolic" codes were hardly an aesthetic flaw, either; rather they contained cultural power because, in effect, they were underwritten.
Michaels and Howard are both, in this way, trying to describe the linkage between texts and systems of representation that enhance such power. Both critics credit even relatively fantastic texts, like Norris's Vandover, with encoded "realities" of power as well as anxieties about powerlessness. Both critics, as well, make apparent as never before that capitalism's systemic irregularities penetrated contemporary moral vocabularies themselves, undercutting the stability and comfort such vocabularies and ideologies offered authors and audiences. Michaels (who is more innovative about which discourse to look at generally) may convey a deeper sense of such instability in discourses themselves, but Howard's sense of naturalism's occasional fluctuation and contradiction is similarly shrewd. She reveals that no small amount of futility inhered, especially, in naturalism's typical maneuver of appealing to science for substantiation-- that is, its attempt to transpose History into Nature ("naturalism"). In the end, "[t]he narratives themselves [only] reinscribe the disturbing social contradictions that the abstract theories claim to resolve" (93). It is also to Howard's credit that she does not dwell, as Michaels tends to, upon naturalism's "semiphilosophical" discontinuities as a stopping point; that is, she recognizes that capitalism does not distribute its disequilibrium equally. In fact, in rather striking contrast to Michaels, Howard wants to insist upon naturalism's cultural position within the class-marked fantasies made culturally prominent by a particular political idiom: Progressivism. Rather than debunk naturalism's claim to "opposition" (as if the only alternative is complicity), Howard demonstrates convincingly its affiliations with the political configuration that refashioned liberalism in ways which often were at odds with "agrarian" traditions and values. To some, of course, that configuration and its resultant dream-life will still seem too allegorical, too routed in the central Marxian hypothesis. I myself became uneasy with Howard's generalized use of "reform." Yet I think the larger problem is that History (I never get accustomed to the capitalization) is not sufficiently transformed by her account of what naturalism's political unconscious is responding to. Discourse gets "into" Howard's texts much more easily than history does; history still feels very much absent, a background that texts portray anxiety about, or try to "manage," only in reaction. Paradoxically, if Michaels turns frequently to consensus historians, Howard (a Marxist) turns primarily to Wiebe and other "organizational" historians, who often posited the "reform" spirit as a reaction to, not a part of, industrial change. In this case, neither the "absent cause" nor the Althusserian notion of ideology seem particularly productive in cutting through to history and enabling us to re-view it. Both formulations maintain History is "there" and yet leave it strangely inert.
Part of the problem may be that, in practice, Howard's Althusserian use of ideology may not be as far from negative mystification as either of us would like. In some moments, for example, she refers to ideology itself as a "collective fantasy" (79). Moreover, there may be tensions between viewing naturalism as part of this "collective" fantasy, as pensée sauvage (Jameson's term), and articulating modern social conditions in any detail. Since fantasy implies generalized dream-life, its tether to the particularity of real conditions can seem nearly inconsequential. This tension between allegorical and empirical methods also arises in relation to whose ideology we are examining. Howard wants to insist that her discourses are not simply bourgeois, yet she admits as well that naturalism cannot represent a comprehensive picture of a period's ideology (82). But it is the construing of naturalist texts in collective, mythic terms which may in fact open up this study to the generalizing impulse about "Americans" Howard rightly dismisses in her introduction (ix). The crux of the matter, to me, is that Jamesonian mythic assumptions, without a real construction of the aesthetics of reception, seem to fall back upon the rather conventional equation of textual and popular, if unconscious, belief (Kelly, 147). Howard's own reliance on an "average" John Q. Citizen (74 ff.) as a putative figure for a ("collective?" bourgeois?) historical anxiety itself suggests the problem. We need to know whether such texts were more than articles of elite consumption, and where such a genre figured (in Greenblatt's phrase, MP, 16) in a "hierarchy" of generic choices available to readers and authors alike. Somewhat familiarly, naturalism is still genetically linked in Howard's account to this phase of capitalism. But why was naturalism, for instance, especially evocative of History's absent causes? Could the same be said of other popular genres of the period: historical romance, women's fiction, Saturday Evening Post stories? From this perspective, it seems a shame that Howard is as dismissive as she is about the "antiquarian" enterprise (8) of reconstructing contemporary genre debates or hierarchies, or as negligent of what Jane Tompkins has called the "conditions of dissemination" for this period.
These problems have implications for Howard's important argument about class markings--an idea similar to what Denning will call "accents." With Michaels, Howard rightly wants to move beyond the one-dimensional or partisan characterizations of naturalism, to see texts traversed, heteroglossic--"effortfully" put together by human beings operating within the power and constraints of cultural discourse. On the other hand, she recognizes that her texts are also marked by privilege and/or class, even in some sense hegemonic. Yet while she (again following Jameson [J, 84] and E.P. Thompson) would probably argue that class is a relational category to begin with, marking is a difficult notion to substantiate in the text. If, for example, "autonomy" was, in fact, a cultural value within Knights of Labor ideology (as Denning shows), then its function as a marking of privilege in naturalism seems a bit less clear.45
Ultimately, then, Howard's ingenious attempt to situate naturalism as both a "mass" and a "class" literature nonetheless raises questions about the new historical interest in archives of discourse as the source of thick cultural description. Since Howard derives her codes almost entirely from elite texts (as Michaels does), it becomes difficult to assume readers interpreted messages or markings uniformly. Though arguing that naturalism was part of a collective fantasy represents a valuable insight, it still leaves open, for instance, precisely to whom "slumming in determinism" (Howard's phrase) might appeal--and whether marks of class privilege, in themselves becoming articles of consumption, extended beyond a specific class formation, lost their moorings in the mass.46 Another way of putting this is to ask how collective this fantasy was. In naturalism at large, Howard herself demonstrates, working-class voices are usually represented as mutes; and her own methods seem, as she is fully aware, inadequate to restoring those voices to our ears, even if such voices could be found (82). Yet such voices must be, I would think, fundamental to reconstructing the political unconscious itself, to know better the threat being managed, and re-formed, by genres like naturalism.
