This dissertation explores the relationship between space and self through a historically contextualized reading of the work of Henry James and Gwendolyn Brooks. My study spans the period between 1880, the initial serialization of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, and 1953, the year in which Gwendolyn Brooks published her novella Maud Martha. I trace the way in which the transformation of physical spaces, narrative subjects, and social roles wrought by “the modern” is both staged and imagined in these authors’ work. In doing so, I interrogate the multiple meanings and values that these two very different authors attribute to gender, racial, and class identity in their configuration of the interaction between selves and spaces in the modern world.
There are two conceptual frames to my project – the first is historical and the other is literary, although the two are closely linked. The historical arc of the project engages the question of the modern – more specifically, the ways in which the physical geography and spatial layout of cities was reorganized as a result of demographic shifts, technological innovations, industrialized capitalism, and architectural and urban planning practices that greatly impacted both the physical and human landscape. In turn, I consider how these new spatial formations informed and transformed the space of the literary text. My use of a “dynamic” framework – one that spans an extended period of time and explores a variety of seemingly disparate literary traditions – comports with one of the central themes, or problems of these texts – that of movement and its impact upon the creation of new spaces and selves.
The collision of a multitude of contemporaneous social and historical currents induced a fundamental shift in all modes of human experience and expression. Among these are – the inception and growth of capitalism, colonial expansion, religious intolerance, poverty, and increased employment opportunities overseas. These shifts stimulated a redefinition of place and its meaning, and of labor – its duration, significance, and control, as well as new modes of exchange, and new definitions of value and waste. As a dynamic system predicated on mobility and instability, capitalism demands “regulation” – the control of both the financial and human elements that drive its engine. These social, economic, and cultural upheavals generated several waves of domestic migration and transnational immigration. Each successive wave engendered a renegotiation of the built environment and the rapid evolution of city space. The process of urban expansion often took place within an already cramped and circumscribed geographical space – a situation that produced a variety of ethnic and racial tensions in its wake. Mass transit, in its earliest form in the guise of the streetcar, was quickly superceded by the automobile, which in turn facilitated expanded transcontinental transport. The country seemed physically and metaphorically defined by unfettered mobility, expressive of spatial aspirations that seemed boundless. The call to limit immigration had been building since the 1880s, but it was not until World War I that more stringent restrictions and quotas were enacted. Instead of investing in mass forms of transit, the government shifted to support for expressways, and street construction and improvement to facilitate the spatial domination of the self-contained unit of mobility – the automobile.
Immigration and domestic migration shifts; the movement, or transition, between rural and urban space/time; the heightened visibility of women in public space; the invention of the automobile; increasingly racialized geographical compression; and various technological innovations all precipitated significant cultural shifts – shifts that redefined both “real” and aesthetic space. If one of the key markers and impetuses of modernity is the spatial and geographical reorganization of land and people, then it can be deduced that the cultural forms of that period in some way incorporate, reflect upon, challenge, or are themselves generated by these transformations. Thus, I am arguing that the space of the literary both reflects and participates in these social, historical, and political processes.
The methodology that guides my project derives from models that link identity to geography and geography in turn to socioeconomic conditions, and that incorporate the modes of analysis, disciplinary concerns, and terminology of a number of humanistic and social scientific disciplines. David Harvey’s work provides an exemplary account of such an effort. Harvey has spent the entirety of his career documenting the extent to which the built environment can and must be seen as constituted by and constitutive of broader patterns of the transformations of political economy. He has detailed the manner in which the processes of urbanization that have transpired over the course of the past hundred plus years exist as manifestations of the governing social order and modes of social, economic, and political organization.
Along the geographical axis of my study I focus most pointedly on the physical environment and the relationship of reciprocity it shares with the self. More specifically, I am interested in the movement between, negotiation within, and straining beyond discreet or impinging physical spaces. Each of the works I examine – Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady and Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville and Maud Martha – present the reader with a legible map of distinct geographical navigations. The author places the narrative, the characters, and the reader firmly within physical and geographical spaces that in certain ways “speak for themselves,” but bend and mutate as a result of literary intervention and representation. Geographical and physical spaces are often juxtaposed in an effort to probe the distinct character of each space and its inhabitants; to delineate the nature and possibility of migration from one to another; and to push at the boundaries of their circumscription. These physical spaces and their respective environmental conditions are portrayed simultaneously as both rigid and unstable, as each narrative explores and represents the self that emerges from and transforms such spaces.
