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Reading the Symptom

Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and the Dynamics of Capitalism

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Mohamed Zayani

Reading the Symptom is concerned with naturalism; it is also necessarily concerned with capitalism as the complex-structuring whole within which naturalism operates and from which it cannot be disengaged. Tightly connected with this polemic assertion is a methodological proposition: naturalism - and by extension capitalism - is characterized not only by its logic, but also by its asymmetrical dynamism. Focusing on Frank Norris's McTeague (and its companion piece Vandover and the Brute) and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, this study argues that naturalism puts into question the very system it exemplifies. Naturalism has a transgressive element at its core, the appreciation of which calls for a special attention to the role and consequence of the emergent, the aleatory, and the stochastic. To explore the interplay between the systematic and the asystematic is not only to come to the conclusion that naturalism is an open, creative system, but also to realize that uneven development is the basic law of social formations.