By Jason Puskar
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Extra resources for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
One of the things I have come to admire in these writers is their love of variety, which they indulge even at the expense of formal elegance or narrative cohesion. Aesthetic variety, formal inconsistency, and narrative irregularity are the very tools these writers often use to hammer out chance. To be true to its sources, a literary history of chance must not fail to be a little haphazard too. c ha p ter 1 The Insurance of the Real william dean howells Just fifteen years after its destruction by fire, Chicago erupted in violence again, but this time the violence was hardly represented as accidental.
That is, part of what Howells seems to recognize in Hazard is that the moral underpinnings of romantic fiction, with its polarized account of virtue and vice, can be countered by realist fiction’s determined refusal even to conduct the kinds of inquiries that might lead to any assessment of blame. By refusing to solve crimes and produce culprits, and by refusing even to try to do so, Hazard inflicts on the reader the same aggravating uncertainties and dissatisfactions that trouble its characters.
A person who thinks her house is in imminent danger of burning would call the fire department, but she would call an insurance agent only after making a much more general concession about her inability to prevent such fires over the long term. Millions of Americans were making exactly that concession in the late nineteenth century. As a result, it makes sense to think of insurance as creating a culture of accidents rather than simply subsisting within one. It makes even more sense to think of insurance as constituting new kinds of subjects who are willing and able to tolerate those conditions, rather than simply recruiting them.
Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance by Jason Puskar