By Jason Puskar

ISBN-10: 0804775354

ISBN-13: 9780804775359

This publication argues that language and literature actively produced likelihood within the past due 19th and early 20th centuries by means of categorizing accidents and losses as blameless of layout. motor vehicle collisions and occupational accidents grew to become "car injuries" and "industrial accidents." through the post-Civil battle interval of racial, ethnic, and class-based hostility, likelihood used to be an summary enemy opposed to which society may unite. by means of generating probability, novels by means of William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane, Anna Katharine eco-friendly, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, and James Cain documented and helped identify new modes of collective interdependence. probability this is hooked up no longer with the aggressive individualism of the Gilded Age, yet with very important innovative and social democratic reforms, together with advancements in coverage, which had lengthy hired twist of fate narratives to form its personal "mutual society." Accident Society finds the level to which American collectivity has depended—and keeps to depend—on the literary creation of chance.

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Sample text

On the one hand, Hazard asks us to read it as a traditional realist attempt to render mimetically the complexity of the modern city’s social, material, and economic indeterminacy, especially the very real play of chance in modern urban and economic life. On the other, it exposes the artificiality of the realist assessment of chance and reveals the circumstances of chance production within literary narrative. Had Howells only described chance in the leveling way that Lukács condemned, he would have accomplished the first of those two missions more successfully.

By 1890, even the word “hazard” was a recognizable insurance term, used more often in that context than any other. The central character in Hazard, Basil March, had made a living in insurance for the previous eighteen years, and he was already working for an insurance company in Howells’s first book, Their Wedding Journey (1871). That book is a virtual travelogue of Howells’s own honeymoon, so, from the beginning, the career of the fictional insurer and the biography of the aspiring novelist were strangely superimposed.

Insurance became a valuable metaphor for Howellsian realism around 1890, because it asserted a set of communitarian credentials that did not threaten to deepen the class divisions increasingly troubling to post-Haymarket America. Imagining realism as a kind of insurance allowed writing, like underwriting, to participate fully and unashamedly in capitalism’s markets while still working to construct communities of interdependent risk and asset sharers. And because insurance has no pretension to reform society, merely to compensate for allegedly unpreventable losses, realism could surrender some of its own ambition to exert managerial control over society and instead embrace a looser policy of tending to, without necessarily alleviating, the injuries and losses at the heart of modern life.

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Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance by Jason Puskar


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