Communities in Fiction

Communities in Fiction

Communities in Fiction

Communities in Fiction

Synopsis

Communities in Fiction reads six novels or stories (one each by Trollope, Hardy, Conrad, Woolf, Pynchon, and Cervantes) in the light of theories of community worked out (contradictorily) by Raymond Williams, Martin Heidegger, and Jean- Luc Nancy.

The book's topic is the question of how communities or noncommunities are represented in fictional works. Such fictional communities help the reader understand real communities, including those in which the reader lives. As against the presumption that the trajectory in literature from Victorian to modern to postmodern is the story of a gradual loss of belief in the possibility of community, this book demonstrates that communities have always been presented in fiction as precarious and fractured. Moreover, the juxtaposition of Pynchon and Cervantes in the last chapter demonstrates that period characterizations are never to be trusted. All the features both thematic and formal that recent critics and theorists such as Fredric Jameson and many others have found to characterize postmodern fiction are already present in Cervantes's wonderful early-seventeenth-century "Exemplary Story," "The Dogs' Colloquy." All the themes and narrative devices of Western fiction from the beginning of the print era to the present were there at the beginning, in Cervantes

Most of all, however, Communities in Fiction looks in detail at its six fictions, striving to see just what they say, what stories they tell, and what narratological and rhetorical devices they use to say what they do say and to tell the stories they do tell. The book attempts to communicate to its readers the joy of reading these works and to argue for the exemplary insight they provide into what Heidegger called Mitsein being together in communities that are always problematic and unstable.

Excerpt

Raymond Williams’s entry for “community” in Keywords is straightforward enough, though it is characteristically succinct, comprehensive, and subtle. He gives a brief history of the etymology of the word and of the different meanings the word has had since it entered the English language in the fourteenth century. He also sets “community” against two French and German words, commune and Gemeinde. He refers to Tönnies’s influential contrast (1887) between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft : an organic community, on the one hand, and an impersonal organization or corporation, on the other. Though Williams distinguishes five senses of “community,” the essence of his definition is expressed in the following phrases: “a sense of common identity and characteristics,” and “the body of direct relationships” as opposed to “the organized establishment of realm or state.” a community is “relatively small,” with a “sense of immediacy or locality.” Williams stresses the affective aspect of the word and its performative power: “Community can be the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of relationships, or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of relationships.”

What Williams meant by “community” is developed more circumstantially in The Country and the City, especially in Chapters 10, 16, and 18 of that book: “Enclosures, Commons and Communities,” “Knowable Communities,” and “Wessex and the Border.” the last two are on George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, respectively. Williams does not wholly admire George Eliot, nor Jane Austen, whereas Hardy gets his more or less complete approval.

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