BLANCHE H. GELFANT
What More Can Carrie Want?
Naturalistic Ways of Consuming Women
"Know's" me not by my clothes?"
A recent magazine article evokes the perennial mystery of human desire by asking why a movie star who "has it all" - "a perfect body, happy marriage, wealth," and "success" - is "not yet satisfied." 1 Beginning with a play of words, "Why Demi Moore Wants More," the article ends by finding the word more "elusive." This elusive more is the subject of my essay, which links a desire for more to determinism as a doctrine of causation common to literary naturalism, behavioral psychology, modern advertising, and consumerism. Once consumption figures in a discussion of literary naturalism, at issue in this essay, the lines of argument move centrifugally in various directions to include such seemingly far-flung and unrelated matters as the Vietnam War, kleptomania, the "packaging" of American politics, women's fashion, material culture studies, fitness diets, images of burning bodies, the commodification of books, Jane Fonda's self-transformations, and indecent proposals to Demi Moore.2 All these matters converge at a single point of origin where a woman character, an American literary heroine, stands and looks. The consequences of this simple, ordinary act - which leads the woman to consume and be consumed - seem to me laden with literary and cultural meanings I must necessarily condense. To do so, my first tactical move will be to leap over an entire century in order to compare Theodore Dreiser's famous novel Sister Carrie published in 1900, with a contemporary story that leaves one shaken by its brilliance and horror. I ask the reader to imagine the gap between the two texts as an ellipsis - a dot, dot, dot - filled in by decades of turbulent historical change that have redefined what an American heroine wants but not why she wants more.
A century ago, when little Oliver Twist said, "Please, sir, I want some more," he was, in Dickens's words, "desperate with hunger." The child said "want" but meant "need" - a basic, biological need for food. As we know, Dreiser's Sister Carrie begins with a poignantly needy heroine, a poor working-girl without a job, skill, or money. The novel ends with Carrie Meeber, now a Broadway star, sitting in her luxurious hotel suite with a hundred and fifty dollars "in hand" and contemplating the meaning -or rather the meaninglessness, the "impotence," to use Dreiser's word - of money: "Her hotel bill did not require its use. Her clothes had for some time been wholly satisfactory. Another day and she would receive another hundred and fifty."3 Dreiser's little actress now has everything she wanted: money, clothes, comfort, recognition, rich men proposing marriage. And still she thinks, and cannot help thinking, "she must have more - a great deal more."
What more, I wonder, can Carrie want? What is the meaning of desire that so exceeds the demands of need it seems insatiable? In the 1950's, the psychologist Abraham Maslow popularized the term self-actualization as a synonym for the human "desire to become more and more what . . . one is capable of becoming."4 Self-actualization depended upon an incessant satisfaction of needs that, Maslow believed, were hierarchical, ranging from the physiological need for food to a need for safety, love, self-esteem, and self-fulfillment. Each satisfied need released a new and higher need, making desire insatiable. Maslow was to complain that women who have it all soon begin "asking for more.... After a period of happiness, excitement, and fulfillment comes the inevitable taking it all for granted, and becoming restless and discontented again for More!" 5 The complaint was gratuitous, since Maslow, like Dreiser, considered desire genetic, a biologically determined component of a self driven to seek satisfaction.
As a naturalistic novel, Sister Carrie dramatized biological determinism through a plot that made every action consequential. No matter how casual a character's gesture, look, or comment seemed, it became the cause of an effect, the stimulus to a response that could produce a significant but unforeseen, and perhaps tragic, outcome. Determinism evoked Dreiser's famous comparisons of human beings to insects and animals, all subject to ineluctable drives that characters experience as desire. Desire is a natural force in the novel, but the objects of desire are socially constructed artifacts imbued with impossible dreams of happiness. Insatiability is thus ontologic and cultural, an innate human condition and the sign of social conditioning. Poor Carrie. Her desire is illimitable, but her imagination is limited to the world of goods. Carrie is always looking to see what else in the world she could want, and as Dreiser shows, she is conditioned biologically and culturally to want and buy -or buy into - what she sees. I would argue that this simple sequence of seeing, wanting, and buying constitutes a deterministic structure of desire underlying naturalistic novels, like Sister Carrie, and advertisements psychologically programmed to motivate the modern consumer. In the 1920's, when creating consumer desire became a serious profession, the well-known behavioral psychologist John B. Watson left his academic chair at The Johns Hopkins University for a position with the J. Walter Thompson Company, at the time a leading advertising agency. Watson's departure from Baltimore uncannily reproduced the circumstances in Sister Carrie that surrounded Hurstwood's flight from Chicago. Both men headed for New York in disgrace, an illicit attraction to a young woman having cost them their marriage, their money, and their respectable positions.6 Unlike Hurstwood, however, the penniless Watson had marketable psychological techniques that would earn him and the advertising firm a fortune - techniques of Pavlovian conditioning said to produce determinable responses to stimuli associated with elemental emotions - fear, pleasure, desire.7 Desiring a beautiful woman, one desires the Coca-Cola associated with her billboard image.8 Desiring beautiful clothes, Carrie yearns for something more she associates with money and material goods.
If we had a literary text devoid of the goods and advertisements associated with consumerism, a text that creates a world without department stores - the site and sight of consumption 9 - without restaurants, theaters, hotels, and the parade of fashion, an emptied world antithetical to Dreiser's Chicago and New York, would it be devoid of Sister Carrie's pattern of desire? What, if anything, could a young woman see and want if she were suddenly transposed to a stark, empty landscape where there is no shop, no need for money, nothing to buy? This is the situation in my second text, a hauntingly resonant story that tests the possibility of escaping American consumerism and undermining the ways of consuming women.
First to Carrie.
As soon as she arrives in Chicago, poor desirous Carrie Meeber begins to dream and despair. Other women have what she, a poor working-girl, can never possess. Wandering through the city, she is a perennial outsider looking in at glamorous interiors through plate-glass windows that, Dreiser tells us, were becoming common in the city - office-building windows and the display windows of Chicago's new department stores. These glass windows revolutionized the relationship between insider and outsider by reflecting an image of the outsider upon goods arrayed within. Just looking thus drew the shopper inside the store as she saw her image superimposed upon and enhanced by dazzling things she was learning to desire. In effect, plate glass changed the concept of shopping from satisfying to creating desire, and turned shopkeepers into "amateur psychologists" delving into the secrets of human behavior. The Parisian shopkeepers who conceived the grand design of The Bon Marche, usually considered the first department store, foresaw that glass windows and cases would bring goods close to a woman who is just looking and evoke in her desires "she did not know she had until she entered the premises." By linking consumption with women and evocative desire, with eroticism, department stores supplanted a longstanding "commercial principle of supply [with] . . . that of consumer seduction.''10
Carrie discovers Chicago's great department stores on her weary quest for "a likely door" - a strange and wonderfully elliptical phrase that suggests possibilities. When the door of a shoe factory opens, Carrie enters hopefully only to discover, all too soon, that she should have been looking for an unlikely door, a magical door to which the key was money. Years later, as she anticipates her first hundred and fifty dollars, she imagines this door finally opening: "What a door to an Aladdin's cave it [the money] seemed to be. Each day . . . her fancies of what her fortune might be, with ample money, grew and multiplied. She conceived of delights which were not - saw lights of joy that never were on land or sea" (334).
Carrie sees what is not there except in imagination, illusion, or desire, and she projects "the perfect joy" she cannot see upon material things readily visible to the eye.1l In this respect, she is not unlike the writer of a literary text, who has imbued its material objects with symbolic meanings, or the reader of the text, who learns to interpret its symbolic codes. Carrie learns by studying the semiotics of clothes, for she understands that "clothing constitutes a generally understood language of society.''12 To learn this language, she becomes a willing student of her lover Drouet, a salesman alert to distinctions in dress, and of women friends like "the dashing Mrs. Vance," a fashion plate who arouses Carrie's desire and envy (230-1). 13 These characters fulfill the function of modern advertisements by associating commodities with satisfaction and social class and creating, in their well-fashioned selves, enviable images for a shopper's avid eye to see. The city itself is, preeminently, a place to see, as Drouet tells Carrie when they first meet on the train to Chicago: "So much to see -theaters, crowds, fine houses" (5): "Chicago is a wonder. You'll find lots to see here" (7). Even Carrie's meager sister Minnie tells her, "You'll want to see the city first," and Carrie responds, "I think I'll look around tomorrow" (9).
Carrie starts out looking for a job and ends up - rather endearingly, I think - looking around in a department store. Just looking transforms Carrie from a shop-girl, the term applied to her, into a shopper who sees an array of commodities she is learning to want. Commodities speak to Carrie in tender voices with erotic overtones sounded by the salesmen of consumerism and condemned by its critics. "'My dear,' said the lace collar she secured
from Partridge's, 'I fit you perfectly; don't give me up.' 'Ah, such little feet,' said the leather of the soft new shoes; 'how effectively I cover them"' (75). Through a typical Dreiserian inversion, Carrie is inarticulate, while little jackets, silk cravats, shiny buttons, and soft shoes speak in a seductive language structured by a grammar of difference, envy, and desire. Carrie succumbs to this language as she makes what Thorstein Veblen famously called "invidious distinctions" and "invidious comparisons.''l4 In Chicago, she compares her shabby, shop-girl clothes to the elegant fashion of lady shoppers who "elbowed" their way past her to buy the "dainty," "delicate," "dazzling" goods displayed in department store showcases. Invidious comparison lights a "flame of envy" in Carrie's heart, and envy arouses mediated desires. Carrie begins to want what she sees other women have - their clothes, and something more incorporated in contemporary definitions of consumerism: the self that is delineated by acquisition.1s In Carrie's mind, clothes make the woman, and in Dreiser's representation, clothes make the man, as the text immediately asserts in its description of Drouet: "Good clothes, of course, were the first essential, the things without which he was nothing" (3).16
The possibility of being or becoming nothing - a fear of anomie - haunts Dreiser's characters. Like Carrie in Chicago and Hurstwood in New York, they know themselves to be dispossessed faceless figures in an urban crowd, and they seek to fashion a distinctive self in the only way they can conceive - by wearing the latest fashion. In the theaters of Broadway, where Carrie will again look for a likely door, clothes obviously create the person: a gray suit transforms Carrie into a "little Quakeress," and a scanty dress, into an oriental harem beauty. On stage where all can see, fashion fulfills its promise to confer identity, though the self it creates is factitious and unstable, subject to fashion's notorious vagaries. Fashion used properly - that is, used up and discarded -makes consumption visible, especially in the theater, where consumption becomes inseparable from acts of seeing and being seen. 17 Intuitively, Dreiser's little actress links seeing with fashion, consumption, and social value. As soon as she sees Hurstwood, she evaluates his worth - his wealth, position, and sexuality - by his "rich" plaid vest, mother-of-pearl buttons, and soft black shoes "polished only to a dull shine." Dull is sometimes better than shiny in a text gleaming with "a thousand lights" (I). Seeing Drouet's shiny patent leather shoes, "Carrie could not help feeling that there was a distinction in favor of soft leather" (73; emphasis added).
