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This chapter discusses a grammar of realism that calls upon a variety of prose effects, including the management of time effects and the presence of abundant or telling detail, to show what is at stake in realist writing and how much happens in the prose despite its alleged retreat from artifice. Although realism has found itself assailed periodically, often for its artifice, this chapter testifies to the enduring value of realist prose while offering insights into its evolution.
This chapter focuses on the picture of the dead hand, as it recurs across the nineteenth-century novel, from Wollstonecraft to Austen to Dickens, Zola, Eliot and Melville. It suggests that the obsession with the dead hand arises from the capacity of the novel to engage with biomaterial, and to make of such material the living stuff of being. The novel enters into a conjunction with the prosthetic – with the dead hand – to give animation to our being, as it is reshaped by the forces of industrialisation. But the chapter also argues that the novel encounters a resistance, a refusal of prosthetic material to give way to the demands of mind – a refusal which is central to the operation of the prosthetic imagination.
“Paris Re-envisioned” explores what Joyce called the “exploding visions” of the “Circe” episode, composed after his return to Paris in 1920. While the episode has usually been read as staging Bloom’s repressed desires, “Paris Re-envisioned” argues that its visionary form presents the fantastical development of thought in Nighttown, a heightened and totalized version of the city under capitalism. As he presents the ensnaring of human productive powers in structures of profit., Joyce adapts elements from nineteenth-century visionary texts: the play-script form of Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine, the hallucinatory paralogic of the commercial Paris of Nerval’s Les Nuits d’Octobre and Aurelie, où La Rêve et la vie, and the mode of visionary farce of Rimbaud’s Une Saison en enfer. The chapter shows that the possibility of political and social transformation is tied, in Nighttown, to a domination of nature, manifested in a male use of female bodies, but that Bloom’s sexual desires deviate into nonprocreative, nonheterogenital activities. In an exchange with a Nymph, who is a comic embodiment of the disinterested, autonomous artwork, Bloom defends a transient, relational, and sensual exploration of the “various joys we each enjoy.”
The Romans had a difficult relationship with the kind of luxury and excess that we think of as indicators of moral and social decadence. But in many ways they revelled in such luxury. Readily accepting the financial rewards of empire, they spent huge sums on their own benefits. Whether in the colossal public games in the amphitheatre and the circus, in the opulent imperial bath complexes, or in extravagant private villas, Romans of all social levels delighted in the very best that life was thought to offer. Chapter 1 examines how far the evidence supports this somewhat melodramatic view of Rome by looking at the ways in which luxury spread in the Roman world. It also looks at the ways this growth in luxury compelled the Romans to create new concepts to understand the phenomenon. Luxury was almost never seen as a simple index of increased wealth. Rather, it raised all manner of moral issues among Rome’s ruling classes, many of which long outlived the end of the Roman empire itself.
This chapter examines the nineteenth-century cultural interest in Roman decadence, curious in view of the many historical figures who typified such Roman virtues as dutifulness to family and the gods, self-sacrificing patriotism, heroic manliness. To focus instead on the extravagance, weakness, and sexual deviance of the emperors was to exhibit the perversity for which decadent culture is renowned. A sense of belatedness, a feeling that the greatness of the past is gone forever, connects the Silver Age and the late-nineteenth century, inspiring a pessimistic world view but also a freedom from the artistic and linguistic restrictiveness of a self-consciously great era. Yet the transition from virtuous to dissolute impressions of Rome is not simply a phenomenon of the fin de siècle: the subversive insinuations of melancholy, self-indulgence, effeminacy, extravagance, embellishment, and foreign influences in the literature of the Golden Age resonate with romantic sensibilities and react against imperial ambitions to destabilize exemplary images of Rome throughout the nineteenth century.
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