I employ the relation between space and self to explore a much broader relation between literary forms and genres in the twentieth century. The primary critical terms that have been employed to define (and delimit) this period in literary history – realism, naturalism, modernism – suggest the existence of distinct textual and historical boundaries between texts that I argue cannot be so clearly demarcated. As an experiential phenomenon that operates through the process of historical accretion, both temporally and spatially, modernity spawned a variety of aesthetic and representational artifacts that reflected artists’ attempts to come to terms with its continual metamorphosis and “effects.” Realism, naturalism, and modernism are differing, but not necessarily opposing, responses to the lived experience of modernity, and the fluidity of their boundaries, rather than their solidity, marks this project’s point of departure. The “modern” axis, along which this study is oriented both historically and aesthetically, is defined by the new technologies and geographies of confinement and mobility that permeate the geographical and literary landscape of Western society during the twentieth century.
The advent of realism, as embodied in the work of nineteenth century European authors such as Balzac and Dickens, induced a significant shift in the “human” population of the literary landscape. As the processes and dictates of industrialization transformed individual experience and physical spaces, the realists sought to identify the perils and the romance that accrued with these social, economic, and demographic shifts. Dickens, with particular acuity, explored the “dark spaces” that had traditionally lay beyond the space of the literary, and brought the individuals who inhabited them into a narrative context. The work of Emile Zola and others who came to be known as Naturalists took this challenge even further in pursuing the novel’s capacity to render the environmental determinism they identified as endemic to the governing economic and social structure. What was significant in all of these authors’ works, and in the generic definitions (and divisions) to which they have given rise, is the dialogue between identity and space that they strove to represent or call into question in and through the literary text.
In “Forms of Time and of the Chronotype in the Novel” Mikhail Bahktin asserts that the history of the novel is the history of what he terms the “chronotype,” defined as the history of the novel’s representation of time and space, and that the specific chronotype evidences historically contingent ways of both experiencing and perceiving space and time. Bahktin claims that realist novels represent space as “both more concrete and more integrally fused to character…[and that] The particularity accorded to space also enabled writers to turn places into symbols for increasingly individualized characters and to represent space as the external expression of internal emotions, wishes, and temperaments. Space became subjectivity.” Although I do not take Bahktin’s declaration as a literal equation, I do believe that the equation can be argued from a metaphorical standpoint. These critical interventions offer the interpretive framework for my own investigation of these mappings in the literature I explore here.
I engage these specific texts – Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1880;81); Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville (1945) and Maud Martha (1953); and St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s The Black Metropolis (1945) in an effort to explore their differing constructions of individual bodies in relation to material and literary spaces. Situating these concerns as both textual and political issues enables us to link the distinct configurations of this relation in discreet cultural productions to broader social and political currents and meanings. Through the process of close reading I explore the ways in which wider social processes and changes erupt into and manifest themselves in the narrative. Through each textual example I intend to concretize my abstract inquiry into the relation between stasis, mobility, identity, and space. In doing so, I mine the different historical levels that comprise the literary text – social, biographical, formal, aesthetic, and so forth. I focus on the intricacies, both structural and thematic, of these texts in order to develop new ways of exploring literature through its engagement with and representation of spatial form and spatial relations. An important element of this project consists in its attempt to “place” the modern, to situate it in social and cultural history and to concretize its manifestations as local discourses that emerge out of dual international and domestic pressures, influences, and concerns.
Each text that I examine offers us a distinct understanding of the relationship between spatial mobility and confinement and its implications for the production of identity. In my study identity is understood as jointly individual and social, and the issues of gender, race, and class that animate my inquiry offer a useful lens for examining this complex intersection. This site of interrogation, then, forms the backdrop for my broader historical and cultural inquiry. I argue that it is along the experiential and representational axes of confinement and mobility that these authors probe the relation between space and self. It is the parameters of one’s relative mobility and confinement that determine one’s spatial boundaries. And it is a constructed – historically, culturally, socially, racially – space resident in both the “real” world and the literary text that houses the bodies that populate the modern landscape.