Somehow naive little Carrie Meeber has learned to make distinctions, the basis of personal tastes which, we are being told, reflect social class and cultural encoding. 18 Long before the term distinctions was to be given its current prominence in cultural criticism, Dreiser had translated it into dramatic action by having Carrie reject one man for another with superior taste, and into authorial judgment by finding Carrie's taste inferior to that of "the greatest minds" (like, presumably, the writer's). In reflective passages, the text comments upon the many minute but momentous social distinctions made by its characters - characters Dreiser views critically, but with a much-noted compassion. They are, after all, helpless creatures, driven by innate desire and "the lure of the material." In Dreiser's famous, and infamously cliched, image, they are moths drawn to the flame - and Hurstwood is finally consumed.
The etymological root of the words consume, consumer, and consumerism is the Latin consumere: "To take up completely, make away with, eat up, devour, waste, destroy, spend" (OED). While economists define consumption as use in satisfaction of wants, the Oxford English Dictionary gives as its primary meaning "to use up destructively. Said chiefly of fire: To burn up." These contrary meanings suggest why acts of consumption elicit ambivalent feelings, attracting and repelling as using melds into using up or wasting, turning something into nothing. The end of Sister Carrie shows Dreiser's Hurstwood, once a man to be envied, reduced to nothing: he has no money, no clothes, no one, and, dangerously in a market economy, no exchange value. Ironically, the discovery of a likely door marked the beginning of Hurstwood's decline. By coincidence, it seems, Hurstwood finds the door of his employer's safe open on the night he feels most persecuted by his wife, most driven by desire for Carrie, and most befuddled by whiskey. Like Carrie later on, Hurstwood has stumbled upon a magical door and entered Aladdin's cave only to find its golden treasures illusory. The little actress came to see the impotence of money, and the manager saw its evanescence. Hurstwood's estranged wife takes the now ax-manager's small fortune, and detectives take the stolen money. Having lost his money, reputation, and natty clothes, the essence of his self, Hurstwood loses all desire, and his last suicidal words stand as Dreiser's last words in the Pennsylvania edition of Sister Carrie - "What's the use?"
Hurstwood ends up "a nameless body" drifting to a pauper's grave in Potter's Field, and Carrie becomes a name used to advertise the pleasures of illusion: "At Broadway and Thirty-ninth Street was blazing, in incandescent fire, Carrie's name. 'Carrie Madenda,' it read, 'and the Casino Company.' All the wet, snowy sidewalk was bright with this radiated fire." The source of the radiation is "a large, gilt-framed posterboard, on which was a fine lithography of Carrie, life-size" (362). Poor Carrie. She wanted a real self and ends up a fiery figure of consumption. Her blazing billboard image holds her in arrest, as though she were "under the spell of one activity . . . to be sold" - which is how cultural theorists picture goods in a department store window. 19 As an image that promises pleasures only illusion can fulfill, Dreiser's little actress is as much a victim of deception as she is a deceptive representation among all the misrepresentations sadly catalogued in the novel's much-quoted conclusion: "In fine raiment and elegant surroundings, men seemed [to Carrie] to be contented. Hence, she drew near these things. Chicago, New York; Drouet, Hurstwood; the world of fashion and the world of stage - these were but incidents. Not them, but what they represented, she longed for. Time proved the representation false" (368). Today, influential cultural critics contend that representation itself has become an act of falsification as it "substitut[es]] signs of the real for the real itself."20 I quote Jean Baudrillard, who argues, along with Guy Debord and others, that the evocative images circulating in consumer societies have no referents and that the representations these images bring to the eye are devoid of reality, as is the name Carrie Madenda. For Carrie Madenda, like Carrie Drouet, Carrie Murdock, and Carrie Wheeler, is a false name for Carrie Meeber which is, after all, a fiction.
I turn now to 1990 and a story called "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" in Tim O'Brien's highly acclaimed collection of Vietnam War stories, The Things They Carried. 21 The "Sweetheart" is an actual sweetheart of a young American soldier, Mark Fossie, a medic assigned to an aid station deep in the Vietnam bush, near the village of Tra Bong, an ideally remote place, Mark believes - and we are asked to believe - for his childhood sweetheart to visit. Mary Anne Bell duly arrives in Tra Bong, a seventeen-year-old blond with "blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice cream" dressed in "white culottes and this sexy pink sweater" and carrying a plastic cosmetic kit (105, 102). Thus begins a highly compressed story of initiation that describes a young woman's passage from innocence to experience as she assimilates the values of a new world and becomes a new person. To Mary Anne, Vietnam is as immanent with possibilities for self-actualization as Chicago was to Carrie, and as evocative of desire even though it offers nothing to buy. Mary Anne has been transported to a world without department stores, without hotels, restaurants, and theaters, a world beyond "the lure of the material," to recall Dreiser's phrase, and beyond the need for money. Mary Anne never expresses a desire for money and never appears, as Carrie does, with money in hand. Nevertheless, she begins to act like a shopper as she wanders about, just looking. Guarded by three soldiers, Mary Anne browses through the village, a dangerous place run by the Vietcong, looking with such burning intensity at "the wonderful simplicity of village life" - so different from the city's complexities - that "her pretty blue eyes begin to glow."22 If the glow is that of a tourist appreciating the sights of an unknown land, it burns with the acquisitive desire of a consumer. For tourism, like consumerism, begins with seeing and often ends with shopping, getting something. "She couldn't get enough of it," Rat says of Mary Anne (107), and then adds cryptically: "She wanted more" (124).
What more, I wonder, can O'Brien's Mary Anne want in the dematerialized terrain of Vietnam? As with Carrie, clothes offer a significant clue. Mary Anne exchanges her pink sweater for "filthy green fatigues" which, like Carrie's little tan jacket, mark her initiation into a rite of passage. Short stories require a rapid transit, and Mary Anne falls almost precipitously "into the habits of the bush. No cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandana. Hygiene became a matter of small consequence" (109). Giving up deodorant, creams, maybe even soap, this "half-equipped little knight," to borrow Dreiser's phrase, equips herself with "a standard M-10 automatic assault rifle" (113). She learns how to disassemble the weapon, care for its parts, and shoot. She discovers "she had a knack for it" (109). Like the re-fashioned Carrie who sees a new and prettier, plumper self in the mirror, Mary Anne becomes a new and "different person." She develops "a new confidence in her voice, a new authority in the way she carried herself " (109), and new visions of her future with Mark, less definite and less conventional. When Mark, troubled by the changes he sees, mentions home, she tells him to forget it: "Everything I want, she said, is right here.... To tell the truth, I've never been happier in my whole life. Never" (109-10). Hedonistic desire keeps Mary Anne in Vietnam, Carrie in Chicago, and consumers in the marketplace where, economists claim, they expect to purchase pleasure, the implicit promise of goods waiting to be possessed. In a single statement, Carrie wonderfully compresses the intention, desire, and future of the consuming woman: "She would be happy."23
For Mary Anne, as for Carrie, happiness centers upon the self - or more precisely, upon self-actualization, a dream of more fostered by individualistic societies.24 Mary Anne wants to actualize "possibilities" deep within her self that draw her to the "dark green mountains to the west." "The wilderness seemed to draw her in," Rat says, describing a helplessness before determining forces that links America's sweetheart to Carrie as a naturalistic character. Driven by innate desire, neither can help being drawn to what she sees as symbolically charged means to happiness: clothes, comfort, and fame; or secrecy, violence, and death. Through different means, each becomes a different person, different from her uninitiated self, outwardly different from each other, and inwardly different from the real self each desired. Even the color of Mary Anne's eyes changes, turning from cheerleader blue to jungle green. "I saw those eyes of hers," Rat says, "I saw she wasn't even the same person no more" (117).