Both Michaels and Howard, although from obviously different perspectives on ideology and politics, challenge naturalism's once-assumed opposition to industrial capitalism; they implicitly question which texts, if any, spoke for the downtrodden. Michael Denning's Mechanic Accents in part extends this question by turning away from novelistic realism, exploring instead the relation between antebellum and Gilded Age working-class culture and a more popular medium: the dime novel. By the dime novel, he means the "unstable economy of formulaic narratives" (81) which appeared in three nineteenth-century formats: in story papers like Robert Bonner's New York Ledger; as pamphlet novels, commonly associated with firms like Street and Smith; and as cheap library novels. Earlier scholarship, when not dismissing such novels as sheer escapism, commonly presented them as an index of generalized "popular" attitudes--usually, "success" values, or (as in Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land) meditations on the disappearing frontier. Mechanic Accents instead situates the form with the culture of artisanal republicanism, and investigates the ways in which familiar melodramatic plots actually disguised, condensed, or displaced thoughts and feelings central to American workers' lives. Furthermore, in contrast to Howard, Denning rightly asks of the dime novels not only what can be learned about them, but also "what can be learned from them" about working-class culture and ideology (3). The thrust of this study is perhaps best suggested by Denning's displacement of Horatio Alger-- who, according to the critic, was a middle-class "ventriloquizer" hoping to reform working-class habits in tales like Tony the Tramp (1876). More characteristic of Denning's canon is Frederick Whittaker's Nemo, King of the Tramps (1881), a byzantine novel about a tramp army embroiled in the Pittsburgh riots of 1877 which affirms the tramp as the "rightful heir" of a lost republic (152).
Calling the dime novel "the dream-work of the social, condensing . . . and displacing . . . the wishes, anxieties, and intractable antinomies of social life in a class society" (81), Denning also has much in common with Jameson. Yet he blends Jamesonian analysis with the approach associated with Birmingham cultural studies in England, and modifies his allegorical readings by using a Bakhtinian notion of "multiaccentual signs" developed by V. N. Volishinov (82). Like Howard's markings, class accents appear in narrative "centers," keywords, and plot formulae that have been made into mutable arenas of meaning-struggle by variables of authorship, genre, and readership. By turning to "accents," Denning therefore tries to circumvent the more static kinds of ideological allegorization Jamesonian readings risk. Rather than arguing for a one-to-one correspondence between characters or thematic oppositions and given ideological values, he lays out a diverse body of representations that "stand in for" different readerly values, and are claimed, rejected, or fought over (77). He also reads narrative codes in light of authorial, editorial, and reader statements to further enhance a given text's saturation of meanings. In contrast to class markings, which without succumbing to simple correspondence nonetheless emphasize a single class inflection, "accents" invite variety. Denning demonstrates, for example, how a topic like the Molly Maguires--examined in six different dime novels--could become a multiaccentual sign (138) representing miners' or millionaires' interests, criminal or "knightly" behavior.
Denning's quest for this "multivocality" of meaning carries over to his attempt to weave together the poetics of the dime novel with its economics (2). He tries to avoid both the rigidity of the Frankfurt school's "culture industry" model, which fatalistically saw mass culture as mass deception and manipulation, and a nostalgia which assumes dime novels were simply the voice of their audience's values. He begins and ends his study by reconstructing the decanonization of the dime novel at the turn of the century. More than simply revisiting the academic Homeric battlefield, as Michaels and Howard do, Denning addresses the popular management which, after all, controlled the legacy of the dime novel in very practical ways--for example, dictating which ones were preserved for posterity. By reconstructing the dime novel's diverse readership and the cultures surrounding the reading process itself (for example, how dime novels could be read within the workplace), he also rethinks our commonplace notions of audience, moving away from the static categories of "highbrow and lowbrow" that still plague American Studies scholarship.47 Applying Stuart Hall's important essay on "Deconstructing 'The Popular,'" Denning demonstrates how distinctions between elite and popular media are historical constructions, territories with shifting borders patrolled by critics, educational institutions, and other cultural gatekeepers. Though most story paper readers were young urban workers, Denning discovers, dime novels themselves were more often the product of professional writers; nor were other classes exempted from reading these tales. For Denning, as well, reading them was an active process (69) in which certain authors were being adopted, and in effect "revised," by groups of readers. (In the 1840s, for instance, George Lippard was taken up by American mechanics as a political patron before he actually joined their cause .) "[I]f the story papers were 'of the people,' " Denning reasons, "they were not an expression of any one class so much as a terrain of negotiation and conflict over the proper accents of the popular" (136)--a contest extending to publication and preservation, the reform of reading habits, and the act of reading itself.
To tighten his case about the dime novel's special relevance to workers, however, Denning hypothesizes that its essentially allegorical idiom drew upon a tradition of oral story-telling within artisanal culture. In this way, he gives his ideological decoding an empirical basis. Applying the work of Alfred Habegger in Gender, Fantasy, and Realism in American Literature (1982), Denning argues that working-class readers interpreted fictional worlds not as realism, but as microcosmic allegories of class struggle, a "master plot" informed by the "artisan variant of republican ideology" recently illuminated by the new labor history (73). Compared to Michaels and Howard, Denning has a much more precise sense of which specific ideological antinomies would be at issue within a particular readership. By using the work of Sean Wilentz and David Montgomery, Denning positions the dime novel within a "producers, 'populist', or 'plebeian' culture," different from the strata in the process of naming themselves "middle class." This producer's culture was not wholly independent of the middle class, or unified itself; rather, it was divided between "mutuality" on the one hand and "manly" independence (59) on the other. The dime novel crafted symbolic resolutions to these ideological antinomies and against threats from without. In belletristic terms, these antinomies were mediated, quite often, by "two contradictory narrative formulas--the romance of contests and battles ['aristomilitary romance'] and the story of education and self-improvement [Bildungsroman] [which] involve[d] a real ideological contradiction which it [was] the task of the story to resolve" (172). Thus narrative patterns were borrowed from pre-existing literary conventions to manage ideological conflict (172). More than a few motifs which have seemed aristocratic or anomalous to previous critics--the discovery of a lost heir, chivalric heroism, Prince and Pauper identity switches--are shown by Denning to allegorize "manly" and mutualistic demands in artisanal culture. In turn, ostensibly "political" constructions like "The Knights of Labor" itself are shown to have metaphoric accents, simultaneously embodying challenges to oligarchy, preindustrial communality, veneration of skilled labor, and protectiveness toward women.
