Tag Archives: money

Joseph Conrad – Nostromo (1904)


If Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness dramatize the difficulty of narrating a life, confronting that difficulty by dramatizing the various subjective, generic, historical conditions that frame our experience of the world, then Nostromo ups the ante, expanding the palate of narrators (13 main characters) and opening the stage to the history of a continent and the circuits of global trade. Nostromo is “constructed” in ways similar to Jim, but this novel is not so much interested in characterization, as it is interested in how the past becomes present, and the present becomes future, and how all the various characters deal with these historical becomings.

Conrad employs a basic rectangle of characters:

Nostromo   –   Decoud (loves Antonia)

Mr. Gould   –   Monygham (loves Mrs. Gould)

On the top, two men that are killed by the silver. On the bottom, two men who are able to resist that death. On the left, two idealists. On the right, two pragmatists. Acting outside of these rectangle, are the two women, Antonia and Mrs. Gould.

Nostromo the character is a composite of what other characters believe him to be. We see him consistently fail to live up to the idea of the hero–he is literally a “man of the people” to the degree that he becomes subject to the same temptations of the silver.

When the old Garibaldi soldier kills Nostromo (not knowing that he does it), Conrad is showing who the older foams of heroic revolution are not tenable under the new regime of global capitalism.

Discuss the difference between catching a moment out of the stream of time and Mrs. Gould’s beliefe that we need to see the past, present and future within every moment….this is a different way of seeing the relationship between particular events and history in general.

George Eliot – Silas Marner (1861)

PLOT: Silas Marner, a weaver living in Lantern Yard, is excommunicated after he is framed for robbery by one of the religious elders in his town, who eventually marries the woman Silas had been intending to marry. He leaves and goes to Raveloe, where he weaves on the outskirts of town, amassing a fair amount of gold in the process. Meanwhile, Godfrey Cass (son of Squire Cass) is in a monetary pickle after leading to his dissolute brother Dunsten. To get out of the bind, he lets Dunsten try to sell his horse, but he manages to kill it in the process. Desperate, he robs Silas Marner and goes out into the night. Silas comes home and is stricken with loss–his gold having been his sole comfort and companion. He goes into town, but the thief cannot be found. Meanwhile Godfrey sets about wooing Nancy, the town belle. There’s a big New Year’s party that’s interrupted when Silas comes to announce that a woman has collapsed outside and that a baby has crawled into his house, etc. The woman turns out to be Molly, Godfrey’s first wife that he has tried to hide. He is relieved, and deos not claim his child, who has telling golden hair. Silas raises Eppie. Sixteen years pass. Godfrey has married (no children) and Eppie has grown up. Godfrey finds the skeleton of his brother in the Stone Pits outside Silas’ house. The money is returned. Godfrey confesses all to Nancy, tries to go reclaim Eppie but she refuses. She marries a rustic boy from town named Aaron after her and Silas visit Lantern Yard and see that it has been replaced with a grim factory.

Written between Mill on the Floss and Romola, but it shares, strangely, many of the the mythical preoccupations of the latter historical novel. It is a short, concentrated portrait of rustic life, that is deliberately a-historical (as opposed to Middlemarch)

Gold: the golden coins get replaced by Eppie’s golden hair. The coins allowed him to withdraw from society, whereas Eppie forces him back into social “circulation.”  Connect to the “golden” water at the end of Mill on the Floss: the pastoral can only be accessed through the protocols of the aesthetic: in Silas Marner, deployed as myth and myth-making.

Myth: Not located in a particular time or space. Employs the “sixteen years pass” trope, recognizable from The Winter’s Tale, etc.

History: It consists of the breaking of brown pots and their reconstruction as memorials–c’est tout–or can consist of artistic intervention, plotting, etc (the novel as such). The intrusion of historical time at the end of the novel (factory churning out workers) stands in stark contrast to the de-historicized world of craft and agriculture (Eppie wants to be a gardener). Compare to the ending of Mill on the Floss.