Mary Anne is changed by the Green Berets, who evoke her desire for killing, just as sporty men and fashionable women had evoked Carrie's desire for clothes and jewelry. Made in Vietnam could be the label on Mary Anne's new jewelry, a necklace strung with human tongues: "Elegant and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable" (120). 25 Silent and yet eloquent, the eviscerated tongues speak persuasively, telling of seductions that leave a woman solitary after drawing her from one dream to another, one man to another. Carrie leaves Drouet for Hurstwood, and Mary Anne leaves Mark for the Green Berets. The mutual attraction between America's sweetheart and these lethally secretive men is inexplicable but irrevocable: Mary Anne follows the Greenies into the night to become a killer.26 Like Carrie, transformed into an incandescent fiery image of consumption, Mary Anne turns into a nocturnal silhouette, the residue of a consuming fire ignited by desire. She is consumed - and her killer self consummated - through a desire to devour what she sees: "Vietnam, I want to swallow the whole country - the dirt, the death - I just want to eat it and have it there inside me. That's how I feel. It's like . . . this appetite . . . but it's not bad . . . it's like I'm full of electricity and I'm glowing in the dark - I'm on fire almost - I'm burning away into nothing - but it doesn't matter because I know exactly who I am. You can't feel that anywhere else" (121; original emphasis). O'Brien's narrator describes Mary Anne as "lost inside herself," but she believes she has found her self by incorporating into her own body Vietnam, the war, death. Like Carrie, she ends up the embodiment of the values of her world and, like Carrie, strangely disembodied. Carrie becomes a fiery image, and Mary Anne, burned out by fire, becomes an ominous shadow slipping through the jungle where she is now "part of the land." Wearing her necklace of human tongues, she spreads silence over this land, though she has given a voice to the narrator Rat Kiley and the writer Tim O'Brien, who ends by saying, "She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill" (125). 27
Mary Anne Bell belongs to a new breed of woman personified in recent movies and novels by the "hard body," so called in a 1991 article in New York Magazine entitled "Killer Women."28 In such movies as "Terminator II," these new women emerge as "combat-trained outlaws" who establish a "new standard of beauty" by appearing, like Mary Anne, without makeup, jewelry, or fancy clothes. For her role as terminating woman, the actress Linda Hamilton trained for months to transform her image - and her body - from that of the good, winsome, fashionably dressed Beauty she played in the television series "Beauty and the Beast." To become a Killer Woman, the Beauty who saved man from his bestiality had to release the violent impulses of the Beast suppressed within her breast.29 Drawn to the site of men's violence, she will transform herself through an act of consumption - a suicidal gesture of discarding or destroying her own self. In the movies, Thelma and Louise consume their socially formed selves by dying; in O'Brien's story, Mary Anne burns away into nothing. The Killer Woman has survived, however, to become a popular pinup in Desert Storm. Appearing originally in a jeans advertisement, she reappeared in the desert war zone: a "slim, lanky" figure, "tough, fit, cool, and lethal," she leans against a police car and casually dangles a carbine - a dream woman ready for combat.30
The famous exponent of hard bodies, Jane Fonda, has said that Playboy images from Vietnam made her look at her body with "new eyes."31 The softness of her Barbarella-self, she saw, had become complicit in the sexual consumption of Vietnamese women who were having themselves "Americanized" - eyes rounded, breasts enlarged - to enhance their value to American soldiers. Fonda's famous slogan to "go for the burn" thus traces back, through sordid images of consumption, to Vietnam, where O'Brien's Mary Anne Bell would carry out its mandate by "burning away into nothing." A simple but insatiable desire for profit ties this savagely exhilarating and anorexic vision of the burning body to a multibillion-dollar diet industry, as well as to books and movies.32 Fonda turns the story of her self-transformation into a personal testimony that will help sell her aerobics Workout Book, just as countless products - face creams, perfumes, cigarettes - are sold through a movie star's endorsement. The New York Magazine attributes the emergence of "Killer Women" movies to the film industry's notorious pursuit of profit: "To appeal to women repulsed or bored by male action movies, they ["movie-moguls"] have created these woman warriors" (29). Killer Women sell. They have, indeed, become stylish artifacts used to sell designer killer clothes: black leather bike jackets, gold hip-hop chains, Chanel ammo bands - violence fashioned into chic.33
This trajectory of an American woman consumer, traced with elliptical starkness by two male writers, raises aesthetic, moral, and cultural questions. Does the recurrence of the same deterministic structure of desire in stories set in different times and places point to static elements in human behavior, in the literary forms that represent them, and in the shaping forces of consumerism? Is O'Brien's Mary Anne, a woman wandering in a global village, continuing an itinerary laid out for Dreiser's Carrie? Chicago, New York, and, eventually, Tra Bong - might this have been Carrie's progression if ninety years after Sister Carrie, Dreiser were to describe a young desirous woman following her man to Vietnam? There she would encounter a land seemingly beyond the consumer capitalism emerging in Chicago and New York, and yet a land that had become the ultimate site of consumption - and the sight of an ultimate consumption - as it was destroyed and wasted, consumed by the fires of war. Indeed, Baudrillard sees the Vietnam War as an insidiously involuted expression of modern consumer capitalism that functions as a society of the spectacle -to use Debord's phrase.34 In this society, as in Carrie's world, "it's all theatre."35
When O'Brien's narrator accused his fellow soldiers of having "blinders on about women . . . [about how] gentle and peaceful they are" (117), he apparently meant to clear himself of sexism. Nevertheless, I believe, his story redacts a stereotypical male fear of females who step out of their prescribed social roles. Drawn into the heart of darkness that is war, Mary Anne rejects these roles to become, she believes, her real self, the killer woman who devours, wastes, and wastes away into a fiery image. Moralizing about a woman's fall, the narrator fitfully forgets that men created Vietnam, men transported Mary Anne to Tra Bong, and insidiously secretive men mediated her desires. As she enters a man's world and begins to want what she sees, Mary Anne seems sadly, if savagely, "a Waif amid Forces," to use Dreiser's words, a "wisp in the wind," a moth drawn to the flame.
Mary Anne's helpless submission to her surroundings dramatizes Dreiser's dictum that to see is to succumb. Defining the human mind as "a mere reflection of sensory impressions," and tracing impressions to the "flood of things" (103) Dreiser made an equation between seeing and succumbing irrefragable. Carrie's mind is flooded by sensory impressions of the city's material things, and it succumbs; Mary Anne's mind is flooded by impressions of darkness, mystery, and violence. As in Sister Carrie, the most striking impressions in The Things They Carried are visual, and they are all of war. Another story in the collection states explicitly that war "fills the eye. It commands you" (85) a view shared by an Esquire article entitled "Why Men Love War." Written by a Vietnam veteran, the article traces men's intense feeling for war, a feeling fit to be called love, to a "fundamental [human] passion . . . to see things, what the Bible calls the lust of the eye and the Marines in Vietnam called eye fucking."36 "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" describes its heroine's blue eyes constantly looking, staring, narrowing, squinting, focusing, and reflecting the world they see by turning jungle-green. This physiological response makes visible the force of stimuli so driving and deterministic that they transform desire into a craving need, and the self into a helpless and atavistically craving creature.
Thus O'Brien's story displaces the biological determinism it reinscribes to the trope of addiction, a reality to countless American soldiers: "Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug: that mix of unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure that comes as the needle slips in." Seduced and pleasured, Mary Anne "wanted more ... and after a time the wanting became needing, which then turned to craving" (123-4). Sister Carrie had described the city as a powerful drug, producing upon the newcomer's "untried mind" the same "craving" that "opium" produced upon the body (214) In both texts, the trope of addiction coalesces with that of male seduction as a powerful man overcomes a helpless woman whose passivity requires a passive grammatical voice: Carrie is seduced by Drouet and that "inhuman" or "superhuman" tempter, the city; and Mary Anne is "seduced by the Greenies." Social historians who describe "customer seduction" or commodities "wrapped in an aesthetic of seduction" - common and recurrent descriptions - place modern consumerism within the same paradigm of male power over a fatally submissive female.37
This submission raises complicated moral issues in both texts. In Vietnam, O'Brien's narrator says, everyone comes in clean and goes out dirty; how dirty is "a question of degree" and of moral integrity. In Dreiser's city, we are told, a young woman "becomes better, or . . . becomes worse" (I), though the difference seems equivocal in Sister Carrie.38 Would a poor working-girl have become a better person if she had remained in a shoe factory punching holes for four dollars a week? Did she become worse by accepting "two soft, green, handsome, ten-dollar bills" - perhaps the most sensuously seductive dollar bills in American literature? Should the blue eyed sweetheart of Sigma Chi have remained untouched by the violence she saw in Vietnam and blithely returned home to await marriage and motherhood in a "gingerbread house" with "yellow-haired children"? Or should she have stayed to bear witness in her own being to the atavistic savagery of war by retreating farther and farther into its darkness to become its terrible realization?
Moral questions became legal problems when succumbing to the "drag of desire," as Dreiser phrased it, led to criminal behavior. Oliver Twist's innocent request for more evoked an awful, if comic, prophecy: "That boy will be hung . . . I know that boy will be hung" (37). In Victorian England, respectable middle-class ladies were lured into crime in glamorous new department stores where they suffered sudden attacks of kleptomania, a hitherto unknown disease of women overcome by an irresistible urge to steal. Women apprehended for department-store thefts had a common plea: "I couldn't help myself."39 Like moths drawn to the flame, they responded to glass showcases designed "to force people to possession." Victorian doctors explained that women "forced to steal" had been seduced by material things and victimized by their "sexual organs."40 Treatment of their "pelvic diseases" might entail surgery, to which kleptomaniacs swooning in Victorian courtrooms tearfully assented in hope of being freed from the blight of "biological determinism."
Critics of American consumerism, tracing back to Veblen and beyond, have described the deliberate evocation of acquisitive desire as conspiratorial, if not criminal, a secret attack by "hidden persuaders" - to use Vance Packard's famous phrase - upon an unsuspecting public. Discerning a businesslike "application of the wisdom of advertising, public relations, and behavioral science to . . . modern elections," historians have argued that the political "packaging and sale of candidates to voter-consumers" has resulted in an impersonalized mediated relationship of "packages to packages . . . shaped by managers who are themselves for sale." 41 In this view, everyone in modern politics is a salesman, like Dreiser's perennial Drouet, or like Hurstwood, a manager, or like Carrie, an actor - no one less so, perhaps, than our country's telegenic presidents. The vocabulary of politics has become synonymous with that of an advertising industry concentrated upon image-making, perception (as opposed to a putative reality), and selling.42 Public policies, like brand-name products, have to be sold, and politicians, like traveling salesmen, energetically take to the road or to the shopping mall to buy a pair of socks.
Historians have claimed that the commodification of books, begun with the invention of the printing press, created an autonomous space for verbal advertisements. Books destined for a competitive marketplace carried the printer's own unabashed testimonials to their excellence. In time, these commendatory inserts were printed separately and distributed as publicity flyers, the precursors, historians believe, of modern advertisements and the endorsements still printed in today's paperbacks.43 The Things They Carried contains six introductory pages of single-spaced excerpts from glowing reviews not unconscious of their incitements to buy. "If I can't get you to go out and buy this book," one reviewer writes, "then I've failed you." The profuse advertising of The Things They Carried contrasts with the lack of advertising that initially repressed the sales of Sister Carrie. The story of the novel's virtual censorship is famous in literary history both for its apocryphal versions, generated mainly by Dreiser, and its elusive truth.44 In 1907, Sister Carrie was reissued by a publisher apparently impressed by a comment on the novel's appearance and quick disappearance: "In this country, the popularity of a book depends upon "judicious advertising."'45 The publisher's ten-page advertisement recapitulating Sister Carrie's infamous lack of advertising suggested that the novel had been considered too daring, too raw, for the American public. What better way to sell the book?