The interpretive difference in Denning's elaborate theoretical framework which, like Howard's, attempts to cast generic "signals" and conventions within a master plot of class conflict is perhaps clarified by reference to a study like Virgin Land, specifically its reading of the "Deadwood Dick" saga (1877-1903). Henry Nash Smith interpreted the Deadwood hero as bearer of "success values," yet also saw him as a marker in the collapse of the "genteel" code of the Leatherstocking myth into violence and sensationalism--and, consequently, the collapse of the genre's imaginative power to vivify social conditions. Denning, by contrast, seizes upon Deadwood Dick's ambiguous status as "regulator" (vigilante) and detective (Pinkerton) on the one hand and "outlaw" on the other, to vivify his standing as a contested emblem of class conflict. Employing Eric Hobsbawm's thinking on the peasant bandit, Denning sees such characters "perhaps less sons of Leatherstocking than sons of Molly Maguires" (163).
Denning's allegorical method works well for many of these mass texts; his, like Smith's, is a collective portrait in many senses. But unlike Smith, Denning does not assume that the intrinsic textual power (or "design") of a given text (for instance, Cooper's series) can contain, in itself, an entire culture's conflict; nor is he much interested in measuring how potent a genre remains in executing such a generalized function. Rather his main technique is to uncover "the ruses of the representation of social cleavages" (146) largely in plots, and then to emphasize their multivocal signification. As such, his methods are much less dependent on "normative" psychological reasoning than Howard's (or Smith's, for that matter), and much more on political decoding. Industrial-era representations of outsiders, rather than melding into a Lacanian "other," instead have their apolitical disguises removed. Outlaws, tramps, criminals or detectives are repoliticized in relation to the master plot of class struggle in the industrial age. Thus if Denning admits Western dime novels are "not directly a story of labor and capital" (153), nonetheless he reasons that working class readers may have read them that way, "taking the west as an allegorical republic of outlaws," envisioning it in utopian fashion as "a cooperative commonwealth where 'we divided up ekal wi' ther boys' but threatened by the social structures of the cast" (165).
In contrast to Michaels, Denning himself seems intent upon resolving stray beliefs or plot disguises into their master ideological meaning. Even given his skillful contextualization of the particulars of republican ideology, textual "disguise" (much like "collective fantasy" in Howard) seems to lead him in the more familiar direction of demystification--to restoring a "code" that is presumably primary. However, because he makes overt (and altogether necessary) claims about audience, as Michaels and Howard do not, Denning may assume a rather rigorously precise ideological understanding in his young working-class readers. That is, it is difficult to assume they saw through the disguises with the precision Denning himself does, that they recovered the proper accents. That such texts were often managed and framed by labor paper editorialists, for example, may not suggest a common understanding, but rather a need for ideological explication on behalf of readers who had to be chastened amid the "romance" of mysteries, Western outlaws, detective stories, and murder trials. Can we assume a historically constructed reader knows what is primary in an allegory, knows that romance is only a way station on a reading journey and not a stopping point? For all of its usefulness, the idea of "accents" may not yet mark the point at which critical "unmasking" becomes more than what, say, in the work of Richard Slotkin, would be called a "substitution" (see Denning, 165). In addition, we need a fuller sense of how allegorical reading--which Habegger or Tompkins find in a highly educated, evangelical class culture--took hold in producer culture. Had Denning prefaced his discussion with a fuller analysis of the oral tradition he presumes laid the groundwork for typological understanding, his case would have been even tighter.
As should be clear, Denning's study is ambitious insofar as it attempts to balance both the new labor history and the current postmodern emphasis on rhetorical decoding. Perhaps because of his attempts at comprehensiveness, the levels of his analysis, essential as they all are, experience some slippage. Though he asserts, for instance, that dime novels generally are "best considered as essentially anonymous, 'unauthored' discourse" (24), his own readings frequently refer, and sometimes decisively, to authors and their intentions or ambivalences. Likewise his category of "ventriloquism," as he admits, is an idea based on something outside rhetorical analysis (143). (Other authors may have middle-class affiliations or reforming intentions, but that somehow does not inauthenticate them.) Finally, emphasizing the multiaccentual, the plurality of audience, and shifting class configurations is not always easily balanced with the use of "formula," since this last idea often means assuming a static "implied reader" governed by generic signals. That is, Denning occasionally lapses into constructing a univocal horizon: into saying, for instance, that "the reader's sympathy is with the Mollies" (127), or that the "reader is placed in the position of a middle-class observer" (132). The power Denning attributes to formula over readers in these moments is considerable: if he is right, these are indeed dream narratives, releasing the reader from the class moorings Denning often says are the basis of that reader's decoding. In his own unmaskings, the critic necessarily walks a fine line when moving between the power of formula and the multitudinous "accents" Denning himself describes.