Work: Silas’ work, the act of weaving, has meaning-making capacity. Talk about in terms of craft: Ruskin, William Morris, etc.

Double-plot: a paired down version of a device that will be exploited more fully in Daniel Deronda.

Repeated image of the rivulet: Silas’ mind is likened to a rivulet, which contracts and expands throughout. As Eppie grows up, his mind begins to unfold into things like memory and the social.

Catalepsy: why does Eliot need Silas to be cataleptic? Discuss as plot device.

Short-sighted: Silas is also literally short-sighted. Why these physical disabilities?


Martin Amis – Money (1981)

The novel is narrated by John Self, a American-British screen-writer/film-producer, as he self-destructs in the transatlantic flow of Hollywood money. In short, it ends up that the script he is working on, alternatively called Good Money and Bad Money, is the story in which he is playing a part; his friend Fielding Goodney turns out to be playing him all along; the movie doesn’t exist; he has signed tons of loans and debts, etc. In short, we are in a world of simulacra, with money itself standing in as ur-symbol of exchangeability.

“My head is a city, and various pains have now taken up residence in various parts of my face.” A curious endpoint to all that modernist angst about the individual in the urban. Amis turns turns the table: John Self exclaims, “I’m not allergic to the the twentieth century. I am addicted to the twentieth century” (89). The point here is that relationships to the world of consumer goods is no longer defined in terms of resistance and consumption, but only between different types of consumption. We are beyond the point where we can still define ourselves as autonomous creatures navigating an external world, but rather as creatures that have become characters in a world only partially of our making: Television is working on us. Film is. We’re not sure how yet. We wait, and count the symptoms. There’s a realism problem, we all know that. TV is real! some people think” (332)

Martin Amis notoriously appears as a character in the novel. In the tradition of Murphy, John Self and Martin Amis battle it out in a chess match at the end of the novel. Much like Lemuel at the end of Malone Dies, Amis asserts cool control over his character, eluding both his attacks, on and off the chess board. For winning, Amis requires one thing that Self has, but never says what: it become obvious that it is nothing less than his identity, his self-hood.

Interesting to put in dialogue with Philip Larkin’s poems: both the “The Importance of Elsewhere” and “High Windows.” The latter is more obvious: Amis takes the vulgarity of the opening lines and strains to make them lyrical; unlike Larking, who turns to Lyric and dramatizes its hollowness or inexpressively. In Amis, the “deep blue” air is marred with pollution. In the “Importance of Elsewhere,” Larkin comments on the ease with which one can defy national customs while traveling–in one’s own country, it is much harder to both gain objective stance and take the personal risk of resistance or critique. In Amis’ novel, the United States is a necessary elsewhere for defining the postmodern condition. Curious how this recapitulates earlier transatlantic anxieties as detailed by Alex Zwerdling in “Transatlantic Slinging Match.” In short: americans “use” the polis of Europe to produce Modernism, consolidating a “Europe” that subsumes any smaller differences. But in the post-modern these differences will again falir up, only to be subsumed again, one could argue, in the Blair-Bush years. And then we can move to McEwan writing about the 2003 Iraq war protest in Saturday.

Charles Dickens – Great Expectations (1860-1)

The orphan Pip is brought up by his sister and her husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. One night Pip encounters a convict in the cemetry, and he does him an act of kindness which the convict, who will turn out to be Magwitch, Mr. Provis and Mr. Campbell all in one, will never forget. He soon goes to Miss Havisham’s house to be a playmate with Estella. He starts to become ashamed of himself and his lower-cultured childhood friends. He becomes and apprentice with Joe, and works alongside Orlick, who is a sort of double that plays out all the crimes that Pip almost commits but never does. [An instance of shadowing the protagonist with doubles, sorta like Bertha Rochester and Jane Eyre.] Pip receives an inheritance (via Jaggers) from an unknown source, but he assumes it is from Miss Havisham. This enacts the processes of accumulation that correlate with the field of desire associated with Miss Havisham.  But he soon gets into debt and it is revealed that Abel Magwitch–and it is further revealed that he is the father of Estella (her mother is Molly, Jagger’s housemaid). Pip tells Havisham this story, she stands to close the fire and dies from her injuries, despite Pip’s attempts to save her. Magwitch is arrested and dies; Pip is about to be put into debtor’s prison, but he gets sick, and then is nursed back to health by Joe. He returns to Joe’s home, where they have had a child named Pip [cf. Sydney Carton at the end of Tale]. He visits Stalis house, where he meets Estella. It’s ambiguous whether they marry or not.