Today, the serious consideration being given to Sister Carrie attests to its sheer inexhaustibility.46 Absorbing all the attention it has received, the text, like its insatiable heroine, cries out for more, the promise of a future that seems assured by its past. The future of The Things They Carried remains to be seen. It may be bought and used and then used up. Or it may withstand the fickleness of fashion, critical and literary, and resist consumption through the strength of its highly praised style. Although clumsiness of style or lack of style has been considered Dreiser's weakness, Sister Carrie is a book that critics, in their insatiability, cannot consume. And yet unless it is consumed -bought, read, used, and used again - it ceases to exist. It needs for its self-actualization, its fulfillment as a work of art, the consumerist society that had depleted its characters, even the woman it enhanced, a rich and famous actress. Like Carrie Meeber, the novel must always have more: more readers, more appreciation, more sales - ultimately, an elusive more that represents the mystery of human desire.
"The ultimate meaning of desire," we have been told, "is death,"47 but the death of desire in characters who seem beyond consumerism - because like homeless Hurstwood they cannot buy, or like Mary Anne they see nothing material worth buying - turns out, in the two texts I compare, to be deadly. When Hurstwood comes to the end of desire, when he does not want anything more, he dies. When Mary Anne has everything she wants, she becomes an agent of death. Wanting more, Carrie goes on living, dreaming of a happiness that, fortunately perhaps, she will never know. Thus she remains, forever, the producer's ideally insatiable consumer.
I began by asking what more Carrie could want and ended with an unlikely sister to Carrie - a young woman who had found "everything" she wanted, so she said, in the violence of Vietnam. This kinship might have been anticipated if one believes, as various critics do, that Vietnam was as much the site of late capitalism as the modern American city, and that capitalism and a culture of consumption are inextricably intertwined.48 In Sister Carrie, the mediation of consumerism through a woman's desire produced a sequence of seeing, wanting, consuming, and being consumed that I find reproduced in the distinctly different postmodern text of the "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong." Strangely enough, time has not altered the sequential pattern of desire inscribed in Dreiser's Sister Carrie. Nor has a drastic change of setting disrupted its design. Indeed, the ways of consuming women in naturalistic fiction appear to be static, impervious to the historical changes effected by a seemingly radical change of setting, of time and place. In a Vietnam bush as in burgeoning Chicago, a fixed relationship between stimulus and response determines female behavior and transforms an innocent young American woman, a small-town girl from the Midwest, into a consumer. Her desire, her insatiability, seems synonymous with a sense of lack she finds irradicable.49 Seeing what others have and she lacks, this unconsummated and consuming woman believes that she must have more, and that having more will allow her to become (as Maslow put it) more and more the person she sees herself capable of becoming. This desire for self-actualization, a culturally inscribed individualistic desire, turns Carrie and Mary Anne into consuming women whose generic similarities should not remain hidden by differences in appearance. A fashionably dressed Broadway star and a camouflaged killer waiting to strike - in either guise, naturalism's consuming woman glows with a devouring fire. In Sister Carrie, the fiery image of a body that had been consumed with desire appears in an advertisement designed to ignite desire in others. In O'Brien's story, a burning body becomes the site of consumption as a woman is consumed by what she sees in a land wasted by war. There, as in America's cities, her fate, like her desire, is determined, in both settings, the place where determinism and desire intersect is the body of a gazing woman. The woman herself is a static figure, arrested in a pattern of desire, but she generates a vortex of forces that flow inexorably toward consumption and death. Men should fear this woman, for a man who gazes upon her may be doomed, as may be those upon whom she gazes. In Sister Carrie, Hurstwood becomes a nameless pauper who must die because his eyes once glowed at the sight of Carrie Meeber. In "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," nameless others die because Mary Anne Bell's eyes glow with the green of Vietnam's jungle.
As for Demi Moore the actress - like Carrie, she ended up with money. In the movie Indecent Proposal, the actress portrays a woman who sells her body for a million dollars. One thing has changed in the last hundred years: a consuming woman's price and reward. In Dreiser's novel, poor Carrie Meeber accepted two soft, green, handsome ten-dollar bills for her desirous self, and when she had "in hand" a hundred and fifty dollars, Carrie Madenda the actress found herself rich beyond belief and, for a moment, happy.
1. Peter Wilkinson, "Why Demi Moore Wants More," Redbook, January 1993, pp. 48-51 and 91-92. The blurb for the article reads "Don't envy her perfect body, happy marriage, wealth, or success. Though this actress has it all, she's not yet satisfied" (48). Perhaps one clue to Demi Moore's desire for more lies in her eyes: "delicate, slightly startled ovals that take in every detail" (48, emphasis added). As this essay will argue, what the eyes "take in', determines what the person wants literally to take in or consume.
Needless to say, each of these subjects is surrounded by a mass of critical theory and controversy, most of which I must relegate to the ellipsis in which I have placed historical time. However, I would like to mention some of the works that have helped me see the links between literary naturalism and desire, consumption, and determinism. From a collection of essays on free will, I have taken as a working definition of determinism the succinctly stated necessitarian view that "every event and state of affair is 'causally necessitated' by preceding events and states of affairs" (Free Will, ed. Gary Watson [New York: Oxford University Press, 1982], p.. 2). Critics usually equate literary naturalism with determinism, particularly Dreiser's critics who see the writer linking cause and effect into a binding chain. In an early essay (1943), Philip Rahv distinguished naturalism from realism by "its treatment of the relation of character to background." In naturalistic fiction, he said, the individual is not merely "subordinate to" his background; he is "wholly determined by it." Rahv pointed to Dreiser as an example of an American writer who plotted "the careers of his characters strictly within a determinative process,, ("Notes on the Decline of Naturalism," Documents of Modern Literary Realism, ed.. George J. Becker [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963], p. 584). Donald Pizer has slightly modulated the equation of naturalism with determinism by substituting circumscribed for determined. At the "ideological core of American naturalism," he writes, is "a sense of man more circumscribed than conventionally acknowledged" (Twentieth Century American Literary Naturalism: An Interpretation [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982], p. 6). Lee Clark Mitchell has linked naturalism to a "scientific concept of determinism" according to which the individual's actions are subject to "insidious" constraints, and the writer's attention directed "to innate traits and socialized habits . . . [and] scenes of coercions" ("Naturalism and the Languages of Determinism," The Columbia Literary History, ed. Emory Elliott et al. [New York: Columbia University Press, 1988], pp. 534-49). Contributing to the rise of literary naturalism, Mitchell says, was the growth of industrialism, urbanization, and "a new consumer society" (527). In his recent study of American naturalism, Mitchell has shifted his critical attention from "scientific to linguistic forms of determinism," for reasons he explains in a preface entitled "Taking Determinism Seriously" (Determined Fictions: American Literary Naturalism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1989], pp. vii-xvii. Mitchell's reading of An American Tragedy focuses upon "the psychopoetics of desire"; desire is an inevitable subject in writing about Dreiser who, as we know, enticed his Cowperwood novels A Trilogy of Desire.
Among the many subjects drawn into debates over determinism is women's dress - a subject of consequence to Dreiser's Carrie and hence to this essay. Women's dress, we are told, still raises the "ever-controversial question" of determinism by asking whether biological differences between women and men determine differences in their dress (Mary Ellen Roach, "The Social Symbolism of Women's Dress," The Fabrics of Culture: The Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment, ed. Justine M. Cordwell and Ronald A. Schwarz [New York: Mouton, 1979], pp.4I5-22). Like fashion, material culture has been linked to determinism. See, for example, Jules David Prown's claim that "[t]he fundamental attitude underlying the study of material culture is, as with most contemporary scholarship, a pervasive determinism" ("Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method," Winterthur Portfolio: A Journal of American Material Culture 17 : 6; original emphasis).
As we know, the influence of deterministic thinking upon the conduct of human affairs has been continuous, profound, and highly consequential; and as we shall see, it has figured in the development of American advertising, architecture, and politics, at least as they are represented in much theoretical and critical writing and in American literature. This is not to say that the deterministic views inscribed in various disciplines and cultural theories remain unchallenged.
See, for example, the challenge to classical views on the determination of human needs made by Edmond Pretteceille and Jean-Pierre Terrail in Capitalism, Consumption and Needs, trans. Sarah Matthews (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985).
3 Sister Carrie, ed. Donald Pizer (New York: Norton, 1970; 1900), p.335. Another Sister Carrie, published in 1993, transports Dreiser's waif to a surrealistically hip contemporary American scene where she finds adventure in the advertising world, prostitution, and murder. See Lauren Fairbanks, Sister Carrie, a Novel (Normal, III.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1993). Among this novel's bizarre and zany scenes is one in which Carrie responds to a Narrator's synopsis of a "masterpiece" that describes a "sweet lime girl" who has "all her needs met." "The poor little fuck - will she ever be this happy again?," the narrator asks. "Is she enjoying it at all? Probably not enough, we all tend to think there is MUCH MORE" (61; original emphasis). Carrie's incongruous comment, "How strange," fits into all the incongruities of this strange and irreverent book. I read Fairbanks's book after I had written this essay, and though it interests me as an attempt to imagine a contemporary Carrie, it does not serve as the test case I am seeking, which is a text that imagines a contemporary woman transported to a place where there is nothing to buy.
4 Abraham H. Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation (1943)," Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper & Row, 1970; 1954), p.46. Maslow finds self-actualizing people "flexible," capable of adapting themselves realistically to any people, any environment" (xxi; original emphasis). Such flexibility allows the consuming women of this essay to adapt to the disparate and difficult settings described in the texts I discuss. Maslow contextualizes a desire for more within a psychological theory that seeks benignly to show people the way to happiness. Others contextualize the desire within an economic system that seeks to maximize profit. To sell products, advertisers, for example, need to understand that "[w]e all want more," we all measure our own improvement, as well as social change, "by getting more" (Ronald Berman, Advertising and Social Change [Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1981], pp.68-9).
5 Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp.98 and xvi-xvii.
