Stephanie Palmer OnlineFinAL X

ALH Online Review, Series X 1. Katherine Fusco, Silent Film and ... and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1910). Much as Frederick.
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ALH Online Review, Series X 1

Katherine Fusco, Silent Film and U.S. Naturalist Literature: Time, Narrative, and Modernity (New York: Routledge, 2016), 208 pp. Reviewed by Stephanie Palmer, Nottingham Trent University Early cinema and US literary naturalism competed for the public’s attention at precisely the same time period, and Katherine Fusco shows the complex interactions between them. She conceives of both art forms in broad and interesting ways, such that early cinema includes not only Étienne-Jules Marey’s and Eadward Muybridge’s motion studies and the cinema of attractions but also factory films, which depict industrial environments and their inhabitants, either to instruct workers or to showcase technological achievement. Literary naturalism is defined broadly enough to include Jack London’s journalistic coverage of boxing and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “Bee Wise” (1913) along with her utopian novel Herland (1915). Discussions of Frank Norris’s ponderous invocation of wheat in The Octopus (1901) and London’s “To Build a Fire” (1908) touch on naturalism’s evocation of natural forces. Demonstrating complex networks of influence between the art forms, Fusco demonstrates how D. W. Griffith’s reading of The Octopus influenced the filmmaker’s A Corner in Wheat (1909) as well as his editing techniques in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). Both artists, she finds, engaged the technologies of the day to tell “ambitious stories about the human condition” (62). Despite silent film appearing first in the book’s title, the emphasis of the study lies primarily with naturalism. Silent film and US naturalism are linked through their shared temporality—their obsession with time management, with “a sense of time as force and resource [that] appears in conversations across a number of arenas in early modernity” (5). The book considers developments in philosophy, for example, discussing Henri Bergson’s Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1910). Much as Frederick Winslow Taylor urged workers to greater efficiency, and Muybridge’s photographs of a horse’s gallop instructed humans that the eye alone cannot solve time’s secrets, naturalism and silent film teach us that we cannot access time’s truths without paying attention to details too small to see or arcs of progress longer than the average life span. The art forms’ distrust in human cognition contributes to a wider turn toward impersonality in art and expert knowledge in all disciplines. As a result, naturalism and silent film encourage readers and viewers to believe that the group and nature will inevitably overwhelm the individual. The Introduction alone does not make a convincing case that these art forms are unique in their ability to register the inexorability of time. Yet by the end of the Fusco’s study, one comes to appreciate how much naturalist novels’ stories of transcendent forces and what she aptly calls “their grandiose narrative styles” (184) owe to their sense of time as unmanageable without technological or scientific expertise. Fusco’s © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: [email protected]

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focus on form and temporality leavens her close readings. Following from the overarching claim that naturalism and silent film privilege plot over character and progress over people, she reads The Octopus as a rumination on the inexorable forces of history that thwart people who are seeking to work together to fight monopoly capital. While many antimonopoly journalists like Ambrose Bierce sought to spur social action by invoking the Mussel Slough Tragedy—in which a shootout took place between the representatives of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the homesteaders who had been cultivating railroad land in the San Joaquin Valley—Norris treats the characters involved in his fictionalized shootout like a speechless swarm, as incapable of understanding their condition