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The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism

The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century

WALTER BENN MICHAELS
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 257
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppvww
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  • Book Info
    The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism
    Book Description:

    The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalismdiscusses ways of creating value in turn-of-the-century American capitalism. Focusing on such topics as the alienation of property, the invention of masochism, and the battle over free silver, it examines the participation of cultural forms in these phenomena. It imagines a literary history that must at the same time be social, economic, and legal; and it imagines a literature that, to be understood at all, must be understood both as a producer and a product of market capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90829-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: THE WRITER’S MARK
    (pp. 1-28)

    What kind of work is writing? In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’sWomen and Economics(1898), it is simultaneously paradigmatic of “economic production” and, like production itself, as Oilman understands it, hardly economic at all. “Economic production,” she writes, “is the natural expression of human energy”; “human beings tend to produce, as a gland to secrete.”¹ In fact, the desire to produce precedes even the desire to consume: “‘I want to mark!”’ cries the child, demanding the pencil. He does not want to eat. He wants to mark” (116-17). Not only is production imagined here as the most primitive desire, it is...

  5. 1. SISTER CARRIE’S POPULAR ECONOMY
    (pp. 29-58)

    There is a remarkable passage in Dreiser’sSister Carriejust after the famous scene in which Carrie first accepts money, “two soft, green, handsome ten-dollar bills,”¹ from the drummer Drouet. “The true meaning of money,” Dreiser suggests here, “yet remains to be popularly explained and comprehended.” Dreiser then goes on to give two accounts of what this “true meaning” is. He says first that money “stands for . . . stored energy” and hence should be “paid out . . . honestly” and “not as a usurped privilege.” When this is understood, “many of our social, religious, and political troubles...

  6. 2. DREISER’S FINANCIER: THE MAN OF BUSINESS AS A MAN OF LETTERS
    (pp. 59-84)

    The difference between a wife and a mistress, according to Dreiser, is the difference between a woman who gives her love in a “sweet bond of agreement and exchange—fair trade in a lovely contest”¹ and a woman who loves without thought of return; “sacrificial, yielding, solicitous,” she is motivated only by “the desire to give” (173). InThe Financier,the wife is Lillian Semple, the mistress Aileen Butler, and the general description of wives and mistresses is, at least to some extent, a report of their respective personalities. Aileen is excessive in everything; her innate love of “lavishness” leads...

  7. 3. ROMANCE AND REAL ESTATE
    (pp. 85-112)

    Visiting Salem in 1904, Henry James asked to be shown the “House of the Seven Gables” and was led by his guide to an “object” so “shapeless,” so “weak” and “vague,” that at first sight he could only murmur, “Dear, dear, are you very sure?” In an instant, however, James and the guide (“a dear little harsh, intelligent, sympathetic American boy”) had together “thrown off” their sense that the house “wouldn’t do at all” by reminding themselves that there was, in general, no necessary “relation between the accomplished thing for ... art” and “those other quite equivocal things” that may...

  8. 4. THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF CONTRACT
    (pp. 113-136)

    “Even in my early childhood I loved to revel in ideas about the absolute mastery of one man over others. The thought of slavery had something exciting in it for me, alike whether from the standpoint of master or servant. That one man could possess, sell or whip another, caused me intense excitement; and in readingUncle Tom’s Cabin(which I read at about the beginning of puberty) I had erections.”¹ This reading ofUncle Tom’s Cabinmarks the sexual awakening of Case 57 in Richard von Krafft-Ebing’sPsychopathia Sexualis,an example, according to Krafft-Ebing, of “typical masochism in which...

  9. 5. THE GOLD STANDARD AND THE LOGIC OF NATURALISM
    (pp. 137-180)

    Why does the miser save? Trina McTeague, writes Frank Norris, saved “without knowing why”—“without any thought, without idea of consequence—saving for the sake of saving.”¹ But to say that Trina saved for the sake of saving doesn’t so much explain her behavior as identify the behavior in need of explanation: why would anyone save just for the sake of saving? Psychology in the late nineteenth century had begun to question whether anyone actually did. The “common lot of misers,” according to William James, “value their gold, not for its own sake, but for its powers. Demonetize it, and...

  10. 6. CORPORATE FICTION
    (pp. 181-214)

    Toward the end ofThe Octopus—after the shoot-out between the railroad and the ranchers, and after the railroad has put its “dummy buyers” in possession of the ranchers’ property—Norris contrives a dramatic way of illustrating some of the consequences of this event. He cuts back and forth between scenes of the immigrant rancher’s widow Mrs. Hooven and her daughter starving in the streets of San Francisco and scenes of a fashionable dinner party at the home of the railroad magnate Gerard. The contrast is crude but powerful. The “wrecked body” of Mrs. Hooven “clamorfs] for nourishment; anything to...

  11. 7. ACTION AND ACCIDENT: PHOTOGRAPHY AND WRITING
    (pp. 215-244)

    What do we do when we press a button? This question arises in the context of the late-nineteenth-century debate over whether photography was an art, a debate that continues today, although today the question of photography’s status as an art is more likely to be asked as a question about photography’s “essence.”¹ The question today is, what are the relations between photographs and the objects they are photographs of? In contrast, many writers in the late nineteenth century (and some into the twentieth) were more disturbed by the relations between the photograph and the photographer: they worried instead about how...

  12. Index
    (pp. 245-248)