The conceptual shift to more mobile terrain that we encounter in each of these texts registers a persistent dualism at the heart of modernity: the modern as constituted by moving bodies, (the slave trade; transatlantic liberation movements, e.g. suffragism, abolitionism, immigration; and segregation), in conjunction, and in tension with, immobile and constricted bodies. The inextricability of these two experiential and philosophical aspects of modernity – what I refer to as the “dialectic of confinement and mobility” – fundamentally alters and complicates our understanding and (e)valuation of these two terms. Such a redefinition entails a double vision that must be foregrounded in an analysis of modernity’s cultural matrix. I argue that situating culture on such mobile and fluid terrain compels us to regard cultural forms as representing, probing, and mediating the terms of both this movement and stasis. It is not simply a matter of perceiving mobility as predicated on confinement (although this has been and is often the case); rather, it involves a renewed exploration of their inherent relationality. It demands a critical examination of the dynamic and complex relation between these two terms, spaces, and experiences. The terms “confinement” and “mobility” simultaneously open up and specify our conception of the relations between bodies, selves, and spaces that I seek to explore here. I argue that the dialectic of confinement and mobility is both enabled and realized through the vocabularies of architecture and geography with which these authors engage.
The trajectory of my study is defined geographically and historically – that is, it moves spatially across both space and time. In Chapter One I outline some of the defining features of modern experience and expression. I identify how philosophical, architectural, and ideological shifts fostered by the sophistication of capitalism and urbanization imposed new frameworks for understanding and generating artistic expression. Following an introduction to the broad themes encapsulated by this interpretive rubric, I launch into a discussion of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, and draw the architecture of the novel and that of subjective space together. As the ‘square and spacious’ edifice that houses Isabel, James’s Portrait functions as an expression of the novel’s fascination with architectural form and metaphor and the compatibility between the conceptual vocabularies of writing and architecture. I look specifically at James’s formal containment of certain defining aspects of his environment – the expansion of urban space followed by its enforced enclosure; the movement of women into the public realm of representation, both politically and aesthetically; and the precarious place of literary expression within an increasingly commercialized artistic sphere.
In the second chapter I continue my investigation of James’s Portrait. I examine the evolution of Isabel Archer’s consciousness in textual space as James constructs it in relation to the novel’s other characters. I outline the conceptual vocabularies James draws upon in his representational endeavor, and illuminate the role of portraiture and architecture in his composition of the novel’s central subject. The first half of the novel differs markedly from the latter half in terms of Isabel’s capacity for freedom and her ability to define her own space of narrative authority and self-mastery. As the narrative progresses, and Isabel moves from public and expansive spaces into domestic and local spaces, both physically and psychologically, the tenuous degree of control she had maintained over the narrative, a narrative that ostensibly hinges on her consciousness, fluctuates and deteriorates. Thus Isabel is doubly enclosed. As Isabel’s text is overwritten by James, and her portrait shaded by Osmond, the novel itself becomes a space of mastery and order. Together, the first two chapters introduce the major thematic frameworks, structural arcs, and central questions that animate the entire project.
In Chapter Three I migrate to Chicago, and begin roughly where Portrait leaves off chronologically. The majority of the chapter focuses on the period between the First and Second World Wars, with a bit of overlap on both sides of this temporal divide. I move to Chicago for two reasons: first and foremost, it comprises the physical and aesthetic substance of this study’s second central figure, Gwendolyn Brooks; secondly, the city offers an archetypal landscape for an investigation of the spatial and racial politics of urban design and development. I discuss the impact of successive waves of migration on Chicago’s neighborhoods, both spatially and socially, and relate the consequent social reform initiatives that took root there. Thus, the third chapter serves to establish the social and physical framework that guided intellectual and architectural movements that transformed the arrangement of city space and its sociological interpretation. The final section of the chapter explores the dichotomy represented by the nation’s public housing program and suburbanization, and the ensuing social and spatial abyss that framed the divergent experiences of those residents.