Guilt vs. desire – One can frame Pip’s two worlds according to this tension. Pip is marked by guilt from the very beginning, as his actual inheritance. The world of desire, or lack, is associated with Havisham and Estella. Cognitively adjusting to the knowledge that his inheritance comes from guilt rather than desire entails a confrontation with a world of crime that does not square with the tenants of individuality and subjectivity he had adopted in the middle part of the book. Rather, crime seems somehow universal: Magwitch somehow emerges from the landscape, he is an atmosphere of sorts. Pip himself will toggle between these two spheres.

Is Pip being a bad reader because he has not yet grown up? (structure of dramatic irony to deal with how these things can be known at all) Contrast this with Maisie (does not give signification, only registers impressions). As an example of better reading by way of negative contrast: Magwitch shows Pip how he acted poorly towards Joe. But where do we locate this knowledge?

In David Copperfield, the impetus to give full signification (retrospective and fully) is the same impulse as in Great Expectation (Pip as narrator does know things that phenomena subject does not know) but sometimes we just get the narrated Pip and we see his ignorance negatively. In the end, Pip the narrator and narrated converge but there is not a full knowledge. Indeed, the reduplication of Pip as a young boy points to the “bad infinity” that could ensue: the second Pip is able to effectively truncate the narrative with a new beginning. And to the degree that “family” is posited as a source of final cohesion, it should be noted that Pip is excised from that family.

Two ends in Great Expectation: 1. very clear that Estella and Pip don’t get married 2.  you don’t know whether they get married or not, structurally undecideable.

More broadly: Can think of Thackeray, Dickens and Trollope as obsessed with evidentiary character of narration, must give an account fo how the narrative has come into being. On the other hand, Eliot, Hardy and James fully accept the arbitrary nature of the narrative–they can’t justify it, so they just start. [in Hardy in particular, one has the sense that anyone walking along a road could furnish the novelist with a story]


Christina Rossetti – “Goblin Market” (1875)

Tells the story of two sisters, the elder Lizzie and the younger Laura. Laura is tempted by the Goblin’s trying to sell her a bunch of exotic fruits. Lizzie holds her back but can only do so for a little while. Laura sells her hair for some fruits, but then cannot quench her appetite and the goblins disappear. She pines away. The goblins return but only Lizzie can hear or see them. To help her sister, she tries to buy some fruit, but the Goblins will only sell it to her if she eats it. They try to force-feed hear and the smashed fruits gets all over her face. They return her penny and she goes to let Laura lick her face. But the taste is bitter. She flies into convulsions and almost dies. But she recovers. Surprise! Both sisters eventually marry, bearing their own “fruit,” to whom they tell the story of the nasty goblin merchants.

Rossetti is obviously worried about the market. Part of the problem is that it is impossible merely to taste–since taste is always already implicated in a cycle of appetite that cannot be quenched on the terms set by the market. Laura becomes listless, yes, but also voracious. Can think of this as a rewriting of the Lotos-Eaters. While males can taste the pleasures of the market and afford to not work, women, in order to taste those pleasures, must bear the burden of labor that is the precondition of something like the male aesthetic dimension.

The eating of fruit as violation of the aesthetic dimension.

Contrasting figures of Eve and Mary. How does Rossetti solve the antinomy of female sexuality: portrayed as always-already fallen but require to be completely pure nevertheless. How does this connect with the discourse of the secret and with purity and virginity more broadly (in Hardy, Brontës, etc.)


Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Blessed Damozel (1850)

The blessed Damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her were seven.

The opening stanza sets out many of the major tensions that will frame the rest of the poem: between heaven and earth, depth and surface, stasis and motion. One can think of the gold bar as having a reference to the gold standard that England had recently adopted in 1844–as a universal metric for literal exchange, it allows for the figural exchange between these various oppositions. Indeed, the painting “The Blessed Damozel’ has a gold bar running right through the middle of it, separating the flattened portrait of the lady (a face that according to Christina Rossetti was exchangeable with all of the other portraits in Dante’s studio because he only used one or two models) with the ostentatious depth of the “squashed” scene on the bottom.

144 lines in 24 six-inch stanzas. The striking symmetry of the poem itself rides the line between perfection and pure exchangeability. This is of course what Adorno has to say about the artwork as the ultimate or super-commodity–that which is universal and universally exchangeable.

Time: It seems to the Damozel that she has been in heaven for only a day, which is somehow the same as thousands of years. On earth, of course, time is felt.

The language is meant to be simple and natural, an application of pre-Raphaelite principles to poetry. it therefore verges on the sentimental.

In the final stanza, the speaker uses parentheses to insert his factual declaration of sensation: I saw her smile, I heard her tears. That this enters parenthetically points to subordination of these sensory aspects to a form that flattens sensation, impression, reflection, etc. Sensation would rupture the poetic contract that keeps the real and the aesthetic in two distinct realms.

E.M. Forster – Howard’s End (1910)

Start off with letters written from Helen Schlegel to her sister Margaret about her  (Helen’s) stay with the Wilcoxes. She’s fallen in love with youngest son Paul, which sparks a minor scandal. Mrs. Wilcox, the elm-tree symbolizing everything old and passing in England, settles everything. Time passes. Helena and Meg, and their younger brother Tibby (figure for Forster), go to a Beethoven concert where they meet Leonard Bast because Helen accidentally took is umbrella. The Wilcoxes move to London and Meg and Mrs. Wilcox become friends. Meg almost goes to Howard’s End but Mrs. Wilcox dies (she leaves the house to Meg, but Henry burns the letter). Mr. Wilcox pursues and eventually marries Meg while the Schlegels are moving everything out of their childhood home. Meanwhile, Leonard, who had been advised by Henry Wilcox to change jobs, loses it all together and teeters on the abyss. Helen is upset with Wilcox, who dismisses the lower classes, whereas Helen has fairly naive notion of charitable efficacy. Meg and Henry go up North to one of his houses. Helen shows up with Bast and his wife, both of whom are basically homeless , and Helen sleeps with Bast, gets pregnant, and leaves the country. It turns out that Henry had slept with Mrs. bast while married to Mrs. Wilcox. Helen eventually returns, pregnant. Tibby accidentally tells Charles Wilcox that Leonard Bast is the father. Henry tires to take control of the situation from a moral high ground that Meg undercuts by drawing attention to their parallel situations. Charles rushes back to Howard’s End at the same time that Leonard has turned up to apologize. He hits him the dull edge of the family sword and a bunch of books fall on him. He dies from a heart attack and Charles goes to prison. Henry never recovers. Meg, Helen, Henry and Helen’s child all live at Howard’s End, while London continues to encroach.

Key Passages:

The mask fell off the city, and she [Margaret] saw it for what it really is—a caricature of infinity. The familiar barriers, the street along which she moved, the houses between which she had made her little journeys for so many years, became negligible suddenly. Helen seemed one with the grimy trees and the traffic and the slowly flowing slabs of mud. She had accomplished a hideous act of renunciation and returned to the One. Margaret’s own faith held firm. She knew the human soul will be merged, if it be merged at all, with the stars and the sea. Yet she felt her sister had been going amiss for some years. It was symbolic the catastrophe should come now, while rain fell slowly.