6 See David Cohn, J. B. Watson, The Founder of Behaviorism: A Biography (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979). "When Watson got off the train in New York," Cohn writes, "he had no money, no job and no prospects" (159). If the name were switched from Watson to Hurstwood, the sentence could have appeared in Sister Carrie - and, with another switch, in Dreiser's biography. In 1903, when Sister Carrie seemed a dismal failure, Dreiser arrived in New York depressed and impoverished, lamenting the failure of his novel and his life. Cohn's description of the "indiscreet affair" that led to Watson's terrible troubles also applies to Dreiser and to his character, each of whom had been drawn irresistibly and ruinously to a young woman who "stirred something very deep in him" (Watson, 148). Cohn is misleading, however, when he says that Watson arrived in New York with "no prospects," for the behaviorist had long thought of applying his psychological theories to business, particularly the business of advertising. The rupture in his academic career became an opportunity for Watson to begin another career which he saw as a logical extension of his experimental work: he would apply the techniques of behavioral conditioning he had studied in the laboratory to the marketplace. On Watson's belief that psychology should be used as an instrument of "social control" and, specifically, used in advertising to create "a society of consumers," see Kerry W. Buckley, "The Selling of a Psychologist: John Broadus Watson and the Application of Behavioral Techniques to Advertising," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 18 (1982): 207-21.. Buckley quotes Watson as saying that "the consumer is to the manufacturer, the department stores and the advertising agencies, what the green frog is to the physiologist" (212).
7 Cohn attributes Watson's phenomenal success in advertising to the "great god, the consumer [who] had made Watson so rich that he lived at one of the best addresses in Manhattan." Like Dreiser, Watson "began to dress in a very dandified fashion" that may have made him look "more attractive," though it gave him, Watson's biographer says, "a slightly ridiculous air in retrospect" (192). Obviously, men re-fashion themselves through their clothes as hopefully as women (or women characters), at once seeking and advertising a new self through a change of costume. Like Watson the psychologist, Dreiser the writer became a supersalesman. For after he had fallen into bad times in New York, he went on to earn the considerable salary of $10,000 as director of the Butterwick publications, The Designer, The New Idea Woman's Magazine, and The Delineator, magazines advertising Butterwick dress patterns and featuring articles on women's fashion. I should add that eventually Dreiser lost this position because of "amorous misconduct."
That the psychologist could teach the businessman how to "coerce" the consumer into buying was the belief of William Dill Scott, Ph. D., with whom Watson and others were affiliated in organizing the Scott Company, a consulting firm that showed businessmen how to use psychology to their profit. The author of influential books on the art of advertising, Scott held various prestigious positions, including that of Director of the Psychological Laboratory of Northwestern University and Director of the Bureau of Salesman Research, Carnegie Institute of Technology. In one of his books, Scott "assumed the pleasant task" of "systematizing" and "presenting" the "subject of the psychology of advertising" in a form that would "be of distinct practical value to all who are interested in business promotion" ( The Psychology of Advertising: A Simple Exposition of the Principles of Psychology in Their Relation to Successful Advertising [Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1917], pp. 5-6).). He dedicated another book to the "YOUNG BUSINESS MAN . . . who is studying to make his arguments more convincing and his suggestions more coercive" (Influencing Men in Business: The Psychology of Argument and Suggestion, rev. Delton T. Howard, Ph. D. [New York: The Ronald Press, 1928; 1911]; emphasis added). Scott believed that modern psychology showed man to be "a creature who rarely reasons" ( 35), and women to be particularly impetuous buyers whose "deliberation is interrupted by a sudden extreme feeling of value" that attaches itself to a commodity (62). The irrational choices women make, especially in the marketplace, usually seem to psychologists more marked and censorious than those made by men. A putatively objective "mathematical examination" of the forces that determine choice ends up pointing to the particular irrationality of women: "Women in a supermarket are susceptible to the tricks of the advertiser and packer; they do not make rational choices" (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications [New York: George Braziller, 1968]). Even irrational choices can be conditioned and manipulated, Bertalanffy asserts, illustrating once again how human behavior can be deliberately determined: "In our society, it is the job of an influential specialty - advertisers, motivation researchers, etc. - to make choices irrational which essentially is done by coupling biological factors - conditioned reflex, unconscious drives - with symbolic values" (115-16; original emphasis).
Among the many studies explicating the ways that symbolic values are imputed to material things - aside from Marx's quintessential study of the fetishization of commodities in Capital and of consumption in Grundrisse - I list here only a few highly selected works pertinent to this essay (and these are aside, also, from the Frankfurt school of critical theory to which many on this abbreviated list are indebted): Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Roots of the Consumer Culture (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976); Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1979); W. F. Haug, Critique of Commodity Aesthetics (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 1986; 1971); Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987); Patricia Springborg, The Problem of Human Needs and the Critique of Civilisation (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981); Richard Lichtman, The Production of Desire: The Interation of Psychoanalysis into Marxist Theory (New York: Macmillan, The Free Press, 1982); Valerie Steele, Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); The Psychology of Fashion, ed. Michael R. Solomon (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1985); Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990). Though this last book begins in London with the spectacle of the Crystal Palace, it goes on to refer to American fiction and, perhaps fittingly, bestows upon Dreiser's character yet another false name, erroneously calling the little actress Carrie Meacham (207).
8 Writing at the time of the Cold War, E. J. Kahn, Jr., wondered why the Communists "picked" on Coca-Cola as an emblematically invidious American product. "It's because Coca-Cola is a champion of the profit motive, and wherever it goes, it spreads profits," a Coca-Cola man explained: "Everyone who has anything to do with the drink makes money and becomes a member of the bourgeoisie" (The Big Drink: The Story of Coca-Cola [New York: Random House, 1960], p.. 32).
9 According to Stuart Ewen and Elizabeth Ewen, "The department store was more than a site for consumption; it was the sight of consumption.... Shopping was a perceptual adventure" (Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982], p. 68; original emphasis). Or in the words of Marx, "The need which consumption feels for the object is created by the perception of it" (Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus [New York: Vintage, 1973; written in the winter of 1857-8 and published in German in 1939 and 1953], p. 92). For an analysis of how the considered use of space in department stores reflects a managerial purpose to "indoctrinate the customer in the culture of consumption," see Susan Porter Benson, "Palace of Consumption and Machine for Selling: The American Department Store, 1880-1940,"," Radical History Review 21 (1979): 199-221. Benson argues that department store managers consciously manipulated space in order "to convey a lofty impression of consumption as the key to status, happiness, and personal fulfillment while at the same time attending to the crasser mechanics of buying and selling" (202). Benson's phrase "Palace of Consumption" calls to mind Daniel J. Boors tin's earlier discussion of the first department stores as "Consumer Palaces" (The Americans: The Democratic Experience [New York: Random House, 1973], pp. 101-9).). Boorstin traces a historical relationship between the rise of department stores with their plate-glass windows and the growth of city crowds and public transportation systems, in particular, streetcar lines (which figure significantly in Sister Carrie). William R. Leach has described "a transformative moment in history" that occurred when women first entered newly designed and conceptualized department stores ("Transformation in a Culture of Consumption: Women and Department Stores, 1890-1925,"," Journal of American History 71 : 319- These grand settings evoked an "upsurge of longing, a diffuse desire for something better . . . [that] was a hallmark of the consumer culture" (337). Leach has expanded his study of American consumer culture in his recently published book Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1993). Land of Desire appeared after I had written this essay, for which it provides (if belatedly) a detailed historical context. In The Bourgeois and the Bibelot (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1984), Remy G. Saisselin describes the general impact of early American consumer habits upon shoppers, noting in passing characters in Dreiser's Sister Carrie and Zola's The Ladies' Paradise who encounter the department store as a "cultural space" (33-49). For an analysis of how the "sensual appeal of stores and the central modern experience of shopping" have "affected the novelistic sensibility" of William Dean Howells, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as of Dreiser, see Neil Harris's interesting essay, "The Drama of Consumer Desire," Yankee Enterprise: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures, ed. Otto Myr and Robert C. Post (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981), pp. 189-216..
The Golden Age of Shop Design: European Shop Interiors 1880-1939,, ed. Alexandra Artley (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1976), pp. 6-7.. For a history of The Bon Marche, see Michael B. Miller, The Bon Marche: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981). Drawing upon the Bon Marche for the setting and plot of his novel The Ladies' Paradise (Au bonheur des dames), Emile Zola dramatized the myriad ways that a department store sought to seduce women into buying. See The Ladies' Paradise (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992, published in English by Henry Vizetelly in 1886). In a study of English department stores, Alison Adburgham claims that Bainbridge's of Newcastle and Kendal Milne & Faulkner of Manchester, rather than The Bon Marche, should be "nominated as the first department stores" (Shops and Shopping 1800-1914: Where, and in What Manner the Well-dressed Englishwoman Bought Her Clothes [London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964], p. 137).
11 Drawing upon Marx and his understanding of the commodity as fetish, William Leiss describes "a dynamic interaction between the material and symbolic correlates of human needing" (The Limits of Satisfaction: An essay on the problem of needs and commodities [Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1976], p. 67). Leiss states the widely shared view that through a complex "network of symbolic mediations" modern market economies "orient [human] needs entirely toward commodities" (67). In his study of the symbolic value of goods, Grant McCracken relates the need for self-refashioning to consumption as it is expressed through purchases. Acts of buying can initiate the creation of a new self as they initiate a new rite of passage. See Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988). Even the chair on which both Carrie and Hurstwood famously rocked owed its popularity, at least in good part, to advertisements that imbued it with symbolic values. As Richard L. Bushman explains, rocking-chairs melded the values of "comfort and gentility," a combination touted in early-nineteenth-century advertisements: "The refined rocker stood for the changes going on . . . as the American middle classes . . . tried to assimilate parlor culture into the modest domestic economies of ordinary people" (The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992], p. 272). In seeking out general "clues" to the "historical roots of consumer culture" in Sister Carrie, Michael Schudson notes that for a woman "the road to success" is paved not "by work and career alone but by lifestyle and consumption" (Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society [New York: Basic Books, 1984], p. 148). We should note, however, that Carrie achieves success by working and that her style of life as a conspicuous consumer follows upon, rather than paves the way to, her success as an actress. This is not to minimize the importance of sex, sexuality, and gender in Dreiser's novel, but to point out that Carrie is, significantly, a working woman. (I might note parenthetically that Schudson's discussion of Sister Carrie contains some minor misreadings: Carrie does not actually "seek a job at several department stores" - she feels too inferior and intimidated; the good-natured and affable Drouet is hardly "sinister" ; and Carrie's "world" is not really of the "1880s" , as the novel begins in August 1889, and events of the 1890s- like the streetcar strike - significantly affect the plot).