In Chapter Four I turn specifically to the “Harlem of the Midwest” – Chicago’s South Side. I examine the conjunction of social forces and citizens’ initiatives that created this dynamic environment. I discuss the neighborhood’s significance in the formation of communal identity and aesthetic movements, and I analyze two poetic explorations of this environment. I close the chapter with a discussion of the short-lived yet important periodical Negro Story, the magazine in which Gwendolyn Brooks published some of her earliest work. I interpret her award-winning poem “Revision of the Invocation” as a dual entry point into the work of her contemporaries St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s voluminous exploration of the neighborhood and into her own continuing effort to document the lives of its inhabitants.
Urban history is deeply rooted in the discipline of sociology. Its sociological genesis is tied to the publication of W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899). One of the most important ideological and methodological legacies of Du Bois’s work consists in his attention to the interpretive framework undertaken to explore the social scientist’s object of study. In this regard Du Bois’s work evidences some of the first efforts toward what was later reclaimed, during the Black Power era, as a distinct field of black sociology. The practitioner Robert Staples delineates the discipline’s genesis: “Black sociology proceeds from the premise that Black and White peoples have never shared, to any great degree, the same physical environment or social experiences…Undergirding this effort to redefine the interpretation of the Black experience is the sociology of knowledge model. The basic principle of this model is that knowledge is a function of environment and the individual’s place in that environment.” In a chapter entitled “The Perspective of Black Sociology” Staples maintains no distinction between the aims of “pure” science and its applied fields. The subsection “Framing Questions” revisits Du Bois’s central contention regarding the relation between the social scientist’s identity and her/his interpretive framework, as Staples identifies the dissection of this relation as a fundamental aspect of the scholar’s responsibility. He argues, “Since the questions asked in social research often reflect what the researchers believe are the relevant aspects of a given problem, it is essential that the questions reflect a Black perspective of the research purpose.” The standpoint outlined by Staples in his sociological treatise parallels Gwendolyn Brooks’s firm commitment to merging artistic expression and political and social utility, a subject I discuss more fully in the sixth chapter.
Black Metropolis, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s 1945 study of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, is the focal point of the study’s fifth chapter. As a precursor to my textual analysis I trace the evolution of the Chicago School of Sociology and, in particular, the manner in which its practitioners converted the “slums” and inner city space into an explanatory framework for the social dislocations fostered by migration and urbanization. I discuss the School’s impact on social policy, as well as the affinities and discontinuities between their work and that of Drake and Cayton. I examine Black Metropolis as both a sociological and a literary document and juxtapose the authors’ incorporation of the two disciplines’ vocabularies and methodologies.
In the sixth and seventh chapters I focus on the early work of Chicago’s most famous and beloved bard, Gwendolyn Brooks. I interpret the literary text as a hybrid space that is both public and private, as a medium which weaves together and blurs the boundaries between private and public selves and acts. Gwendolyn Brooks “transforms” the cloistral spaces that her characters dwell in into expansive spaces through their own imaginings, or through Brooks’s aesthetic achievement. She creates aesthetic space for these “public bodies.” At the same time, she privatizes these bodies and their voices, particularly in the textual ellipses that punctuate her novel Maud Martha. Brooks’s insertion into a novelistic, and more specifically, naturalistic tradition overwhelmingly populated by male authors itself constitutes a public act. The structural irresolution of her narratives, however, refuses the full disclosure of her character’s private worlds, and retains a space of inviolability for her characters.
The urban landscape provided Brooks with her thematic material as well as with a formal direction through which to represent that material. Brooks’s poetry navigates Bronzeville’s psychological and physical terrain simultaneously, and brings them into sharp relief, revealing the tensions and creative possibilities engendered by their intersection. In the sixth chapter I highlight individual poems in her first collection, A Street in Bronzeville, that rework the animating principles and themes of James’s work to correlate them with the conditions of urban life. In the very process of reduction that the title of her book performs, Brooks ironically enacts an enlargement of that contained, and “small” space, as well as of the selves that populate it. At the same time, the spaces which Brooks “writes out of” emphasize the increasing boundedness and separateness of physical spaces predicated on hierarchies of race and class – the “ghetto” and the kitchenette. Brooks’s work documents with great precision the means by which black individuals, many of them young black women, attempt to carve out their own space in the midst of overwhelming compression and confinement. In many instances, it is through the act of creative expression, or through the gesture towards such expression, that a “spaciousness of possibility” opens up for her characters.