An instance of the “One” that does so much work in this novel: Forster is self-conscious about the position his characters and his narrator take up towards reality–the one is only as inclusive as it is exclusive. And connect this to the “bridge party” in Passage to India, where someone “needs” to be excluded if it is going to mean anything. The exclusion in Howard’s End is overt:

We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet. This story deals with gentlefolk, or with those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk. (45)

Leonard Bast is constantly teetering on the borders of the narrative scope, “a goblin footfall” intimating the abrupt intrusion of the “unseen” on the “seen.” That these metaphysical categories, associated with the Schlegel “German” social idealism, map neatly onto the exclusionary politics of London society is exactly the point. In this way, it can be connected to “one of us” in Conrad’s Lord Jim, or the more overtly compromised “good people” in Ford’s The Good Soldier. Meg becomes conscious of the economic underpinnings that make possible the point of view assumed by the narrator: “islands of money” that cannot be shaken is what distinguishes her from Leonard, who always looks into the abyss. The concept of the abyss can be connected to New Grub Street‘s Reardon, who likens the process of writer’s block to walking near both a creative and economic abyss.

The concept of pastoral is also crucial: Howard’s End is slowing losing ground to the suburbs of London. Forster calls it the Age of Luggage, in which the English, no longer rooted to land, are reduced to nomads. Interesting in light of Marx’s stuff on the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism More locally, could be thought of in terms of Disareli’s “Two Englands.” that maintained a symbolic feudalism supposed to stem the cultural decline associated with capital flow.

Device vs. symbol: the wych-elm as organic symbol, the umbrella as a device that shed light on various social categories.

The ending is somehow too perfect. What is took to get to that ending: a couple deaths, an unwanted pregnancy,  and an arrest.

Also, in terms of ethics, Forster seems to be playing with the fine line between personal and systemic failures–how doe they differ and how do they converge. Can we think of personal failures as the realm of morals, and systemic failures (doing something that’s “right” but nevertheless “wrong”) as the realm of ethics? Meg finds herself negotiating these questions often.

Connect to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, which is supposed to be a re-writing of Howard’s End. My question from Dori Hale’s class:

If a novel is meant to stand in a complicated mimetic relation to the raw material of a shared world, then what is at stake when the raw material becomes (at least in part) a shared text? The arena of critique—that convergence of text and world—becomes doubled by the convergence of text and text. Smith’s project, I want to suggest, dramatizes the non-coincidental agreement between these two convergences. The image of a rectangle (a semiotic rectangle?) presents itself. Each novel exists in horizontal relation to their perspective worlds (England 1900/America 2000) and these two relations are in vertical relation to one another.

So, concretely, the reader is asked to mediate this rectangle with questions that are always doubled: 1) Is Smith accurately representing the politics of a small liberal arts faculty? 2) Is Smith accurately translating Forster’s portrait of early 20th-century English class dynamics into the tangle of race/class dynamics of a 21st century New England college town? The doubled-question often requires a doubled, internally fractured answer: where answering affirmative to the first requires answering in the negative to second, and visa-versa. This does two things:

1) It makes a case for the strong relevance of an historical text to our cotemporary world, but qualifies this claim by enacting a creative appropriation (reading/writing) of the text as the pre-condition for relevance. Read this way, On Beauty is a long allegory for the practice of good reading. I’m thinking here of folks like Miller, Derrida, and Guillory, all of whom claim that (close) reading is the ethical practice par excellence. Wouldn’t mind talking about this claim in context of Smith.

2) According to the introduction to Thinking Allegory Otherwise, a recent collection of essays published by Stanford UP (don’t recall it, I’ll know it was you!), “The standard definition for “allegory” is to say one thing and mean another. Allegory has always demanded that we think otherwise” (7). What is this otherwise? In the case of On Beauty, I think it might be those spaces of non-coincidence, when the rectangle I described earlier fails to contain the doubled mimesis of text-world/text-text. So, this second point dramatizes the failure of the first, and the novel becomes a way of measuring these failures.

Where does this happen in the text? This is a question that needs asking, because Smith’s novel demands that we hear “Where does this happen in the world” each time we ask it. I’m not up to the task just now.