By Jason Puskar
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Extra resources for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
If, in Howells’s view, the Haymarket trials perversely produced scapegoats through the methods of a “romantic novelist,” then the lack of investigation into Conrad’s death does the opposite, producing chance through the methods of a realist novelist. 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.
The social nature of chance thus consists not of the embeddedness of some actual indeterminacy within social and material interactions but of the complex ways in which any event, especially a violent injury, might or might not be characterized specifically as a matter of chance. When March loses his hat, and almost loses his life, he converts chance back into moral choice by making it an occasion for a confession. Chance is social because it is the product of extensive negotiations about the nature and limits of responsibility, agency, causation, culpability, intentionality, and even moral choice, all of which must be reconfigured, however subtly, as soon as chance enters the conversation.
When accidents are neither controlled by identifiable and culpable agents nor surrendered to the jurisdiction of a superintending deity, they lodge ineradicably in precisely those social and economic dynamics that March detests as secondary, human made, or artificial. To situate accidents there is to involve them in all of those social and economic transactions that all agents must undergo. As a result, agents who experience certain kinds of unexpected failures, injuries, or losses frequently find themselves facing a difficult choice: the agent can choose either to be innocent or to be powerful, but not both.
Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance by Jason Puskar