In both chapters I parse the historical and social contexts of Brooks’s chosen literary forms and identify the unique manner in which they manifest the scope of the author’s concern with the proper relation between formal containment and aesthetic content. Returning to Portrait, I would suggest that James’s attempt to “enlarge” Isabel’s character and consciousness in order to justify his dubious artistic endeavor succeeds only insofar as it reduces and hems in the very space of his protagonist’s self. The narrative constricts and opposes the spaciousness of Isabel’s possibility with which it begins, reining her in, and returning her to her proper place/space by the novel’s conclusion. Brooks’s poetry, on the other hand, gestures toward yet ultimately resists such transcendence. She continually pulls the reader and the “soaring self” of the poem back to both the material world and the page, allowing the self to drift even while anchored to a very particular and confining space. She repeatedly conveys the dialectical process of space and identity, challenging crude theories of environmental determinism and redefining the nature of this equation.
The final chapter focuses exclusively on Brooks’s 1953 novella Maud Martha. I contrast James’s “treatment” of Isabel Archer with that of Brooks’s handling of her protagonist, and use the two texts to draw out the political significance of their textual representations. The distance between their two methodological and conceptual approaches can be gauged by the representation of individual identity in their work. Again, the language of architecture permits a great deal of insight. Joanna Drucker explains,
A person, the reader of a text or user of a building, has a social profile, a personal history, physical needs, and an idiosyncratic (if often typical) attitude toward the architectural structure. The person is separate from the work, has an autonomous existence, and comes to the building with his or her own history, prejudices and expectations. The subject, on the other hand, has a structural origin within the architectural form itself. In textual analysis, the subject arises from the organization of the literary text: from its voice, point of view, narrative strategies, in fact, all the features of the text that posit a relation among its elements and use those relations to situate the reader in relation to itself. The concept of the subject is intimately connected to the structural features of the text.
In the final chapter I revisit the themes of enclosure and division with which my study begins and, once again, I analyze the relation between the structures of individual consciousness and those constructed to shape the contours of literary space. In Maud Martha, Brooks returns to the space of the kitchenette and into the singular vision and mental space of her young protagonist. As in much of her poetry, Brooks depicts the kitchenette as a space of staleness, filled with gray smells, sounds, and visions. Despite the standardization of their environment, these “kitchenette folks” are neither gray, dull, nor standardized, and Brooks takes great care in articulating their singularity. Throughout the text Brooks oscillates between images of confinement and mobility, exerting greater pressure on the equation between space and identity. She draws the reader into the stifling space of Maud Martha’s reality, and the expansive space of her hopes and dreams. In this work Brooks expands upon the themes of potentiality and transcendent space evidenced in her early poetry. Throughout the narrative Brooks refuses to “represent” many of Maud Martha’s personal aspirations, denying their circumscription in narrative space, allowing her protagonist the “space to breathe” that reality does not permit her. Maud Martha’s “secret” desires and private thoughts, indicative of her longing to say and do things distinct from the community around her, are structurally omitted in Brooks’s recounting. In this way, I argue that Brooks herself both creates and preserves a private space that belongs only to Maud Martha; her desires and dreams occupy the spaces that even Brooks’s text does not enter nor wish to violate. In more expansive terms we might say that Brooks highlights the non-linguistic space of private emotion. She exposes the way in which words, as things that acquire meaning only once they are read, and therefore whose privacy is always already compromised, are inherently unfit to convey that which is meant to be kept private, housed within the individual self, or consciousness. The spaces of silence that Brooks brackets and preserves here direct our attention, once again, to the modes of surveillance and social control associated with the realist novel. In its very inclusivity of “other” spaces, the realist author’s public exhibition of the selves that reside there simultaneously reshapes the demarcation between public and private.