12 Channels of Desire (1982), p. 126.
13 On the importance of clothes to the so-called fashionables of Carrie's time, see Lois W. Banner, American Beauty (New York: Knopf, 1983), pp. 17-27. As a subject for study, fashion has interested a vast range of theorists and cultural critics, figuring peripherally in works of diverse interests, and centrally in articles and books that have approached the subject from diverse directions. Approaching fashion as a system of signs, Roland Barthes presented a semiological interpretation that he himself declared out-moded - old-fashioned - in his Foreword to The Fashion System, trans. Matthew Ward and Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983; 1967). Alison Lurie also approached clothes as a sign system in her much more easy-going, popular history of fashion, The Language of Clothes (New York: Random House, 1981). Both semiotic studies confirm the view expressed in Ewen and Ewen's polemical work, Channels of Desire (1982), that "clothing constitutes a generally understood language of society" (126). This is a language that Banner's "fashionables" knew and Carrie was acquiring. For a considered discussion of the differences between "the codes of clothing and language" and the significance of these differences to the study of material culture, see McCracken, "Clothing as Language," Culture and Consumption, pp. 57-70..
Through an ingeniously punning use of language, Jacques Lacan has turned the "profound bivalence of . . . analytical theory on the subject of the symbolism of clothes" into a means of evaluating "the impasse reached with the notion of the symbol . . . in psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-I960, ed. Jacques-Main Miller, trans. Dennis Porter [New York: Norton, 1992, published originally in 1986 as Le Seminaire], p. 226). Lacan creates "a fable" concerning "the power of cloth" as it reveals the relationship between hiding (by clothing) and the hidden (the phallus, of course), between need and desire, privation or lack and the frustration, rather than gratification, of desire - among other matters ("The function of the good," pp. 218-30).
The idle fashionable rich whom Carrie longed to emulate were mercilessly dissected by Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Viking Penguin, 1976; 1899). In his essay "The Economic Theory of Woman's Dress" (1894), Veblen distinguished between clothing as articles of "comfort," and dress as "display of wasteful expenditure" (Veblen, Essays In Our Changing Order, ed. Leon Ardzrooni [New York: Viking], p. 68 and passim). When Carrie is a poor shop-girl, her threadbare jacket cannot give her the comfort of warmth. She needs comfort; she wants display. When she becomes an actress; the clothing she wears on the stage is pure display or "dress."
I draw upon a succinct but assured equation of terms: "Consumption - better put, the delineation of a self by acquisition . . ." (Berman, Advertising and Social Change, 107). Dreiser's dictum that clothes make the man undergoes a significant refinement in a modern study of fashion and its relation to the images of art. In Seeing Through Clothes (New York: Viking, 1978), Ann Hollander writes, "Clothes make not the man, but the image of man" (xv). Whereas Dreiser's Carrie wants to look like the well-dressed women she sees, in actuality, Hollander argues, people want to look like the representations of the human figure they see in the art of their times. Hollander describes the eye as mediating for the self as it presents images of images rather than, as writers as diverse as Dreiser and O'Brien show, images of "real" others. I would describe the eye as etiolating the self when it offers a person representations to emulate - which is not to deny that many real people fashion themselves upon artifactual images.
Clothes literally make the man in H. G. Wells's novel The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (1897). Well's famous character loses his social identity when he loses his "appearance" by becoming invisible. In an attempt to become "a human being again" he goes to a department store (aptly named the Omnium) to look for clothes. Like Dreiser, Wells lists everything the store displays: stockings, gloves, lambswool pants, lambswool vests, trousers, lounge jacket, overcoat, slouch hat; and like Carrie, the Invisible Man wants everything he sees. The more clothes he puts on, the more "acceptable" he becomes as a "figure" in the city; without proper clothes he was, as Dreiser put it, "nothing" (chap. 22, "In the Emporium). While the Omnium allows the Invisible Man to find clothes he desperately needs, a department store stirs another strange character, a modern Robinson Crusoe, with desire for superfluity. Inexplicably stranded in an inexplicably depopulated but fully stocked department store, the protagonist of James Gould Cozzens's novella Castaway looks around to find things he might want; the sight of abundance "liberates" him from necessity. "There was no reason why he should not have all the clothes he wanted," he thinks; "More, if he chose, than he could ever use (S.S. San Pedro and Castaway [New York: Random House], pp. 150-2 and 158). Like consuming women, male characters see possibilities for self-actualization in department stores which, as apparently planned, generate a desire for more.
For a discussion of theater as "metaphor for perpetual spectatorship," see Deborah M. Garfield, "Taking a Part: Actor and Audience in Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie," American Literary Realism 16 (1983): 223-39. For a pertinent psychoanalytic critique of the "relation between viewing and devouring," see Anne Friedberg, "A Denial of Difference: Theories of Cinematic Identification," Psychoanalysis and Cinema, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 36-45. As I have indicated, an etymological meaning of consume is to devour, and an equation of devouring with seeing implies that seeing is, or can be, an act of consumption. In 1935, Otto Fenichel had published a paper on a "symbolic equation" he considered familiar to psychoanalysts, the equation between seeing and devouring. As he put it: "to look at = to devour. When someone gazes intently at an object, we say that he 'devours it with his eyes"' ("The Scoptophilic Instinct and Identification" in The Collected Papers of Otto Fenichel, 1st ser. [New York: Norton, 1953], pp. 373-97). Drawing upon Freud, Fenichel traced the scoptophilic instinct to libidinal drives that may express themselves in sadomasochistic actions, in art, in empathetic feelings, or in displacements such as that from the "phallic eye" to the camera. Thus, the unconscious drive behind seeing can become objectified in an image that the camera creates as it imitates the eye in its power to turn a person into a sight. Indeed, in a much quoted work, Ways of Seeing, John Berger has described woman as an "object of vision" or a "sight" to be seen, in effect, as a commodity available for consumption (New York Penguin Books, 1979; p. 47). Berger's dicta on sexual difference in ways of seeing have influenced feminist film theory and, more generally, studies of women as objects, rather than the subjects, of desire. "Men look at women," Berger wrote; "Women watch themselves being looked at" (47). As a man obsessed with looking at women, Dreiser understood the personal and cultural implications of sexually differentiated ways of seeing and dramatized them in Sister Carrie. Drouet and Hurstwood see Carrie; and Carrie sees clothes. Dreiser's male characters are, however, unusually attentive to, and even obsessed by, clothes, but they generally see clothes as a means of possessing a woman. In An American Tragedy, Clyde Griffiths thinks that a coat displayed in a department store window will win him the young woman he desires; and in Sister Carrie, Drouet woos Carrie in the department store by buying her a fashionable outfit.
In an interesting discursive essay on actresses, Jane Blair points out the implications to be deduced from watching a woman occupy the public space of a theater ("Private Parts in Public Places: The Case of Actresses," Women and Space: Ground Rules and Social Maps, ed. Shirley Ardener [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981], pp. 205-28). Blair believes that in the theater an actress "could be her own woman, and speak her own mind" (p. 212) - a view that I have argued elsewhere does not apply to Dreiser's Carrie as an actress permitted, indeed commanded, to speak the words assigned to her by others. See "Speaking Her Own Piece: Emma Goldman and the Discursive Skeins of Autobiography," American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect, ed. Paul John Eakin (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), pp. 235-66.
18 By defining taste as "the product of upbringing and education," Pierre Bourdieu has linked it to a learning process"; the "eye," he says, "is the product of history reproduced by education" (Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984; published originally as La Distinction: Critique social du jugement, 1979], p. 3). Bourdieu links taste also to a "social hierarchy of . . . consumers" created, he believes, by a differential education, and he argues that the social construction of this hierarchy "predisposes taste to function as markers of 'class"' (1-2). According to him, "the capacity to see (voir)" is a "function of the knowledge (savoir), or [the] concepts . . . [and] words . . . available to name visible things." The history of the construction of seeing and taste is usually forgotten, Bourdieu asserts, but by remembering he believes he can discern "limits" to the "autonomy" that individuals, especially "intellectuals," have in making classifactory distinctions (483-4). Bourdieu proleptically answers the critic who might argue that his views on conditioning are culturally conditioned by asserting that they are based upon "scientific observation" (1). Literary naturalism has also appealed to "scientific observation" as a basis for its representation of human behavior. The basis itself can be questioned, since scientific observation may be a social construction (as various critics and historians now believe).
19 "[I]n shop windows, things stand still . . . under the spell of one activity only; to change owners. They stand there waiting to be sold" (Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology [Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press, 1978], p. 25). Walter Benjamin supported his claim that advertisement is "superior" to criticism by evoking an image of burning incandescence that, I believe, comments obliquely upon Dreiser's billboard Carrie, for this looming life-sized figure, which appeals to "the mercantile gaze," may strike onlookers as more real than Carrie's actual presence. According to Benjamin, "Today the most real, the mercantile gaze into the heart of things is the advertisement," particularly "the huge images" characteristic of an "American style" of display seen in cities. "What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism?," Benjamin asks and then points to a burning image: "Not what the moving red neon sign says - but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt." See "This Space for Rent" in One-Way Street (1955), reprinted in Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978).
20 Jean Baudrillard, "The Precession of Simulacra," Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), Inc., 1983), p. 4. By a simple and deadly transposition, Baudrillard undermines referentiality: "Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum" (11).
21 Tim O'Brien, "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," The Things They Carried (New York: Penguin, 1990), pp. 98-125.
22 O'Brien economically condenses the conventions of a character's first encounter with a new ambient world by focusing upon seeing as the stimulus of desire and the sign of appropriation - a "mutual appropriation" in which Mary Anne will be consumed by the landscape she consumes with her eyes. In a study of early travel writings, Mary Louise Pratt has described this "mutual appropriation" (her phrase) as a way of structuring an "arrival scene": the eye mediates the appropriation as it scans a landscape in which curious others look and "gratify themselves" (Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation [New York: Routledge, 1992], p. 80 and passim; original emphasis). In O'Brien's story, as in much of the travel writing Pratt discusses, the others remain invisible; they are the repressed element in a discourse of conquest. Mary Anne's encounters with others, with Vietnamese, take place at night and are occluded from the story as told; and her "transculturation," to use Pratt's term, assimilates her to the ways of fellow Americans, the deadly night-ravaging Green Berets. In the end, Mary Anne may have joined the Montagnards in the far-distant mountains scanned by her desireful appropriative eyes.
