Media Architectures in American Fiction
Publication Year: 2013
Corridor offers a series of conceptually provocative readings that illuminate a hidden and surprising relationship between architectural space and modern American fiction. By paying close attention to fictional descriptions of some of modernity’s least remarkable structures, such as plumbing, ductwork, and airshafts, Kate Marshall discovers a rich network of connections between corridors and novels, one that also sheds new light on the nature of modern media.
The corridor is the dominant organizational structure in modern architecture, yet its various functions are taken for granted, and it tends to disappear from view. But, as Marshall shows, even the most banal structures become strangely visible in the noisy communication systems of American fiction. By examining the link between modernist novels and corridors, Marshall demonstrates the ways architectural elements act as media. In a fresh look at the late naturalist fiction of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, she leads the reader through the fetus-clogged sewers of Manhattan Transfer to the corpse-choked furnaces of Native Son and reveals how these invisible spaces have a fascinating history in organizing the structure of modern persons.
Portraying media as not only objects but processes, Marshall develops a new idiom for Americanist literary criticism, one that explains how media studies can inform our understanding of modernist literature.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Preface: “All That I Need Is a Hallway”
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In July 1919 a song premiered at the Greenwich Village Follies that suggested a change of affiliation for moderns in pursuit of intimacy. The song trades in mixed clichés, routinely dismissing Shakespearean lovers and serenading knights as “freakish men,” and chastising these icons for an overreliance on “atmosphere” (“they couldn’t spoon without...
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This book is a map of many intersecting corridors. One of my favorites was reached via the north entrance of a large brick building in Los Angeles: on either side of this door, two pairs of windows form the eyes of an appropriately strange face. During the time I was regularly entering the building, the windows belonged to the three people to whom I...
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The corridor figures prominently in the most familiar texts of literary modernism. Virginia Woolf famously described her idea of the structure of To the Lighthouse as “two blocks separated by a corridor.” The corridors traveled by Kafka’s Joseph K. are the iconic image of modern bureaucracy. Marcel of Proust’s Swann’s Way...
1. Becoming Media in An American Tragedy
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Maggie works in a collar factory. The eponymous heroine of Stephen Crane’s 1893 novel is responsible for “turning out” collars— at her sewing machine, this factory girl participates in the routine transformation from cloth into collar, or from raw material into product. Her role in the transformation and the factory scene she inhabits...
2. Infrastructural Modernity
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When Melville’s Bartleby wants to take in a view of the world outside of his office, he looks out the window at a light shaft. The narrator lingers on this particular technology for circulating light and air: “My chambers were up stairs at No.— Wall-street. At one end they looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light...
3. The Flu and the Media, or Contagion 1918
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In 1918 infrastructural systems across the United States began to shut down. They did so to avoid a common threat: the transmission of an influenza virus that was quickly reaching global pandemic status. Although this shutdown included the expected suspension of public transit and other systems involving the bodily proximity of...
4. Corridors of Power
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The modern form of bureaucracy, as described by one of its most prominent theorists, Max Weber, has its own spatial contagions. “It does not matter for the character of bureaucracy,” he says, “whether its authority is called ‘private’ or ‘public.’”1 The mimetic compulsions of structure appear throughout his categorical project of...
Epilogue: Open Plan
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An architect of communication in the modern novel loves
walls, partitions, and channels that organize vectors of movement and
transfer. These structures of division—inside from outside, private from
social space—indicate and make possible that from which they are
divided. Corridors also connect.
Thus, when Virginia Woolf draws the form...
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About the Author
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Kate Marshall is the Thomas J. and Robert T. Rolfs Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.
Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013