In moving from 1880 to 1953, between these two distinct moments in literary and national history, this study confronts the issue of historical progression and continuity. This project is not about progression per se, or an evolution or refinement of certain key themes or ideas, but rather about movement, about the very persistence of certain literary, historical, and representational issues, and the way in which each discreet text engages and transmutes them in specific historical moments. For example, the historical framework and the “real” organization of peoples and spaces in Chicago provided the canvas upon which Brooks wove her distinct personal and collective geographies of identity. In the service of my exploration and analysis of space and different types of spatial relations in these texts I employ two distinct yet interrelated axes. In the first axis, the architectural, I focus on the structural metaphors that the writer employs to define her/his text and the characters within it, and read the fiction as it is interwoven with the history of architecture. Here, I examine the construction of narrative space as a unique space that is at once both public and private. I ask several questions, such as: how is it that the novel conceives of and organizes the space which lay outside of it?; how does literary space incorporate, reflect, and rearrange “real” space and the selves that inhabit it?; how does the space constructed in the narrative define the relationship between its characters and physical, social, and geographical spaces? What types of spatial metaphors does the author use to frame or image her/his narrative text?
In his philosophical examination of modern notions of self Ali Madanipour grounds the heightened emphasis on individual experience in a shift in the prevailing social order. He argues that the bourgeoisie seized upon the notion of an autonomous self to articulate a distance between the public world and the inner world of consciousness. The domestic sphere is imagined as the material manifestation of the psychological interior, as well as as the self’s protective enclosure. Of Bachelard’s excavations of literary space, Madanipour writes, “In his investigation, he finds the house a nest for daydreaming, a shelter for imagining, emphasizing the significance of space for imagination and intimacy. Bachelard sets out to analyse the house as an ‘intimate space’, by which he means ‘space that is not open to just anybody.’ The house, through providing a place for daydreaming, becomes ‘one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories, and dreams of mankind.’” Thus, the house exists as the mediating structure between an impersonal public world and a private self; it is within the house that the self can truly be said to live. In his own study of literary space Bachelard argues that house and non-house are the basic divisions of geographical space, and that this relation mimics the demarcation of self and non-self that distinguishes psychic space. In 1890 William James claimed, “It is surely subjectivity and interiority which are the notions latest acquired by the human mind.” That perspective carried over into the architectural realm. Kathleen Kirby writes, “In the 1840s and 1850s, as the theory that architectural space helps to shape consciousness gained in influence, and as psychological studies of the mind achieved credibility, the mind came to be understood as a constructed and internally structured space. One measure of the success of this idea is the enormous popularity of phrenology – the theory that the mind is a physical space comprised of localized faculties – in the first half of the nineteenth century.”
This work of spatializing and apportioning the mind corresponded with contemporary efforts to redefine the ideal home as a self-contained, rigidly divided space, with specific functions confined to specific areas. Members of the housing reform associations that arose in mid-Victorian England attempted to translate this middle-to-upper-class domestic ideal to the working classes, for they believed, as George Godwin succinctly put it, “As the homes, so the people.” It also correlated with the apportioning of geographical territory into a series of domestic containers. Jeff Weintraub provides a historical arc to this link: “The breakdown of the older ‘public’ realm of polymorphous sociability and, with it, the sharpening polarization of social life between an increasingly impersonal ‘public’ realm (of the market, the modern state, and bureaucratic organizations) and a ‘private’ realm of increasingly intense intimacy and emotionality (the modern family, romantic love, and so forth) forms the backdrop for the increasing focus on the interior landscape, of both mind and private residence.” In an essay in the same collection David Brain continues, “Sennett makes the same point in arguing that the key problem is not the lack of commonly accessible space, but the systematic creation of ‘dead public space’ by the elimination of significant social interaction. This deadening of public space is in part the result of larger social tendencies such as suburbanization that have removed all but the poorer residents from many urban neighborhoods, as well as patterns of spatial separation that have segregated residential space from other functions.”