23 In an essay that focuses mainly on Sister Carrie, Philip Fisher describes an "anticipatory self [that] has as its emotional substance hope, desire, yearning, and a state of prospective being for which the notion of acting is merely a convenient cultural symbol" ("The Life History of Objects: The Naturalist Novel and the City," Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel [New York: Oxford University Press, 1985], p. 159). Fisher's essay deals with such details as plate-glass windows, discussed here and, also discussed here, with such themes as the self and its commodification, "the importance of clothes," and "the plot of decline." Fisher sees the city as the essential milieu for the emergence of the details and themes he discusses. To me, the city has also seemed a determining force in Dreiser's writing. In an early study, I had called Sister Carrie "the generic novel" of twentieth-century American city fiction and Dreiser its "generic novelist" (The American City Novel [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970; 1953], p. 64); and in an essay on women in city fiction, I alluded to Sister Carrie as a realization of a subgenre of urban literature I described in "Sister to Faust: The City's 'Hungry Woman' as Heroine," Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 15 (1981): 23-38. Here, however, I am setting the novel within a pattern of determinism that I believe may pertain to women characters as consuming figures who appear in different guises in different times and places - places other than the American city - and yet remain, in their desires and their acts of consumption, essentially the same. By taking a synoptic view of literary developments, rather than concentrating upon a single text and time, I am asking whether certain patterns persist in naturalism, consumption, and the representation of women.
24 Although obviously men are individualistic and consuming, women often become the personification of cultural traits and effects that writers dramatize as destructive. The soldiers in "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" are medics - men who nurse the needy (who have assumed traditional feminine roles), while the most visible and committed killer is a young woman. In another story, the narrator Rat Kiley disintegrates under the pressures of war, and ends up with a self-inflicted wound that will get him discharged from the army. Like Hurstwood, he turns his destructive powers against himself, while Mary Anne, like Carrie, lives on to pursue her self-fulfillment. For a Marxist study of American individualism that discusses the generation of needs and desires in ways pertinent to this essay, see James O'Connor, Accumulation Crisis (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984).
25 Mary Anne's necklace serves the function Richard Slotkin has ascribed to trophies: "to provide visual and concrete proofs of the self-justifying acts of violent self-transcendence and regeneration that produced them" (Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier 1600-1860 [Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1972], p. 564.). The Green Berets' hootch where Mary Anne finds her place as a Killer Woman is full of trophies that "stink of the kill" - the decayed head of a black leopard.... And bones. Stacks of bones - all kinds" (119). Slotkin believes that the myth of regeneration through violence, which he traces back to Indian captivity tales, has been used throughout American history to sanctify imperialistic ventures. Most recently, he says, it helped President Johnson escalate the war in Vietnam. In O'Brien's story, regeneration does not entail rescue of others but transformation of the self: Mary Anne becomes a new woman through acts of violence inseparable from the violation of a land.
Like Slotkin, T. J. Jackson Lears has linked American militarism to "social and personal regeneration," arguing that "war has offered men the chance to escape the demands of bourgeois domesticity" and find the "intensity of experience" they sought (No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture 1880-1920 [New York: Pantheon, 1981], p. 98). The argument Lears develops about men - an argument that links "the quest for intense experience" to militarism, and both to "a secular culture of consumerism" (138) - applies to O'Brien's Mary Anne as she pursues her self-transformation in Vietnam. Lears's argument applies also to Dreiser's Carrie, a character in quest of a "self-fulfillment" she will never attain. The "vision of a self in endless development," Lears writes, "is perfectly attuned to an economy based on pointless growth and ceaseless destruction." Within this economy, advertisers early recognized "the cash value" of manipulating individual needs and underwriting "a notion of self-fulfillment through voracious acquisitions" (304). Both Carrie and Mary Anne succumb to this notion.
26 That a Special Forces unit, made up of meticulously and thoroughly trained individuals, would allow a raw young civilian woman to join its nocturnal guerrilla raids is unbelievable, no more so than that such a woman would be able to visit a lover stationed in Vietnam's In Country - even though O'Brien's narrator insists upon the truth of his account of her arrival, accommodation, and acceptance. O'Brien has acknowledged that "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" is "so far from one's ordinary expectations as to be a fable," but he claims "that of all the stories in the book [it] . . . comes the closest to an actual event." As O'Brien had not "witnessed" the event but "been told about it," he was creating a story out of a story he had heard in order, he said, "to make credible what to me was incredible." (See Michael Coffey's interview, "Tim O'Brien" in Publishers Weekly 237 [February 16, 1990]: 60-1.) What O'Brien finds credible, apparently, is that a woman can be transformed into a killer more lethal and savage than all the male figures in his book, and that any American woman who appears in Vietnam, even if only in a photograph that a soldier carries, brings death (as in the story "In the Field," 192). Robin Moore has also insisted upon the truth of his fictionalized account of the Green Berets, an invented story that brought the then little known United States Army Special Forces to popular attention (The Green Berets [New York: Crown, 1965]). Moore's hyperventilated fiction became the basis of the John Wayne movie that further popularized the Green Berets. Colonel Charles M. Simpson, a group commander, has given a tempered, basically laudatory account of Special Forces missions in his book Inside the Green Berets, The First Thirty Years: A History of the U. S. Army Special Forces (Novata, Calif.: Presidio, 1985). As for Vietnam, Colonel Simpson asks, "Can the full story of Special Forces in Vietnam be told?" (96). This is a recurrent question raised in The Things They Carried.
27 In Bobbie Ann Mason's novel In Country, a novel (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), the young woman protagonist tries to imagine herself into the Vietnam War, in which the father she never knew had died. Horrified to discover that her father had actually killed Vietnamese, she draws a distinction between men and women that O'Brien's story subverts. "Women didn't kill," young Samantha or "Sam" thinks; "Men wanted to kill.... It was their basic profession" 209-10). Even though she wants to disavow the war she had sought to know, Mason's heroine is gratified, rather than repelled, to find her own name - and "all the names of America" - on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. As "SAM A HUGHES," she shares in the killing and cleansing symbolized by the Memorial. Julie Baumgold, "Killer Women: Here Come the Hardbodies," New York Magazine,.24 (1991): 23-9. For an account of real killer women, see Eileen MacDonald's report of her interviews with women who have committed acts of terrorism in Shoot the Women First (New York: Random House, 1991). MacDonald concludes that women terrorists - that is, women who kill to further a political cause - "have proved that a woman is just as capable as a man of learning how to make bombs, plant them, and detonate them, and is just as likely to be a good shot with a gun" (233). Reputedly, the injunction to shoot the women first was given to antiterrorist squads because women terrorists were considered more dangerous than men (xiv).
For a psychoanalytic critique of the relationship between Beauty and the Beast in horror movies, see Linda Williams's insightful essay "When the Woman Looks," Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Mary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellencamp, and Linda Williams (Los Angeles: University Publications of America, 1984), pp. 83-99. Focusing upon the woman as subject rather than object of the gaze, Williams says that in narrative cinema "to see is to desire" (83) - a point I am making about women characters in American naturalistic fiction. The monster that the woman sees in horror films, Williams argues, often is a double of herself, which may explain the "strange sympathy" that creates a sentimental bond between Beauty and the Beast (or America's Sweetheart and the Green Berets).
30 Channels of Desire, rev. ed. (1992), p. 209.
31 Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda's Workout Book (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), p. 20. For a discussion of Jane Fonda's changing personae and their relationship to her reactions to the Vietnam War, see Richard Dyer, Stars (London: British Film Institute, 1979), pp. 72-98. Dyer reproduces a still of Fonda as Barbarella dressed in metal and armed with a gun - the sex goddess as killer woman. In The Things They Carried, "Sweet Janie" appeals to O'Brien's most unappealing character, Azar, who makes an obscene joke about the way Janie "boosts a man's morale" ("The Ghost Soldiers," 232). As Tim the narrator notes, the movie Barbarella had been playing for eight nights in a row - a "lousy movie," he says (232). Dyer says that Fonda expressed her views on war and women through documentary and commercial films (Vietnam Journey, 1972, and Coming Home, 1978). As a movie star, however, Fonda was, like any actor, a "phenomenon of consumption" (19 and 39-48). The relation Dyer traces between the star and salient patterns of consumption, particularly conspicuous consumption, extends the arguments of this essay from fictional characters to actual women who enact in contemporary times the cultural roles that Dreiser's little actress had assumed a hundred years ago.
32 For a highly polemical argument that links a "culture of slimming" to late capitalism, and both to political practice, consumption, and the "manipulation" and "constant frustration of desire," see Hillel Schwartz, Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat (New York: The Free Press, 1986), pp. 327-36 and passim. "An expanding Late Capitalist world require that no one ever be satisfied" (239), Schwartz writes, describing the state of women characters who incessantly want more. Quoting passages in Fonda's Workout Book to which I have referred, as well as passages from Fonda's critic Charles Krauthammer, Schwartz connects capitalism and the culture of slim ming to Vietnam. As Krauthammer had noted, Fonda's prescribed diet was "that of the pre-war Vietnam peasant" (335); and as Schwartz notes, Fonda's exhortation to go for the burn "was compatible with the practices of the Thin Society and the profits of Hollywood capitalism" (336)- as, one might add, befits the current Mrs. Ted Turner.
33 Baumgold, "Killer Women," 23-9.
34 Baudrillard sees the Vietnam War as "a crucial episode in a peaceful coexistence of Communist China with capitalistic America. By its nonintervention China allowed a "passing from a strategy of world revolution to one of a [presumably capitalistic] sharing of forces and empires" (Simulations, 67). Inside Vietnam, Baudrillard argues, the adversaries seemingly in "a struggle to the death," shared a single objective: to liquidate "'primitive' precapitalistic and antiquated structures." Once this end was accomplished, a "scenario" for ending the war could be enacted. Though the deaths were real and "heinous," the war was "a mere simulacrum" (69-70). For an elaborate discussion on the staging of reality through representations that are mere simulacra or appearances, see Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, trans. Malcolm Imrie (London: Verso, 1990; published originally in 1988 as Commentasres sur la socse'te' du spectacle).
