Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

The Good Soldier and Capital's Interiority Complex

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

The Good Soldier and Capital's Interiority Complex

Article excerpt

As one of the best-known examples of English literary impressionism, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier (1915) is a story about the ephemeral, private, and anxiously guarded interiority of the bourgeois psychological subject. In other words, it is a story about objects. In the effort to secure the borders of a psychological interior against the swift urban rush of mobility, narrator John Dowell paradoxically works to create a sense of psychic and temporal integrity in and through identification with objects, specifically objects of exchange in a world of contingent international finance capital. Read in this way, the narrative relies on a division between perceiver and external world-between subject and object--while also suggesting a crisis-ridden, anxiously acknowledged permeability of psychic interiority in relation to the material world. (1) The real psychological problem of the novel, however, lies with the nature of the objects that define the psychic economy of the impressionist subject. Those commodity-objects, in which Marx reads the structure of capitalism, are marked by the slippage between use value and exchange value, or between their material presence and the fluctuating, abstract, contingent value to which they refer. (2) The simultaneously material and elusive properties ascribed to the things in turn mark the continually revised recollections that make up the formal and psychological flux of the novel. In this paper, I discuss how The Good Soldier narrates subjectivity, and the subject's attempt to "anchor" itself in the objectivity of things, as part of an epistemological crisis that circulates around an impending slippage of signification stemming from the deferred value embodied in the objects of exchange.

I begin by showing how the psychological flux of the narrative follows the contingency of the commodity-object. The contingent objects of exchange constitute and betray any stable space of mind, generating Dowell's anxious inability to fully know the self or the other. I then argue that that narrative flux inhabits what Deleuze and Guattari call the schizophrenic limit of capitalist expansion: as an end in itself, surplus is capital's own limit, which must in turn be continuously displaced by ever-increased production. The question of the impressionist narrator's reliability points to Dowell's anxious psychological expression of the tension between expansion and reification, a tension most legible in the material objects of exchange. As such, the novel posits the inextricability of material culture and modern impressionist psychology. More specifically, in narrating psychic interiority as a site of impressions made by the object and its fleeting thingness according to the contingency of exchange, The Good Soldier is a direct critique of commodity capital.

Readers often discuss Ford's [famous] novel as an example of modernist interiority, and many would agree that the text foregrounds mind as anxiously guarded private property. In A Genealogy of Modernism (1984), Michael Levenson reads Ford's impressionist interiority as "a retreat to the surer, if more modest, zone of the self" (61) in the face of an expanding democratic politics and mass culture. (3) Tamar Katz also links the novel's construction of interiority to a radically shifting public sphere, focusing on the increasing visibility of women in the market and the concomitant negotiations of gendered authority. She centralizes the figure of "the newly mobile woman [who] offers literature a subject both public and private, vulnerable and interiorized," as that which raises the novel's problem of "how to ground masculine literary authority" (18). (4) Levenson's genealogy and Katz's more recent formulation of the problems of subjectivity centered on the private depth of the psyche are useful in mapping the psychological subject in the public sphere as an important problem for modernist writing. More interestingly, however, these critical accounts (separated by sixteen years) share an investment in socially and historically locating Ford and his contemporaries without fully considering the forces of commodification and finance capital underlying the novel's problematic category of the narrating subject. …

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