Denning makes no bones about the fact, of course, that his own interpretations lie, like Howard's, within the boundaries a single "master" allegory (73). Yet the risks here, too, become visible in one of Denning's penultimate moments, where he compares the apparent "discursive impoverishment" of the dime novel to the works of realist Mark Twain. (Not unimportantly, this is one of those rare moments when, among these new historical critics, questions of aesthetic value are broached at all.) In contrast to an earlier passage where he shrewdly situates seduction formula in a cross-class context, Denning credits Twain's transformation of "dialect" into a "vernacular" only as a counterpoint to his supposed failure to embody class "realities" in Connecticut Yankee and Hank Morgan (209). Leaving aside the facts that "Morgan" was a highly charged name even in the Gilded Age, that Twain's illustrators indeed allegorized his characters, that Hank is flung into Camelot by a blow from a factory operative48--leaving aside all that, such a comparison suggests that the master code is operating here more as a litmus test than many current readers will like. That is, it suggests that some texts can narrate a world and some cannot, even that some texts are intrinsically susceptible to decoding while others are not. And like the category "ventriloquism," it may suggest a longing to identify an authentic voice of the downtrodden despite Denning's protestations to the contrary. To say so is only to identify a revisionist American Studies genealogy to which, even given its problems, I am probably still partial.
My attention to problems of method may well have slighted the challenges and insights these brilliant critics offer; my reactions are meant simply to imagine questions revisionist American Studies scholars are liable to ask. By now, it is perhaps clear that the interest of critics like Michaels and Howard in the power of discourse has definite discontinuities with "history from the bottom up." And it is not merely that some historians will mistake this new work as but another attempt by literary studies to substitute symbolic forms and elaborate "tissues of metaphor" (Thorstein Veblen's term) for attention to the behavioral aspects of culture. Rather, it is that social historians may question, as I have, the penetration of prescriptive, formal, or even "semiphilosophical" discourses into an American culture conceived too holistically.4 Even to cultural historians more at home with literary criticism, portraying texts as intersections of discourse may well conflict with American Studies' continuing anthropological approach, which often treats texts as cultural "informants" (Kelly's term)--that is, as records of voices. Such voices, as Michaels and Denning demonstrate from diametrically opposed perspectives, often authorize "oppositional" traditions many scholars feel the need to reconstruct--for example, the cooperative, intersubjective feminism Gilman eloquently voiced. In other words, this new turn to discourse can seem like a turn away from resources which other scholars feel Americans should draw upon.
On the other hand, a more narrative notion of ideology, a more provisional and flexible sense of belief and meaning, and an awareness of how prevailing discourses legitimate certain texts for certain audiences all seem long overdue. These three critics' removal of the text from "transcendence" (of history and ideology), to my mind, is all to the good. For me, as well, all three reveal how the dual demands generated by American Studies revisionism--for greater pluralism in the canon and history itself, and yet for more precise paradigms (how nostalgic the Kuhnian word seems) of social conflict--are demands themselves in greater tension than is often recognized. Michaels, Howard, and Denning make apparent how much social "scrimmaging" can take place in and around texts, yet all represent texts as "acts" in a social structure, acts with commitments and power. In fact, I want to focus on this idea in conclusion, for it generates a set of new questions around reading, textual production, and reception which new historical criticism still has ahead of it.
To complicate our sense of texts as symbolic acts, Denning emphasizes the multiple influences upon the social construction of meaning(s): a plurality of audiences, multiaccentual signs, even Gramscian blocs rather than simple (!) classes. Easily overlooked, however, are the assumptions about textual power that he shares even with a critic like Michaels. This can be suggested by turning to Geertz's essay on the Balinese cockfight, which by consensus has influenced much American Studies revisionism:
As any art form--for that, finally, is what we are dealing with--the cockfight renders ordinary, everyday experience comprehensible by presenting it in terms of acts and objects which have had their practical consequences removed and been reduced (or, if you prefer, raised) to the level of sheer appearances, where their meaning can be more powerfully articulated and more exactly perceived. . .[like King Lear or Crime and Punishment] it catches up these themes. . .and, ordering them into an encompassing structure, presents them in such a way as to throw into relief a particular view of their essential nature. It puts a construction on them, makes them, to those historically positioned to appreciate the construction, meaningful visible, tangible, graspable--"real," in an ideational sense. (IC, 443-44)
Geertz's notion of a text's essentially cognitive function, its role as an arena where conflict can be tested out free of its consequences (deep, yet play), is very consonant with Jamesonian symbolic acts or even Michaels's "imaginings" of commitment. Yet gone, quite noticeably in all three of my critics, are: (1) the comforts of exact, encompassing, graspable order that Geertz's text provides, and (2) the shared understanding between participant and observer, reader and author, once assumed; and (3) the critic's faith in an "essential" cultural meaning to be decoded. Faced with sedimentary layers of narrative formula, accents and class markings, psychological displacements and double discourses, it is not merely that texts are no longer assumed to be "organic" or "ordering" documents. (We need not lament the passing of the well-wrought urn.) Rather what is striking--as different as these critics are--is how all three assume that the intransigence and incoherence of History--one that "hurts" --repeatedly overwhelm the containment texts, beliefs, and ideologies perform.