My work visits a number of intellectual discourses and movements that developed alongside the disruptive forces of modernity: namely, architecture, social science, and geography. Architecture was conceived as an applied science that considered the relation between space and human behavior. As a result, it drew heavily, both theoretically and materially, from social scientific discourse. David Brain opines that “Where urban sociologists sought explanations for the social, political, and moral order in the spatial order of the modern city, the architectural professions approached the problem as a practical matter of constructing visible connections between built form and social order. Modernist architects, rather than approaching the city as an organism whose forms revealed the nature of its functioning, regarded it as a ‘machine for living’…whose order needed to be engineered rather than merely discovered; but, in the process, they grounded renewed claims to professional authority in finding supposedly ‘objective’ connections between architectural forms and underlying ‘functions.’” The link between architecture and social science was neither tenuous nor particularly obscured. One historian contends,
On an ideological level another aspect of the modern movement played an important role in bringing architecture into contact with social science. During the period when the movement arose, Western culture widely and uncritically accepted the notion that both contemporary art and contemporary science expressed or revealed the same underlying zeitgeist. This meant that art and architecture held a strong, positive ideological commitment to rationalism and science. In its extreme form this view had cubism in painting prefiguring quantum mechanics in physics. The everyday variety of this ideology posited modern architecture as expressive of the ‘machine age’ or industrial revolution. More generally, this implies a social functionalism that permits ‘the concretization of social institutions and values characteristic of particular cultures or eras,’ and a cultural functionalism that involves the ‘concretization of universal values and subconscious structures of spatial and psychological orientation.’ Seen on this level of generality, architecture and social science have very similar missions and the former seems almost an applied branch of the latter
This shift transformed both the role and the image of the author and architect. The historian David Brain writes, “An ‘authentically modern’ architecture extended the architect’s authority beneath the visual appearance of the building to the organization of its functions.” Brain continues,
The modernist transformation of design involved not only a change in the vocabulary of architectural representation, but a reconstruction of the boundaries of the architectural, and a transformation of the way architectural forms were to be understood as fitted to building tasks. Modernist architects rejected the historicism of nineteenth-century architecture in favor of a transparently ‘rational’ architecture based on the linkage of an abstract of geometric order to a conception of building tasks in terms of organically structured and integrated systems of functions. The modernist set out to solve building problems as if they had never been solved before, conceiving function in terms of generalized human needs, without reference to the forms they might have taken in the past or to particular cultural values. What was to be transparent was not just the walls, which might indeed be made of glass, but the way geometric forms were modulated as a (supposedly) direct and honest reflex of an inner functional logic. Modernist architects and planners went so far as to claim the ability to re-form social life to fit the demands of technology, the industrial system, and a modern democratic culture.
The price of such transparency was the flight to abstraction. Modernist architects imposed a theoretical formula upon the physical spaces they sought to transform that bore little to no relation to the demands of a particular space, environmental concerns, or the residents who were to become its occupants. Their adopted forms were divorced from a “real” context. Despite their predilection for concrete as a favored medium, the Modernists eschewed its practical manifestation. Instead, these architects transformed abstraction into both a design principle and structural material. In his “Manifesto of the Bauhaus” Walter Gropius proclaimed “Let us together desire and create the new building of the future, which will combine everything – architecture and sculpture and painting – in a single form which will one day rise toward the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith.” In the American context, modernist design principles appealed to the long-standing and persistent strains of Puritanism that permeated national life and social discourse, and the elusive quest for a purity of form and function that manifests in various architectural and political treatises.
