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

By Jason Puskar

This ebook argues that language and literature actively produced likelihood within the past due 19th and early 20th centuries through categorizing accidents and losses as blameless of layout. vehicle collisions and occupational accidents turned "car injuries" and "industrial accidents." through the post-Civil warfare interval of racial, ethnic, and class-based hostility, probability used to be an summary enemy opposed to which society may perhaps 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 determine new modes of collective interdependence. likelihood this is attached now not 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 maintains to depend—on the literary construction of chance.

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Extra info for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance

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Bearing the imprint of Hartford, Connecticut, soon to be the insurance capital of the East, the illustration issued from the firm of Kellogg and Bulkeley, the president of which, William Henry Bulkeley, was the son of the first president of Hartford’s Aetna Life Insurance Company, Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley. Even as the illustration’s caption reminds readers about the practical need for prudence, it also reminds them about the practical need for insurance, given that fires cannot be eliminated entirely.

In a great deal of nineteenth-century fiction, chance functions as the invisible hand of the deity. Even though Charles Dickens’s outrageous social coincidences may reflect the unpredictability of modern  The Insurance of the Real social systems, they also have centripetal and integrative tendencies that suggest higher levels of design. When, in Oliver Twist (1861), the orphan’s benefactor turns out to be closely connected to his lost relatives, the reunion of families and friends acts as a thematic counterpart to the formal integration of multiple plots, which the novel’s conclusion braids together.

In the throes of such internal conflict, it seems most likely that the kinds of accidents Williams describes would provoke an ambivalent sense of both guilt and innocence, power and powerlessness. Indeed, the intolerability of either extreme—guilt or powerlessness—structures the special cruelty of the choice. Agent-regret, then, is perhaps best seen as an active oscillation between two irreconcilable alternatives, at least as they register within the values system of modern liberal society. The point worth emphasizing, however, is that under the conditions of urban and industrial modernity, there were likely far more occasions for agent-regret than ever before and, certainly, more than there The Insurance of the Real  had been in smaller social systems and in less complexly built environments.

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