As my epigraph from William James suggests, this may well approximate an existential dimension of culture, and cultural interpretation itself, which more "reasonable" literary histories comfortably glide over. To an extent as well, we cannot help but internalize some of the dissensus around us as critics, and try to recognize the limits of our own interpretive containments. All this being said, the new historical criticism will still need to find more convincing criteria for what I would call internal adjudication, for sorting out these scrimmages of discourse, meaning, and commitment. For all their well-known weaknesses, New-Critical formalist yardsticks--symmetry, parallelism, closure--once provided such adjudication, and the theoretical criteria now coming to replace them--internal ideational homology, substantiation by parallel discourses, the determination of a master narrative --need much fuller justification. Since our assumptions about textual power are inextricable from our notions of cultural power, we need to reexamine what makes a commitment decisive, an allegory primary or simply yet another textual ruse. Otherwise, for one thing, many historians will continue to believe that "textuality" is simply a license for a literary critic to extemporize.50
We also need closer examination of the now-fashionable notion of "inscription" --roughly, the term used to identify cultural or ideological operations originally written into texts. As valuable as this term is in dispensing with the dichotomy of extrinsic and intrinsic criticism, it may too readily perform an end run on some difficult problems. It would be hard to imagine a generic text, for example, more permeated by extra-literary discourses than naturalism; Michaels is surely right that in a sense it becomes a cultural discourse unto itself. But since "influence studies" are now identified with an "old" literary history, how and under what conditions such inscription actually took place is too rarely examined. Frank Lentricchia is certainly right that one task of a new literary history should be to "pinpoint areas of discursive intersection," yet right now these intersections often seem to risk discursive gridlock.51 If the assumption is that disciplines function partly to create boundaries (literally disciplining insiders and outsiders), then how do we determine which discourses traverse a given generic text, much less a particular one? At the very least, as Stuart Hall's essay suggests, such intersections may be subject to one-way signs, traffic signals, policing by different cultural agents. Is it not possible, as well, that discourses might sometimes operate more like the modern "subroutines" --generating from similar or shared origins, even sharing certain logics, but producing outcomes (texts, commitments) so dissimilar from one another as to be unrecognizable to each other? (The absence of certain schools of history from these selfsame works of criticism begins to suggest the theoretical problem.) And if, as Michaels asserts so unsentimentally, economies and technologies are man-made, might not discourses be put to different human
Ultimately, this may mean attending, even more closely than Denning does--George Lippard's adoption by mechanics is a fine example--to what is lately being referred to as "cultural work."53 Arguments about textual operations providing a spectacle of proletarianization, or structuring a reader for capitalism's technical operations are implicit in all three critics I have discussed; yet there are still innumerable areas for concretizing, as best we can, how those operations were manifested beyond the symbolic acting-out of texts. Geertz calls this keeping "the analysis of symbolic forms" as close as possible "to concrete social events and occasions, the public world of common life" (IC, 30). We might well extend l'histoire du texte beyond the convenient laboratory of early national culture; we might reexamine literary politics as local history, reconstruct patronage systems, watch how certain writers rise (and others fall) and under what ideological meaning system, watch which archives such power and privilege make accessible and consequently legitimate to those authors. For even if all exercises in narrative containment are in some ultimate sense futile, in specific historical instances some are less futile than others: some attain power, exert influence, affect decisions about which discourse is hegemonic, who "ventriloquizes" not just in narrative but even in government itself. "Acts" in this sense are not only symbolic; history for its actors is more than a scrimmage. That is often why it hurts.
If this suggests daunting and necessarily collaborative tasks--reconstructing archives, investigating textual power in practice, establishing Greenblatt's "hierarchy" of genre options--so be it; otherwise postmodern criticism may simply eventuate in what is currently called "mosaic" literary history, which hardly vivifies conflict (or history) at all. Of course, to paraphrase Geertz again, what may only be refined in this era of dissensus is the precision with which our cultural accounts vex each other (IC, 29). Yet even as irreconcilable as three critics may seem, they may begin to articulate such a hierarchy of generic choices within turn-of-the-century American culture which indeed had repercussions for concrete social occasions. They begin to suggest not a genetic link between a single literary form and its historical moment, but a moment accented by a multiplicity of contesting and overlapping genres: when, as Denning suggests, the dime novel and artisanal republicanism were fragmented simultaneously, displaced by Pulitzer's journalism, by Progressive politics--and, we might say, by naturalism itself, a hybrid of class and mass literature, with its markings of expertise and its dream-dimensions (Howard), and its promises for self-representation and perpetual desire (Michaels). In fact, reading Denning through Howard, naturalism may have been a genre which invited a mode of interpretation that was anything but allegorical: which, paradoxically, may have turned readers away from macrocosmic generalization, cutting the analogizing instinct from the private world to the public, turning citizens into spectators. Only in delineating this variety of cultural forms and options--women's fiction, ethnic journalism, Frank Merriwell books, black autobiographies, to name but a few--and then reconstructing the outcomes of their internal and generic scrimmages, may our revisionism undergo its own revising.
1. Epigraphs from William James, Pragmatism, ed. Bruce Kuklick (1907; reprint Indianapolis, 1981), 67; and Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Sociallv Svbolic Act (Ithaca, 1991), 102, hereafter cited as "J." Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York, 1972), 112. "Bartholomew's Fair" from introduction to Tracing Literary Theory, ed. Joseph Natoli (Urbana, 1987), 4; "Babel" from Sacvan Bercovitch, "The Problem of Ideology in American Literary History," Critical Inquiry 12 (Summer 1986): 633; "Eurocentric" from Alan Wald, review of Reconstructing American Literary History, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (Cambridge, Mass , 1986), New York Times Sunday Book Review, 26 Sept. 1986, 35.
2. W. J. T. Mitchell has pointed out a certain "studious reserve about motives" in Stephen Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels's "Against Theory," reprinted in Mitchell, ed., Against Theory (Chicago, 1985), 3.
3. For a thoughtful overview of recent thinking on American Realism, see Amy Kaplan, "Absent Things in American Life," Yale Review 74 (Autumn 1984): 126-35. Michaels's book is published by the University of California; Howard's by the University of North Carolina; Denning's by Verso of London.
4. For two especially useful summaries of revisionist criticism, see Gene Wise, "The Contemporary Crisis in Intellectual History," Clio 5 (1975): 55-71; and Robin Berkhofer, "Clio and the Culture Concept: Some Impressions of a Changing Relationship in American Historiography," in Louis Schneider and Charles Bonjean, eds., The Idea of Culture in the Social Sciences (New York, 1975), 77-100. See also, Bruce Kuklick, "Myth and Symbol in American Studies," American Quarterly 24 (1972): 435-50, and Nina Baym, "Melodramas of Beset Manhood," American Quarterly 33 (1981): 123-39.
5. R. Gordon Kelly, "Literature and the Historian," American Quarterly 26 (1974): 148, 144. See also Wise's call for attention to "socialized foms," for what he called ideas as "coping strategies" and "transactions," 67-68. Similarly, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese told American Quarterly: "We gain nothing from insisting on a radical purity that severs the text entirely from its production and reception, from the motivations--open and buried--of its author or from the predispositions of its readers." "Scarlett O'Hara: The Southem Lady as New Woman," American Quarterly 33 (1981): 393.
