By Jason Puskar
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Additional info for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
Because of realism’s pretense to document social and material fact, realist novels were especially effective at characterizing chance as an object of neutral representation rather than as a product of imaginative art. And as novelists became especially effective chance producers, they absorbed and redeployed new philosophical thinking about chance, the most important of which was beginning to emerge in the early 1870s from legal and philosophical pragmatism. , were key analysts of chance production but also key chance producers in their own right.
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. 22 The first American marine insurer opened in 1721, and in the colonial period and the early Republic, small-scale operators, usually in port cities, branched out into fire and other forms of casualty underwriting.
Description may level, but Howells seems to think it might level out unjust power differentials as well. For Lukács, any writer who cannot discern some sort of social order within or behind chance is ideologically complicit with capitalism. For Howells, in contrast, totalizing narratives seemed far more dangerous than atomizing descriptions, given that the Haymarket trials had shown that the rationalizing and moralizing powers of narrative were by no means guaranteed to be virtuous, or even benign.
Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance by Jason Puskar