By Jason Puskar
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Additional resources for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
Rather than theorize freedom as a function of the powerful exercise of the will, James theorizes freedom first and foremost in terms of the powerlessness of the will. In a world without essences, metaphysics, or absolutes—a “pluriverse” as James called it—chance affirms that multiple possibilities remain in play, precisely because those possibilities so evidently lie beyond our command. Accordingly, evidence for chance frequently took rather violent form for both Dewey and James, especially by the early twentieth century.
Moreover, around 1890 and in the wake of the Haymarket trials, the production of chance became an important component of Howells’s realist fiction. Just as insurance cultivates the threat of accident in order to enroll policyholders in its “mutual society,” Howellsian realism promoted “the world of chance” precisely to facilitate the kind of social interdependence that Howells so desired. No real solution to the serious social and economic divisions that Hazard diagnoses, and that Haymarket exacerbated, Howells’s proposed link between insurance and realism held out hope that the dangerous instability of urban modernity might be put to good use, if configured as a radically alien threat against which a more inclusive society might unite.
The chapters on Peirce and the chapter on Dreiser and Cain focus on the compatibility of chance with conventional crime narratives. The chapters on Crane, Wharton, and Peirce and Green all engage pragmatism in different measures. Together, these chapters organize related sets of materials without contriving an excessively linear story of development, but while still tracing key historical changes through these decades. One of the things I have come to admire in these writers is their love of variety, which they indulge even at the expense of formal elegance or narrative cohesion.
Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance by Jason Puskar