In The Octopus: A Story of California (1901) Norris registers the paradoxical architecture of humanity in a distinctively modern fashion by drawing on the aesthetic tradition of the sublime. To fully capture the sense of failure and defeat that goes into the making of modern subjectivity, he turns the physical and intellectual collapse of his characters into a positively uplifting experience rooted in feelings of pleasure and awe. Norris’s protagonists are perplexed and overwhelmed by, but also fatally attracted to, the very force that threatens to destroy them. They turn the physical, emotional, and imaginative failure typifying the sublime into a major building block for the reproduction of the very logic of the brute force that overpowers them. They do so by establishing social hierarchies of dominance meant to control the market economy, class mobility, and gender relations in fin-de-siècle American society.


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pp. 43-59
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