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Modernism and the Culture of Efficiency

Modernism and the Culture of Efficiency: Ideology and Fiction

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 352
  • Book Info
    Modernism and the Culture of Efficiency
    Book Description:

    Cobley's close readings of modernist British fiction by writers as diverse as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Conrad, and E.M. Forster identify characters whose attitudes and behaviour patterns indirectly manifest cultural anxieties that can be traced to the conflicted logic of efficiency.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9743-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    My interest in efficiency began many years ago during a visit to the concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich. At age twenty, I was moved, not unexpectedly, by the sight of the partially reconstructed camp; however, what I had not anticipated, and what was most shocking to me, was the documentation in the small museum showing the rational efficiency with which the Nazis had gone about the irrational goal of eliminating the Jewish population. On a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the summer of 2007, I had my earlier sense of shocked incredulity once again confirmed and intensified.Modernism and the...


    • 1 Efficiency and the Great Exhibition of 1851: Elation and Doubt
      (pp. 25-37)

      At the Great Exhibition of 1851 at London’s Crystal Palace, the Machine Age openly celebrated the drive to increase the efficiency of everything from locomotives to household gadgets as evidence of human progress. Visitors to the Crystal Palace were not only amazed by spectacles of human ingenuity, but assumed that the Machine Age would usher in a future of greater leisure and prosperity for all. There were, of course, those who warned that a social cost would have to be paid; most famously, the Luddites (1811–16) burned the looms that threatened the livelihood of weavers while Marx and Engels...

    • 2 Efficient Machines and Docile Bodies: Henry Ford and F.W. Taylor
      (pp. 38-76)

      Henry Ford’s Model T remains to this day lodged in the popular imagination for being virtually synonymous with innovative engineering, a revolutionary production process, and an imaginative marketing strategy. The Ford Motor Company was contradictorily both a testament to the American entrepreneurial spirit and an emblem of the dehumanization of individuals and the homogenization of society. Although Ford applied for his first patent in 1898, it was not until 1908 that he produced the model T and not until 1913 that he introduced the assembly line. Although his roots were in the nineteenth century, Henry Ford is the quintessential ‘modern’...

    • 3 An Experiment in (In)Efficient Organization and Social Engineering: Auschwitz
      (pp. 77-112)

      There were, of course, many repercussions of the sociocultural ‘revolution’ that crystallized around Fordism and Taylorism in the early twentieth century. A commitment to efficiency manifested itself in various forms, ranging from the extreme case of the concentration camp in Nazi Germany to the apparently innocuous pleasures afforded by the consumer society. The openly repressive tactics employed by Harry Bennett to ensure an efficiently functioning workforce at the Ford Motor Company finds one particularly troubling logical extension in the social-engineering experiments carried out most notoriously at Auschwitz-Birkenau, while the ideological measure of Henry Ford’s Five-Dollar Day to incite conformity to...

    • 4 Efficiency and Disciplinary Power: The Iron Cage and the Suburb
      (pp. 113-150)

      The desire to optimize efficient outcomes shifts the locus of control over self and others from external sources to the internalization of ideological imperatives. The openly coercive tactics at the Ford Motor Company and in the Nazi death camps were limited in their applicability and effectiveness; in contrast, Taylor’s concept of scientific management ‘adapts the way a virus does, fitting in almost everywhere’ (Kanigel 499). Although Henry Ford’s assembly line was a revolutionary innovation, it was restricted to the sphere of modern industrial production. Ford’s strategies have been regarded as ‘the special case’ (498) of Taylor’s more universal articulation of...


    • 5 Efficiency and Population Control: Wells, Shaw, Orwell, Forster
      (pp. 153-184)

      In a letter dated 18 May 1931, Aldous Huxley made it clear thatBrave New Worldwas, at least in part, intended as an attack on H.G. Wells: ‘I am writing a novel about the future – on the horror of the Wellsian Utopia and a revolt against it’ (Huxley,Letters348).¹ As we will see, the opening scene of Huxley’s novel satirizes eugenics as an absurd extension of the logic informing the obsession with efficiency symbolized by the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company. In Huxley’s imagination, the assembly line gives rise to eugenic engineering experiments the aim of...

    • 6 ‘Criminal’ Efficiency: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
      (pp. 185-202)

      Joseph Conrad’s life (1857–1924) spanned the period of rapid transformation from an essentially agricultural or organic society to an industrial or mechanical one. Having spent a good part of his early adult life as a merchant seaman, he began writing fiction in 1895, publishingHeart of Darknessas a novel in 1902 (after it had started to be serialized inBlackwood’s Magazinein 1899). Unlike most other writers of his time, he had first-hand experience of the working life. For the late-nineteenth-century seaman, work had not yet been reduced to the routinized drudgery of factory toil; it could still...

    • 7 Efficient Management: D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love
      (pp. 203-223)

      The son of a miner, D.H. Lawrence had witnessed Taylorized rationalization processes in the mining industry that had reverberated throughout the social fabric at the turn of the century. A novel ostensibly concerned with the sexual experiences of two sisters,Women in Love(1920) is marked by deep cultural anxieties that find their most explicit exposition in chapter 17, ‘The Industrial Magnate.’ Taking over his father’s coal mines, Gerald Crich revolutionizes the family business by changing the process of production from a patriarchal to a modern scientific model indebted to an understanding of the Taylor expert wielding his stopwatch. Focused...

    • 8 Efficiency and Perverse Outcomes: Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier
      (pp. 224-245)

      Ford Madox Ford’sThe Good Soldier(1915) appears at first sight to be a highly unlikely candidate for inclusion in a study of efficiency. A fine example of ‘literary impressionism,’ the novel has predominantly been appreciated for the epistemological crisis it signals through the narrator’s legendary unreliability. Alluding to the sense-making mechanisms of storytelling, the narrator John Dowell is tentative in his assertions, often revises what earlier seemed to be factual information, and castigates himself for having allowed himself to be deceived by others. Moreover, as the critics keep pointing out, Dowell deceives himself in ways that he himself fails...

    • 9 Efficiency and Its Alternatives: E.M. Forster’s Howards End
      (pp. 246-281)

      In its nostalgic celebration of traditional English life,Howards Endindirectly instals efficiency as the primary threat to Forster’s devotion to his often acclaimed ‘ideas of decency, humaneness, the civilized private life in which the disparities of the human condition might be resolved by honesty and good will’ (Gordon 89). This devotion implies a typically British attachment to the rule-of-thumb approach to life that prevented easy acceptance of Taylor’s principles of scientific management in manufacturing and public administration. Where the genteel Schlegel sisters represent the residual ideology of liberal humanism, the enterprising Wilcoxes stand for the consolidation and spread of...

    • 10 Efficiency and the Perfect Society: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
      (pp. 282-312)

      In the narratives examined up to this point, efficiency as an emergent ideology tended to be dramatized in its impact on the consciousness of individuals whose personal and cultural self-understanding had been thrown into crisis. In contrast to both direct and indirect indictments of the specifically social and personal costs of an investment in efficiency, Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World(1932) draws out the broader social, cultural, and philosophical implications of the industrial revolution that the novel metaphorically attributes to Henry Ford. Displacing Christ as the central cultural figure, ‘Our Ford’ is revered as the founder of a ‘civilization’ projected...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 313-324)
  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 325-334)
  9. Index
    (pp. 335-344)