The Sentimental Touch: The Language of Feeling in the Age of Managerialism

The Sentimental Touch: The Language of Feeling in the Age of Managerialism

AARON RITZENBERG
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x01cr
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  • Book Info
    The Sentimental Touch: The Language of Feeling in the Age of Managerialism
    Book Description:

    Between 1850 and 1940, with the rise of managerial capitalism in the United States, the most powerful businesses ceased to be family owned, instead becoming sprawling organizations controlled by complex bureaucracies. Sentimental literature--work written specifically to convey and inspire deep feeling--does not seem to fit with a swiftly bureaucratizing society. Surprisingly, though, sentimental language persisted in American literature, even as a culture of managed systems threatened to obscure the power of individual affect. The Sentimental Touch explores the strange, enduring power of sentimental language in the face of a rapidly changing culture. Analyzing novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Sherwood Anderson, and Nathanael West, the book demonstrates that sentimental language changes but remains powerful, even in works by authors who self-consciously write against the sentimental tradition. Sentimental language has an afterlife, enduring in American literature long after authors and critics declared it dead, insisting that human feeling can resist a mechanizing culture and embodying, paradoxically, the way that literary conventions themselves become mechanical and systematic.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5038-7
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    The most poignant moments inUncle Tom’s Cabinare moments of touch. When characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel experience profound emotions, they are silent, but they are able to share their feelings through bodily contact. With a sentimental touch, characters and readers alike imagine they are experiencing unmediated emotion. For instance, after the runaway Eliza eludes slave-catchers by carrying her child across the icy Ohio River, she finds unlikely help from Senator and Mrs. Bird, who aid in her escape:

    Mr. Bird hurried her into the carriage, and Mrs. Bird pressed on after her to the carriage steps....

  5. 1 Touching the Body, Training the Reader
    (pp. 16-41)

    Uncle Tom’s Cabinis centrally concerned with the human body. Indeed, any novel about slavery—about the buying, selling, and controlling of the body—will be fundamentally interested in the relationships between physical bodies. Stowe writes that at a slave auction, the trader Haley “forced his way into the group, walked up to the old man, pulled his mouth open and looked in, felt of his teeth, made him stand and straighten himself, bend his back, and perform various evolutions to show his muscles.”¹ Just before he feels a slave’s body, the slave trader makes his own body felt, pushing...

  6. 2 Managing Sentimentalism in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    (pp. 42-69)

    In the final paragraph ofAdventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck tells us that Tom has recovered from being shot in the leg during the escape: “Tom’s most well, now, and got his bullet around his neck on a watch-guard for a watch, and is always seeing what time it is.”¹ Tom’s wishes seem to have come true: his exhaustingly elaborate plans for Jim’s rescue have been executed, and he has been dramatically (though not dreadfully) wounded in the process. His bullet is a keepsake that he can glance at regularly, reminding himself of his romantic exploits. But Tom’s bullet-watch does...

  7. 3 Holding On to the Sentimental in Winesburg, Ohio
    (pp. 70-92)

    Winesburg, Ohio, fittingly subtitledA Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life, does not offer a sustained, conventional plot; there is no single unifying narrative. The sudden shifts and starts that mark the movement from one tale to the next show how Anderson self-consciously sets his text against the novel form.¹ But even as the form of Anderson’s text suggests something new,Winesburg, Ohiostill acts like a novel by offering a deep psychological portrait of individuals at a certain place in a certain time. To use the language of Ian Watt, the action is “acted out by particular...

  8. 4 A Touch of Miss Lonelyhearts
    (pp. 93-118)

    If sentimental language in small-town Ohio was a marked anachronism in an age of looming managerial dominance, then the sentimental touch in a fully bureaucratic New York City seems impossible. In capitalist society, as Marx wrote, workers do not control the means of production. In managerial capitalism, workers do not even control their own bodies and the manner of their labor.¹ Workers no longer have special knowledge and training, but carry out specific, detailed tasks as determined by a manager who is not working beside them. Managers demand that the labor force do no intellectual work, that workers perform systematically...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 119-128)

    The sentimental touch, once a ubiquitous trope, seems scarce at the end of the twentieth century. Human contact, once the antidote to an alienating culture, has itself become appropriated and commodified. In a mid-1980s address to over 100,000 Wal-Mart associates via a television satellite linkup, Sam Walton declared,

    Now, I want you to raise your right hand—and remember what we say at Wal-Mart, that a promise we make is a promise we keep—and I want you to repeat after me: From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every time a customer comes within ten feet...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 129-156)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-172)
  12. Index
    (pp. 173-180)