Psychoanalyzing the narrative logics of naturalism: the Call of the Wild

Citation metadata

Author: Donald E. Pease
Date: Summer 2002
From: Journal of Modern Literature(Vol. 25, Issue 3-4)
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 13,493 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

Literary naturalism and romance have recently undergone a change in their relative standing. Once considered a subfield in the domain of American literary studies, literary naturalism has been increasingly invoked to explain pervasive regulative technologies undergirding the literary and the political domains. (1) The romance had been installed as the dominant genre in the field because its themes were understood to reproduce the logic of liberal individualism which predominated in the social order. The romance was valued chiefly out of its facilitation of the individual's freedom from economic determinations and its resistance to commodification. These liberatory values proved especially important to a literary sphere which at the time of the romance's rise to dominance was intent on establishing literature's relative autonomy from the domains of economics and politics.

The renewal of interest in literary Naturalism has coincided with a critical re-evaluation of liberal individualism. In the wake of Foucaultian redescriptions of disciplinary society, liberal individualism, once revered as the source of the strategies whereby individuals resisted governmental incursion, has been redefined as the social fiction through which the normative order accomplished its rule. Because it constituted the basis for the economic exchanges in the marketplace as well as the political value in whose name the polity was governed, the individual's liberty has been redescribed as the basic unit of exchange in what Foucault has labeled the carceral society. (2)

As a consequence of this shift in the focus of critical attention, the Naturalist text has become newly fascinating by virtue of its extravagant display of the disciplinary powers from which the romance had declared itself emancipated. (3) As the historical product of economic relations that prevailed at a certain moment in American society rather than as a transhistorical political ideal, Literary Naturalism has been acclaimed the negative counterpart of the romance, able to expose liberal individualism as the effect of the very regulatory mechanisms which the literary romance had opposed. Literary Naturalists were never enraptured with liberal individualism as a political ideal, and they neither denied nor disavowed the complicitous relations between their fictions and more pervasive systems of social control.

The major authors in the field of United States literary Naturalism--Jack London, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser--published their writings in the heyday of United States imperialism. The exercise of imperial power entailed yoking mechanisms of economic and political control with the geopolitical territories whose raw materials which the United States could extract as well as the populations which it could exploit. Recent commentators on Naturalist writings have scrutinized the relays which literary Naturalists had designed to link the market logic of liberal individualism to an entire system of internalization and regulatory control. This biopolitical regime (in Foucault's parlance) associated normalizing technologies such as psychoanalysis, which were responsible for the self-policing of individual identities, to the state security apparatuses empowered to govern entire populations.

In Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth Century England, (4) John Bender has isolated free indirect discourse as the narrative apparatus through...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A110229922