35 I quote from a monumental novel of our times, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (New York: Viking, 1973), p. 3. The novel's highly involuted plot grows out of a psychological experiment in Pavlovian conditioning that is comic, bizarre, and ominous; the themes meld determinism with science and sheer spectacle, and both with war and myriad other matters. If I had world enough and time, I might have extended this essay to include Gravity's Rainbow as (m a Faulknerian phrase) the apotheosis and reductum ad absurdum of the essay's arguments.
36 William Broyles, Jr., "Why Men Love War," Esquire IOZ (1984): 56. David Wyatt discusses the connection among looking, desire, and shame that Michael Herr drew m Dispatches, a book based on Herr's experiences as a journalist -essentially an onlooker or witness - in Vietnam. As Wyatt put it, "The endlessness of looking, its uncanny resemblance to the rhythms of desire - this is what Herr discovers in Vietnam, and it finally has less to do with the quantity and texture of the information coming in than with the sheer and permanent logic of the act of looking itself" (Out of the Sixties: Storytelling and the Vietnam Generation [New York: Cambridge University Press], pp. 182-3). Wanting more seems an inevitable consequence of separating "the permanent logic of the act of looking'' from what one sees, whether the dead bodies Herr looks at or the e clothes m a department store window a woman sees. In either instance, the act of looking impresses its logic of insatiability upon the onlooker, who must continue to look and want and, in this endless process, always want more Looking, like desire, is an act that is never ended" (182).
37 See The Golden Age of Shop Design, p. 7; Channels of Desire (1982), p. 74; and Rachel Bowlby Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola (New York: Methuen, 1985), p. 20. See also Antoine Hennion and Cecile Meadel, "The Artisans of Desire: The Mediation of Advertising between Product and Consumer," trans. Geoffrey Bowker, Sociological Theory 7 (1989): 191-209, which describes "the discourse of advertising wandering between marketing and seduction,, (197). These examples can only suggest, and they can hardly suggest, a countless number of references to the seductiveness of commodities and the seduction of the consumer.
38 As Charles Child Walcutt has pointed out in his important early study of naturalism, "Dreiser believes in a determinism which destroys or modifies the moral view of conduct" (American Naturalism: A Divided Stream [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956], p. 193).
39 Elaine S. Abelson, When Ladies Go A-Thieving: Middle-Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 74. Abelson quotes trade journals of the times that advocated the use of department-store window displays to "force" onlookers to want what they see: "'Goods should be so displayed,' the DGR [Dry Goods Reporter] advised, 'as to force people to feel that they really wish to possess them'" (quoted on 73). The "respectable shoplifter" or kleptomaniac presumably felt the full power of the display, and her legal defense, which had "a softening effect in the courts," was that she "literally" had been "'forced to steal"' (185). Lower-class women who stole were simply thieves. Thus the constitution of kleptomania as a mental illness takes place as social class converges with consumerism in the Victorian department stores where women of means can be captivated by display. To suggest the zero point of kleptomania - the historical moment before the disease was differentiated - I have appropriated and emphasized here and in the sentence above terms from Michel Foucault's well-known work, Madness & Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York: Vintage, 1965; published originally in 1961 as Histoire de la Folie), p. x.
That the "kleptomaniac is not a free agent, in respect of his stealing" became a philosophical matter to Sir Alfred J. Ayer, who believed that the kleptomaniac did not, could not, "go through any process of deciding whether or not to steal Or rather, if he [sic] does go through such a process, it is irrelevant to his behavior. Whatever he resolved to do, he would steal all the same" - his, or her, action was determined ("Freedom and Necessity," in Watson, ea., Free Will [n. 2 above], 20). Ironically, department store thefts, whether by kleptomaniacs or ordinary thieves, opened new job opportunities to women, hired as in-house detectives to apprehend the women shoplifters who were increasing in number and decreasing business profits. On the early employment of women detectives in American department stores, see "Women Thief Catchers," Pittsburgh Labor National Tribune, no. 18 (April 23, 1896).
40 See Abelson, When Ladies Go A-Thieving, pp. 173-96, on the medical, legal, and cultural aspects of kleptomania as a newly defined disease associated with women, department stores, and window displays calculated to created irresistible desire. In his "social" (rather than "business") history of The Bon Marche, Miller makes the same associations about kleptomania (The Bon Marche, n. 10 above, 197-206). That Miller reiterates such terms as seduction, irresistible desire, overpowering urges, incitement and stimulation of desire - words connoting force and sexuality - may help explain why he turns briefly but ultimately to medical, legal, and cultural questions about women and kleptomania.
41 Robert B. Westbrook, "Politics as Consumption: Managing the Modern American Election," The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880-1980, ed. Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), p. 145.
42 For an indicting account of the complicity of fashion, selling, and modern American politics, a conscious and invidious complicity, see Debora Silverman, Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986). For a clearsighted analysis of the deliberate muddling of spectacle with secrecy during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, see Michael Rogin, "'Make My Day!': Spectacle as Amnesia in Imperial Politics," Representations 29 (1990): 99-123. Rogin points out that "spectacles, in the Marxist modernist view, shift attention from workers as producers to spectators as consumers of mass culture"; and that "in the postmodern view," as described by Debord and Baudrillard, spectacles produce, among other effects, a skilled diversion of the public's attention from an "object" or "the real" to "its hyperreal, reproducible representation," to mere "display" (106).
43 Elizabeth L. Eisenstadt, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and cultural transformations in early-modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Eisenstadt describes medieval publishers as "both business men and literary dispensers of glory. They served men of letters not only by providing traditional forms of patronage but also by acting as press agents and as cultural impresarios of a new kind.... The printer could take satisfaction in serving humanity at large even while enhancing the reputation of authors and making money for himself" (1: 23; original emphasis). For interesting literary criticism that begins with the prehistory of advertising as contained within the history of printing and proceeds to fictions that contain - and are contained by - advertisements as "one vast textual system," see Jennifer Wicke, Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, & Social Reading (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
44 For two of the many accounts and revisionary tellings of the novel's publishing history, see Jack Salzman, "The Publication of Sister Carrie: Fact and Fiction," Library Chronicle of the University of Pennsylvania 33 (1967): 119-33; and Stephen C. Brennan, "The Publication of Sister Carrie: Old and New Fictions," American Literary Realism 18 (1985): 55-68 For letters and documents involved in the publishing controversy and its "legend," see the Norton Critical Edition of Sister Carrie (n. 3 above), 433-70. Like advertisements, literary criticism can revitalize desire for a text; critics make certain texts fashionable, as we know, and increase their consumption, though critics have also displaced desire from literary texts to literary theory.
45 Quoted from John H. Raferty, "By Bread Alone," Reedy's Mirror (Dec. 5, 1901), in Richard Lingeman, Theodore Dreiser: At the Gates of the City, 1871-1907 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1986), p. 298; see also 415.
46 Even a selective list of indispensable recent studies of Sister Carrie (aside from those already noted) requires more space than this essay allows. The studies I note here suggest the fecund diversity of critical approaches the novel has inspired. See, for example, New Essays on Sister Carrie, ed. Donald Pizer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Walter Benn Michaels, "Sister Carrie's Popular Economy," The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987); Amy Kaplan, "The Sentimental Revolt of Sister Carrie, " The Social Construction of American Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 140-60; June Howard, Form and History in America Literary Naturalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985). Among earlier studies of the novel, I note only two germinal critiques: E O. Matthiessen, Theodore Dreiser (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1951), pp. 55-92; and Ellen Moers, Two Dreisers (New York: Viking, 1969), pp. 73-152. Rene Girard, Desire, Deceit, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Frecerro (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), p. 290.
48 Or this conclusion might have been anticipated if one pursued Fredric Jameson's conjecture that historical periods should be defined as a "restructuration" of the "elements" of a previous period's dominant style, rather than a rejection of the period's "content" ("Postmodernism and Consumer Society," The Antiaesthetic: Essays on postmodern culture, ed. Hal Foster [Seattle: Bay Press, 1983], pp. 111-25). I am suggesting that restructuration leaves intact an underlying pattern of desire ascribed to consuming women in texts produced in different historical times. The effect is to minimize the literary or cultural effects of restructuration. For though the destructive power of a woman who embodies, and is consumed by, capitalistic values may seem central to O'Brien's story and only marginal to Dreiser's novel, the difference between center and margin, I would argue contrary to Jameson, is more illusive than real, and the similarity is more culturally significant than the difference. At the center of both texts there is a woman who wants more; at the margins are the available objects of her desire. If we look closely at these objects, we see they are all products of the same culture of capitalism and they are all produced for consumption. Dreiser may be more ambivalent than O'Brien about the consuming woman he describes, and he is clearly closer to her and more sympathetic, but in other respects he seems to me O'Brien's contemporary rather than his "genealogical precursor" (the term is from Jameson's essay, "Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New Left Review 146 : 56).
49 Theories on the etiology of desire are too numerous and well known to recapitulate here. Philosophical theories trace back at least to Hegel, if not further, indeed to the Bible; and psychological theories, to Freud. It would be supererogatory to cite here such contemporaries as Lacan, who formalized the concept of lack, the relation between conscious and unconscious desire, and of both to the acquisition of language (Ecrits); and of French feminists, like Irigaray, Cixous, and Kristeva, who sought to define woman's desire. Another approach to an understanding of desire is through Marxist materialism. Cather Belsey has merged Althusser's revisionary views of Marxist materialism with Lacan's revisionary views of Freud to produce a critique of literary practices that reveals the role of ideology in the criticism and consumption of books. "[B]ooks are literary commodities," she writes, but "conventional literary criticism" suppresses "the process of production" crucial to the making of books, mystifying or eliminating the writer's "work" in the same ways that a laborer's work is eliminated in the presentation of a commodity (Critical Practice [London and New York: Methuen, 1980], pp. 126-9). Belsey sees advertisements as comparable to literary realism insofar as each "constructs its signified out of juxtapositions of signifiers which are intelligible not as direct reflections of an unmediated reality but because we are familiar with the signifying systems from which they are drawn, linguistic, literary, semiotic" - systems which, like individuals, are "interpellated," she believes, with ideology (48).