6. For one review of the new historicism, see Michaet Wamer, "Literary Studies and the History of the Book," The Book (July 1987): 3-9. The best known example of reader-response historicism, of course, is Jane Tompkins's Sensational Designs (New York, 1985); see also Stephen Mailloux, Interpretive Convention (Ithaca, 1982), esp. 159-72 on Jauss; James D. Wallace, Early Cooper and His Audience (New York, 1986); and Antony H. Harrison, "Reception Theory and the New Historicism: The Metaphysical Poets in the Nineteenth Century," John Donne Journal 4 (1985): 163-80.
7. Clifford Geenz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973), 3-30, hereafter cited as IC. Geenz also emphasizes his "miniaturism." To my mind, the finest examples of this balancing act are Janice Radway, Reading the Romance (Chapel Hill, 1984); see esp. 9-12; Cathy Davidson, Revolution and the Word (New York, 1986); see esp. 4, 12; and Lawrence Buell, New England Literary Culture (Cambridge, 1986); see esp. 5-11. The pitfalls of historical "transference" in regard to mentalitˇs are discussed in Dominick LaCapra, History and Criticism (Ithaca, 1985), 71-94.
Radway, it should be noted, also applies Jameson; see also her essays, "The Utopian Impulse in Popular Literature: Gothic Romances and 'Feminist' Protest," American Quarterly 33 (1981): 140-62, and "The Book of tbe Month Club and the General Reader: On the Uses of 'Serious' Fiction," Critical Inquiry 14 (1988): 516-38. See also Elizabeth Long, "Women, Reading, and CulturalAuthority: Some Implications of the Audience Perspective in Cultural Studies," American Quarterly 39 (1986): 591-612. One should not underestimate, as well, the influence of Raymond Williams's October 1973 New Left Review essay, "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Studies," reprinted in Problems in Materialism and Culture (London, 1990), on texts like Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York, 1977); see note 13, p. 20. For new explorations in l'histoire du texte, see American Quarterly 40 (1988).
8. See Nina Baym, "Turning Literature into History," a review of Mary Kelley's Private Women, Public Stage, American Quarterly 36 (1984): 593-606.
9. For a self-conscious appropriation of Greenblatt, see T. Walter Herbert, Jr., "Nathaniel Hawthome, Una Hawthome, and The Scarlet Letter," PMLA 103 (May 1988); 285 97, hereafter cited in text as TWH.
10. Quotations taken from Stephen Greenblatt, "Shakespeare and the Exorcists," Shakespeare and the Problem of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (New York, 1985), 163-87; "Murdering Peasants: Status, Genre, and The Representation of Rebellion," Representations 1 (Feb, 1993): 1-29, hereafter cited as "MP"; "Introduction," Genre 15 (Spring-Summer 1982): 3-6.
11. Michaels's study is listed as one of a series in "The New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics," with Greenblatt as the general series editor. For a skeptical yet useful interpretation of Greenblatt's work, see Edward Pechter, "The New Historicism and Its Discontents: Politicizing Renaissance Drama," PMLA 102 (May 1987): 292-303, If, as Pechter claims, Greenblatt is a "Marxist" more influenced by the early Foucault than the "late," then Michaels is a very different new historicist.
12. Catharine Gallagher, The Industial Reformation of English Fiction (Chicago, 1985), xiii.
13. For fine examples of the "hard" Foucauldian reading of discourse, see Muk Seltzer, Henry James and the Art of Power (Ithaca, 1984), and Richard Brodhead, "Sparing the Rod: Discipline and Fiction in Antebellum America," Representations 21 (Winter 1988): 67-96. For a critique of the equation of "discourse" and power, see Gerald Graff, "American Criticism Left and Right," in Ideology and Classic American Literature, ed. Myra Jehlen and Sacvan Bercovitch (Cambridge, 1986), 15.
14. For a fine survey of this reversal in regard to canonical texts, see Myra Jehlen's introduction to Ideology and Classic American Literature, esp. 8. Hereafter cited as MJ.
15. Dmiel Stempel, "History and Postmodern Literary Theory," in Tracing Literary Theory, 87.
16. For one of the more succinct statements of this lack of consistency about ideology, "myth," and the "hard facts" of history--and American Studies' residual pastoralism--see Sam Girgus's review of Richard Slotkin's The Fatal Environment, American Quarterly 38 (1986): 299-303.
17. Foucault on statements, from The Archaeology of Knowledge (New York, 1972), 34. This in itself reveals how the use of discourse is intertextual, in that texts draw authoiity from other privileged or legitimated statement-systems. As Michaels writes in an earlier essay, "Facts in themselves cannot coerce agreement, but agreement on one thing can coerce agreement on something else"; what makes facts "hard," Michaels adds, is not some empirical ground, but the fact that we believe them. This suggests the powerful ideational status "belief" has in Michaels's approach. "Saving the Text: Reference and Belief," Modern Language Notes 93 (1978): 788.
18. Here again Michaels bears special comparison with Mark Seltzer. See esp. "The Naturalist Machine," in Sex, Politics and Science in the Nineteenth Century Novel, ed., Ruth Yaezell (Baltimore, 1985), 116-47; "Physical Capital: The American and the Realist Body," in New Essays on The American, ed. Martha Banta (Cambtidge, 1987), 131-67, esp. note 36, pp. 166-67; and Seltzer's "Statistical Persons," Diacritics 17 (Fall 1997): 82-98, esp. note 3, pp. 83-84.
19. As Frank Lentricchia writes, "beliefs" in the new prgmatist sense are highly local, instrumental, and cognitive responses to situations of emergency that can be revised in pmcess. For this reason and others, Brook Thomas's (in his review of Gold Standard in American Literature, 60 (May 19881: 301-03) perception that Michaels is describing what are commonly termed "homologies" is, I think, only half-right. Frank Lentricchia, "The Return of William James," in The Current in Criticism, ed. Clayton Koelb and Virgil Lokke (West Lafayette, 1987), 175-200. This essay should be approached guardedly because, in large part, it tries to "save" James from Michaels and other new pragmatists.