Both James and Brooks expressed a consistent concern with the significance of the relation between a work’s form and its content. A quotation from James illuminates their shared exploration: “We had been at one…on the truth that the forms of wrought things, in this order, were, all exquisitely and effectively, the things; so that, for the delight of mankind, form might compete with form and might correspond to fitness.” Both authors regarded the correspondence between a representation and its intended object of representation as a conjoined political and aesthetic issue, and consequently probed the friction engendered by this duality throughout their fictional and critical writings. Their concern possesses a historical foundation that Frederic Jameson argues begins with Flaubert, when, he writes, “the two levels” of the narrative text, style and narrative, “begin to drift apart and acquire their own relative autonomy.” This bifurcation of literary space marks a key characteristic of the Modernist period. Modernism, in both the literary and the architectural realms, heightened formal awareness and offered a widened sphere of styles in which to structure a text or a building. In the realm of literature the division between form and content derives from specific social formations and bears unique political ramifications. Raymond Williams, a critic, historian, and philosopher who has spent a great deal of time studying this movement, contends that in modernist literature “the forces of the action have become internal and in a way there is no longer a city, there is only a man walking through it…The substantial reality, the living variety of the city, is in the walker’s mind…The history is not in this city but in the loss of a city, the loss of relationships. The only knowable community is in the need, the desire, of the racing and separated forms of consciousness.” In a similar vein, Virginia Woolf, one of the most celebrated Modernist authors, claimed that “A writer’s country is a territory within his own brain; and we run the risk of disillusionment if we try to turn such phantom cities into tangible brick and mortar. We know our way there without signposts or policemen, and we can greet the passers-by without need of introduction. No city indeed is so real as this that we make for ourselves and people to our liking; and to insist that it has any counterparts in the cities of the earth is to rob it of half its charm.” Thus, modern architecture and literature are joined in their psychologization and abstraction of that which is rendered in and through their material productions.
In a discussion of Proust’s articulation of the relationship between literature and architecture Philippe Hamon observes: “It’s as if Proust is emphasizing…that architecture is more than the mere art of establishing or reducing distance or space, but that inasmuch as it organizes the interplay of exterior and interior, of public and private, architecture thereby also emerges as the art of the body, with all its ‘fatigues, its desires, its envelopes, its articulations, its dislocations, its ‘reversibilities,’ and its relations to other bodies.” Hamon concludes by defining architecture as the act of housing the body inside of something, and thus related to literature insofar as both serve as vessels for the containment of discreet bodies, whether literal or fictive. On what might be called the intersubjective level of the architectural axis, I am concerned with notions of surfaces and depths, exteriors and interiors, as they relate directly to the representation of literary characters; as the author employs this language to describe the characters, both in terms of their “inner” and their “outer” selves. On this level, I address the nature of bodily space, perceptual and experiential, as it is represented in the text and experienced by each of the protagonists. In her exceptional study of four writers and their relation to interior space Diana Fuss offers a clarifying departure point for understanding one of the major philosophical currents of modern literature. She argues that each of these writers – Emily Dickinson, Helen Keller, Sigmund Freud, and Marcel Proust – adopted interiority as a sustained area of intellectual inquiry, and in so doing invited readers to probe the private nature of aesthetic inspiration and representation. Utilizing a vocabulary and range of imagery that associated human consciousness with interior space, Fuss contends that these writers set out to explore this uncharted vastness and to determine how to represent this private domain in a public forum – that of literature.
One of this study’s guiding tropes is the notion of framing – its philosophical, political, and aesthetic implications. In this regard, I employ the act of framing both conceptually and methodologically, as, I argue, do all of the authors whom I’ve chosen to explore in this project. Frames function as important analytical devices and aesthetic containers; both uses result from and themselves bear political consequences. In my project I discuss frames with reference to a variety of circumstances: e.g., in terms of literary form, the formation of literary genres, and the construction of physical architecture. Frames are as significant for the subject of their enclosure as they are for that which they exclude or remove, purposely or unwittingly, from the frame. In this study the movement from spatial division to spatial segregation is discussed in several forums: social reform and the advent of city zoning practices; public housing and suburbanization; and the conventions of aesthetic representation.
James adopts the shape of a house as the framework for his literary form – the “house of fiction” – which he builds and manipulates according to the design required by its proposed inhabitants. He begins in an enclosed and interior domain – the private residence – and draws his world around and in relation to this central space. James employs the country estate as a framing and scenic device for Portrait’s action and setting – an inherently privatized and synthetic space of performance and possession. Gwendolyn Brooks commences from the opposite sphere – from that of the public and the social. The street, the neighborhood, and the community form the essential structures around which the individual lives of her characters revolve and are framed. The chapters that comprise my dissertation explore the authors’ respective methodologies and the political consequences that emerge from their divergence.
© Rachel Rosekind, PhD, MLIS