Communities in Fiction

Communities in Fiction

J. HILLIS MILLER
Timothy C. Campbell series editor
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287g7v
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    Communities in Fiction
    Book Description:

    Communities in Fiction reads six novels or stories (one each by Trollope, Hardy, Conrad, Woolf, Pynchon, and Cervantes) in the light of theories of community worked out (contradictorily) by Raymond Williams, Martin Heidegger, and Jean- Luc Nancy. The book's topic is the question of how communities or noncommunities are represented in fictional works. Such fictional communities help the reader understand real communities, including those in which the reader lives. As against the presumption that the trajectory in literature from Victorian to modern to postmodern is the story of a gradual loss of belief in the possibility of community, this book demonstrates that communities have always been presented in fiction as precarious and fractured. Moreover, the juxtaposition of Pynchon and Cervantes in the last chapter demonstrates that period characterizations are never to be trusted. All the features both thematic and formal that recent critics and theorists such as Fredric Jameson and many others have found to characterize postmodern fiction are already present in Cervantes's wonderful early-seventeenth-century "Exemplary Story," "The Dogs' Colloquy." All the themes and narrative devices of Western fiction from the beginning of the print era to the present were there at the beginning, in Cervantes Most of all, however, Communities in Fiction looks in detail at its six fictions, striving to see just what they say, what stories they tell, and what narratological and rhetorical devices they use to say what they do say and to tell the stories they do tell. The book attempts to communicate to its readers the joy of reading these works and to argue for the exemplary insight they provide into what Heidegger called Mitsein being together in communities that are always problematic and unstable.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6314-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 THEORIES OF COMMUNITY: Williams, Heidegger, and Others
    (pp. 1-17)

    Raymond Williams’s entry for “community” inKeywords¹ is straightforward enough, though it is characteristically succinct, comprehensive, and subtle. He gives a brief history of the etymology of the word and of the different meanings the word has had since it entered the English language in the fourteenth century. He also sets “community” against two French and German words,communeandGemeinde. He refers to Tönnies’s influential contrast (1887) betweenGemeinschaftandGesellschaft: an organic community, on the one hand, and an impersonal organization or corporation, on the other. Though Williams distinguishes five senses of “community,” the essence of his definition...

  6. 2 TROLLOPE’S THE LAST CHRONICLE OF BARSET AS A MODEL OF VICTORIAN COMMUNITY
    (pp. 18-92)

    I advocate in the strongest terms what I call a double reading of novels. In one reading you give yourself, heart and soul, without reservation, to reading the novel. You re-create the novel’s characters and the action, topography, houses, gardens, and so on within your mind and feelings, within what might be called your internal cinema. The second reading should be performed, impossibly, at the same time. This is the interrogative one, the suspicious one. It is the reading in which you investigate how the magic is performed. You ask just what is being put over on you in the...

  7. 3 INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNITY IN THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE
    (pp. 93-138)

    Michael Millgate’s authoritativeThomas Hardy: His Career as a NovelistplacesThe Return of the Nativein the context of Hardy’s admiration for William Barnes’s work, especially Barnes’s poems in Dorsetshire dialect. Hardy admired the linguistic accuracy of those poems, as well as Barnes’s deep understanding of local Dorset customs. As is proper for a biographical study, Millgate also placesThe Return of the Nativein the context of Hardy’s life, for example his nomad existence with his wife at the time he was writing the novel. Hardy and his wife moved from temporary dwelling to temporary dwelling. They had...

  8. 4 CONRAD’S COLONIAL (NON)COMMUNITY: Nostromo
    (pp. 139-231)

    Henry James, in a review of Conrad’sChance, says Conrad is “absolutely alone as a votary of the way to do a thing that shall make it undergo most doing.”² What James says would be even truer ofNostromo. That means anything like a complete accounting forNostromoin a critical essay like this one also requires an exorbitant doing. “Pour la commodité du récit,” as Proust puts it, for ease of my narration, to make it perspicuous, I have divided this chapter into four sections, with many labeled subsections in each section: The Origins of Nostromo, Material Vision in...

  9. 5 WAVES THEORY: An Anachronistic Reading
    (pp. 232-263)

    I propose to read Virginia Woolf’sThe Wavesnot primarily in the context of philosophers or theorists whose work she knew or might have known but in the context of some present-day philosophical and theoretical writings. Do the six protagonists ofThe Wavesform a community, or are they as alienated from one as Marx in my epigraph says we all are under capitalism? There are seven characters if you count Perceval, who never speaks. These personages have known one another since childhood. If they are a community, of what sort is it? In order to answer these questions, I...

  10. 6 POSTMODERN COMMUNITIES IN PYNCHON AND CERVANTES
    (pp. 264-307)

    My goal in this chapter is, by the art they callTropelia, to make Cervantes’s “The Dogs’ Colloquy” appear to be a postmodern narrative, if there is such a thing.¹ I also want to view postmodern communities in fiction in the light of a comparison with Cervantes’s great “exemplary novel.” Why would I want to make such a comparison? It is partly because I want to explore my doubts about the utility of the term “postmodern” when applied to narratives, beyond its function as a purely chronological designation. It is partly, also, because my perspective on “The Dogs’ Colloquy” is,...

  11. CODA
    (pp. 308-308)

    My chief goal in this book has been to present comprehensive rhetorical readings of eight novels with special attention to the ways community or its lack is presented in each work. In the course of doing this, I claim also to have shown, though in a different way in each chapter, how the presumption that every community must submit to autoimmunitary (il)logic has wide and provocative relevance for understanding the presentation of communities in works of fiction from Cervantes to Pynchon and beyond. What is happening in the United States and worldwide today, moreover, indicates that this self-destructive community behavior...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 309-326)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 327-334)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-336)