20. The provisional and fluid quality to belief is clarified, perhaps, by a passage from C. S. Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," an exercise cited in Knapp & Michaels's "Against Theory":
And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life. We have seen that it has just three properties: first it is something that we are aware of; second, it appeases the irritation of doubt; and, third, it involves the establishment in our nature of a rule of action, or, say for short, a habit. As it appeases the irritation of doubt, which is the motive for thinking, thought relaxes, and comes to rest for a moment when belief is reached. But, since belief is a rule for action, the application of which involves further doubt and further thought, at the same time that it is a stopping place, it is also a new starting-place for thought. . . . belief is only a stadium of mental action, an effect upon our nature due to thought, which will influence future thinking.
In Values in a Universe of Chance: Selected Writings of C. S. Peirce, ed. Philip P. Wiener (Garden City, 1958), 121.
21. Michaels, "Saving the Text," 780.
22. Michaels cites Foucault's critique of ideology as referring necessarily to a "Subject." Foucault in fact lists two other objections to ideology: that it stands in opposition to some form of "truth," and that it stands in secondary relation to a material infrastructure. "Truth and Power," in Foucault, Power/Knowledge (New York, 1980), 118. Hereafter cited as (P/K).
23. Michaels's most brilliant moment in this regard is his uncovering of Dreiser's imagining of the corporation's "purchase" of a young man's desire; see 49.
24. See also Howard Horowitz's dunning of Alan Trachtenberg in "The Standard Oil Trust as Emersonian Hero," Raritan (Spting 1987): 97-119. Obviously influenced by Michaels, Horowitz skillfully demonstrates the "isomorphic" logic between Emerson's "transcendental eyeball" and the Foucauldian power strategy of the corporate trust, both of which efface "mean egotism" and agency in the cause of "harmony" and abdication of agency (and legal liability); thus, Horowitz concludes, "we may want to christen this era the de-corporation of America" (119). This account, however, runs the risk of equating corporate disavowals (as in cited congressional testimony) of contractualism and agency with "belief," and "belief " in turn with actual practice (particularly the idea that trusts did not "initiate" action ). Not only truncating the trust's operations, Horowitz may also discount protest against it. On the other hand, Horowitz voices what I read as a critique of some of Michaels's assumptions: that one cannot conflate Emersonian "commitments" and future applications ("the error of fomalism"); that "logics" can have a currency used for many purposes (118). For another critique of what one might call the Ametican Studies "metaphysical" dimension, see Stuart Culver, "What Mannikins Want: The Wonderful World of Oz and The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows," Representations 21 (Winter 1988), note 15, pp. 114-15, which reverses Lears's "weightlessness" hypothesis about late Victorian culture. Culver's essay also makes apparent how much the new historicist interest in internal "difference" does challenge more standard accounts (Susman, Lears) of consumer desire. Consumerism, rather than prompted by a putative "fall" from an autonomous or "integral" selfhood (what Susman would have called "character"), is driven by an "essential" (Culver's word) "inner emptiness" which prompts caring about being autonomous or integral in the first place; consumerism thus manifests a desire for unreality, not (in Lear's argument) a flight from it. What remains unclear, as with Michaels, is how if the desire for representation is "essential" (114), it is susceptible to historical specificity.
25. Mark Poster, "The Future According to Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge and Intellectual History," in Dominick LaCapra and Stephen L. Kaplan, Modern European Intellectual History (Ithaca, 1982), 137-52. Michaels's critique of recent scholarship on the literary vocation is also pertinent here: see note 41, p. 111. And this poststructural interest in what Michaels calls "the self as an effect of writing," in turn, is what gives Michaels's work a common ground with that of Michael Fried's Realism, Writing, Disfiguration (Chicago, 1987); see note 2, p. 163.
26. Perhaps best known are the attacks of Kenneth Lynn, esp. "The Regressive Historians," American Scholar 4 (1977-78): 471-500. American Studies' own vulnerability to "debunking" and hyperbolic textual selections are apparent; for a helpful corrective, see T. W. Adorno's well known critique, "Veblen's Attack on Culture," in Prisms (Cambridge, 1967), 73-94.
27. Dimock in her review of Lawrence Buell's New England Literary Culture, American Quarterly 39 (1987): 290; note also her attention to Buell's "localism." For rather hostile reviews of Gold Standard, see Alfred Habegger in the New England Quarterly 61 (June 1988): 284-89, and Donald Pizer, in Nineteenth Century Literature 43 (June 1988): 113-16.
28. Some measure of Michaels's departure here is that he figures capitalism, as in Carrie Meeber herself, in terms of a female sexuality, and in "specular" terms. In this second respect, his work bears comparison with Rachael Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola (New York, 1985), and Philip Fisher, Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel (New York, 1985).
29. This reversal becomes especially clear in Michaels's exchange with Leo Bersani, author of A Future for Astyanax, in Critical Inquiry 8 (Autumn 1981). It also establishes the ground for Michaels's frequent potshots at deconstruction; see, e.g., 51, 174.
30. Contrast Jameson, 287. In mass culture, for instance, Jameson would see many of the longings Michaels finds--for bodily perfection, for one--as manifestations of an age-old Utopian tonging to be free from necessity. Michaels, in fact, sees such a longing as absolutely fatal, ironically compatible with capitalism's own desire to deny death.
31. Berkhofer, as cited in Guenther Lenz, "American Studies--Beyond the Crisis? Recent Redefinitions and the Meaning of Theory, History, and Practical Ctiticism," Prospects 7 (1982): 53-114.
32. This aspect has been noted, largely to Michaels's discredit, by reviewers; Amy Kaplan, "Nawralism with a Difference," American Quarterly 40(Dec. 1988): 582-89, and Brook Thomas, 302-03. I wish to acknowledge the insights of both reviews. Compare Seltzer, "Physical Capital," note 36, pp, 166-67, and my review of Michael Gilmore's insightful American Romanticism and the Marketplace, in South Atlantic Quarterly 86 (Winter 1987): 86-87.
