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Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Corridor offers a series of conceptually provocative readings that illuminate a hidden and surprising relationship between architectural space and modern American fiction. By paying close attention to fictional descriptions of some of modernity's least remarkable structures, such as plumbing, ductwork, and airshafts, Kate Marshall discovers a rich network of connections between corridors and novels, one that also sheds new light on the nature of modern media. The corridor is the dominant organizational structure in modern architecture, yet its various functions are taken for granted, and it tends to disappear from view. But, as Marshall shows, even the most banal structures become strangely visible in the noisy communication systems of American fiction. By examining the link between modernist novels and corridors, Marshall demonstrates the ways architectural elements act as media. In a fresh look at the late naturalist fiction of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, she leads the reader through the fetus-clogged sewers of Manhattan Transfer to the corpse-choked furnaces of Native Son and reveals how these invisible spaces have a fascinating history in organizing the structure of modern persons. Portraying media as not only objects but processes, Marshall develops a new idiom for Americanist literary criticism, one that explains how media studies can inform our understanding of modernist literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8431-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE “All That I Need Is a Hallway”
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Corridoricity
    (pp. 1-42)

    The corridor figures prominently in the most familiar texts of literary modernism. Virginia Woolf famously described her idea of the structure of To the Lighthouse as “two blocks separated by a corridor.” The corridors traveled by Kafka’s Joseph K. are the iconic image of modern bureaucracy. Marcel of Proust’s Swann’s Way frets constantly about transit between his room and its exterior places of passage. And Robbe-Grillet’s mazelike interiors, in print as In the Labyrinth and in film as Last Year in Marienbad, all point to the representativeness of the hallway as an index of modern interiority, and as the particular...

    (pp. 43-78)

    Maggie works in a collar factory. The eponymous heroine of Stephen Crane’s 1893 novel is responsible for “turning out” collars—at her sewing machine, this factory girl participates in the routine transformation from cloth into collar, or from raw material into product. Her role in the transformation and the factory scene she inhabits are familiar enough as the raw material of American naturalist fiction. For Maggie has good company among other characters—especially women—who populate these texts and who perform acts of routinized mechanical labor resulting in the production of objects: for a time, Maggie makes collars, just as...

    (pp. 79-114)

    When Melville’s Bartleby wants to take in a view of the world outside of his office, he looks out the window at a light shaft. The narrator lingers on this particular technology for circulating light and air: “My chambers were up stairs at No.— Wall-street. At one end they looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light shaft, penetrating the building from top to bottom. This view might have been considered rather tame than otherwise, deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life.’” Instead of the airshaft, Jonathan Parker’s 2001 film adaptation of “Bartleby” translates the object...

    (pp. 115-148)

    In 1918 infrastructural systems across the United States began to shut down. They did so to avoid a common threat: the transmission of an influenza virus that was quickly reaching global pandemic status. Although this shutdown included the expected suspension of public transit and other systems involving the bodily proximity of individuals, it also extended to the postal and telephone systems and to other mass-media outlets involved in communication without bodily co-presence and without, it would seem, an immediate danger of contagion.

    On the one hand, this otherwise counterintuitive inclusion of message carriers with body carriers as infrastructure happens by...

    (pp. 149-170)

    The modern form of bureaucracy, as described by one of its most prominent theorists, Max Weber, has its own spatial contagions. “It does not matter for the character of bureaucracy,” he says, “whether its authority is called ‘private’ or ‘public.’”¹ The mimetic compulsions of structure appear throughout his categorical project of describing bureaucratic rationality; and bureaucracy, like the flu, works with something other than a banal opposition of public and private when it addresses distinctions between persons, spaces, or institutions. The spatial sensibilities that I have been describing as activated by the influenza epidemic in its literary and historical afterlives—...

  10. EPILOGUE Open Plan
    (pp. 171-182)

    An architect of communication in the modern novel loves walls, partitions, and channels that organize vectors of movement and transfer. These structures of division—inside from outside, private from social space—indicate and make possible that from which they are divided. Corridors also connect.

    Thus, when Virginia Woolf draws the form of To the Lighthouse she imagines a structure analogous to both house and closed system. Ann Banfield suggests that this spatial diagram points to a constitutive multiplicity of form encoded by the corridor: “‘break’ and ‘bridge,’” as well as the rendering of time as “in-between.”¹ This is a conspicuous...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 183-204)
    (pp. 205-216)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 217-234)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)