Similarly, a book which situates realism in literature and painting historically, David M. Lubin's Acts of Portrayal (New Haven, 1995), esp. 8-21, cites economic diversification, alienation from democracy, and modern Haskellian "interdependence" as providing a new "conceptual basis for the new, subjective style of portraiture that arose during the generation following Hawthorne" (9), a basis rooted in the projection and undermining of "subjectivity." Fried, as well, says the fact that "issues and questions" about the "thematics of writing" appear diachronically in a painter, Thomas Eakins, and Stephen Crane is of "some significance" --one would assume, some historical significance. Leaving aside Fried's and Lubin's superbly iconoclastic readings, this hypothesis broaches not only problems of periodization (since the "market" is hardly new in 1880), but "inscription" (whicb Lubin finesses as "introjection"). One naturally asks how, if poststructuralism assumes "chaos" inheres in the very "textuality" of any given painting or text, its production (or inscription) is in any specific sense "historical."
33. Compare Edward Said's comments on Foucault's truncated notions of power in "The Problem of Textuality: Two Exemplary Positions," Critical Inquiry 4 (Summer 1978): 710-11.
34. Michaels's focus on the "ontology" of money, certainly a prominent feature of the Gilded Age debate, all the same marginalizes other interests involved (inflationary versus deflationary policy, the money supply, mining employment, repayment of govemment pledges) which so divided politics. For a good overview of the scholarship (which Michaels would probably deem "oppositional") that has long challenged Hofstadter's views, see Alan Brinkley, "Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform: A Reconsideration," Reviews in American History (Sept, 1985): 462-80. Brinkley also points out (469) more recent scholarship does not agree with Hofstadter's notion that Progressivism shared the same "broad current of reform" as Populism.
35. In a similar vein, in a review of Buell's New England Literary Culture in New England Quarterly 60 (Dec. 1987), David Van Leer writes, not a little condescendingly, that Buell's "cook's tour of poststructuraligm can be forgiven as a variety of theory panic" (622), and adds: "Personally, I find the moralism of mid-century texts often problematic, sometimes ironic, and always dull" (624). Contrast also Van Leer's concluding remarks on the illusury "otherness" of history to the critics noted in note 7 above.
36. The Financier (New York, 1967), 8.
37. In this reading, in fact, Michaels seems to perform the exact analogizing move he discounts in "Against Theory" (13-18), by analogizing an unintended "smooch" to writing.
38. Christine Stansell points out this pitfall in her essay review, "Revisiting the Angel in the House: Revisions of Victorian Womanhood." New England Quarterly 60 (Sept. 1987), esp. 472 76.
39. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (London, 1958), and The Country and the City (New York, 1973), 83.
40. Michaels also might be accused of making a straw man out of Dreiser criticism, which has often emphasized his ambivalence or fascination with capitalism; see, for instance, Kenneth Lynn, The Dream of Success (Boston, 1955).
41. It should be pointed out that Howard departs from Jameson in several important respects, understating both the "political unconscious" and naturalism's utopian dimension. Howard's elaborate textualization of the "generic text" also may mediate Jameson's commitment to a single "master narrative." And whether she fully recognizes it or not, in invoking professionalism, she may depart from the more orthodox "two-class" description common to Marxism.
42. "Mediation" in Jameson is well explained in William Dowling, Jameson, Althusser, Marx (Ithaca, 1984); see 66-75.
43. To better articulate the mapping process, Jameson, Howard, and Denning all apply the semiotic "rectangle" articulated by A. J. Greimas. See esp. Jameson's foreward to A. J. Greimas, On Meaning (Minneapolis, 1987).
44. Dowling helpfully points out the dual inflection of "symbolic acts." As Dowling writes, "a text is both a symbolic act and a symbolic act: that is, it is a genuine act in tbat it tries to do something to the world. and yet it is 'merely' symbolic in the sense that it leaves the world untouched" (122).
45. Dan Schiller's Objectivity and the News (Philadelphia, 1981) shows, moreover, that the notion of a "public" in the penny press was itself an expropriation and refashioning of republican discourse.
46. Howard may broach Jameson's "utopian" theme guardedly because it might engage such problems of audience. Yet implied in her account, as I have suggested, is what Jameson has termed "compensatory exchange" (J, 287) in mass culture, whereby mass texts elicit longings present in readers--a project to which Denning's book is strategically addressed. See also the interview of Jameson in Diacritics (1981-82), 11-13, 72-91.
47. I am grateful to my colleague Charles Colben for pointing out how "highbrow" and "lowbrow" were tied metaphorically to both phrenenological categories and, later, to racist taxonomies, even skull measurement. For a superb account of these practices, see Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York, 1991).
48. On the illustrations, see the Norton edition, (New York, 1982).
49. This is notwithstanding that revisionism has itself been charged with covertly favoring holistic cultural description. Surprisingly, this dimension is revealed not only in critics like Cecil Tate (Lenz, 64 ff.), but in Robert Sklar's "American Studies and the Realities of America," American Quarterly 22 (1970): 597-605. In his discounting of revisionism and his attempt to restrict American Studies to "historical criticism" in the Susman mode, Lenz may, however, only reflect this selfsame desire to "save" an "original" American Studies.
50. Take, for example, David Hall's comments in a recent brief review of Mechanic Accents: "In this 'age of texts,' " Hall complains, "academic readers can find oppositional meaning in any text they care to analyze. But it is a far different matter, and quite problematic, when someone attempts to translate this play of meaning into actual social history. . ." The Book 15 (July 1988): 2-3.
51. Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (Chicago, 1980), 205.
52. For a good instance of this possibility, see Roben C. Bannister, "Social Daminism is Our Creed," in Social Darwinism (Philadelphia, 1979), 114-36. See also Graff on the political "ambidextrousness" of theory, 97 ff., and note 1, p. 116, and Horowitz on the "currency" of discourses, 118 ff.
53. On "cultural work," compare Tompkins, xi-xix, and Fisher, 3-21 passim.