Kate Marshall shows how the banal circulation technologies underlying modern life--such as corridors, plumbing systems, duct work, and highways--become dynamic media forms in the American novel.


Kate Marshall, Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction, University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
                                                                         
Corridor offers a series of conceptually provocative readings that illuminate a hidden and surprising relationship between architectural space and modern American fiction. By paying close attention to fictional descriptions of some of modernity’s least remarkable structures, such as plumbing, ductwork, and airshafts, Kate Marshall discovers a rich network of connections between corridors and novels, one that also sheds new light on the nature of modern media.
The corridor is the dominant organizational structure in modern architecture, yet its various functions are taken for granted, and it tends to disappear from view. But, as Marshall shows, even the most banal structures become strangely visible in the noisy communication systems of American fiction. By examining the link between modernist novels and corridors, Marshall demonstrates the ways architectural elements act as media. In a fresh look at the late naturalist fiction of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, she leads the reader through the fetus-clogged sewers of Manhattan Transfer to the corpse-choked furnaces of Native Son and reveals how these invisible spaces have a fascinating history in organizing the structure of modern persons.
Portraying media as not only objects but processes, Marshall develops a new idiom for Americanist literary criticism, one that explains how media studies can inform our understanding of modernist literature.


Corridor is a remarkably provocative account of the fictions and psychologies that inhabit the architectural spaces of modern life. By paying close attention to the plumbing, duct work, air shafts, and other forms of infrastructure that invisibly shape our built environments, Marshall provides a brilliant blueprint for reflecting on just how self-knowingly literary works can materialize the worlds that make them. - Mark Goble


The issue in Corridor is not just about how corridors (and ventilation shafts, sewage systems, halls, wires, and pipes) figure into the American novel, but rather about an unsettling and multilayered problem of communication in the modern world. The movement of dust, sound, people, and even power all point to the paradox of our mediated condition, and as we follow Kate Marshall’s analysis, we come to the philosophical core of the book, which revolves around nothing less than the crisis of the soul. Marshall’s aim is not to produce some sort of negative in this, but rather to teach us as readers how to get deeper into the labyrinthine series of motions that in essence make us modern.
Mark Jarzombek

Corridor offers a series of conceptually provocative readings that illuminate a hidden and surprising relationship between architectural space and modern American fiction. —HTMLGIANT
 
Like the fictional works he discusses, Marshall’s account of the corridor delights in the mundane, finding in spaces seldom examined a critical feature of modern experience. — Configurations

“Kate Marshall has a fresh way of looking at the novel as a kind of machine for observation—one that observes modern society by literalizing communication as physical space. - Laura Dassow Walls

A corridor, attests Kate Marshall in her intellectually capacious and compulsively reflexive work Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction, is not just a passive architectural feature. If you take a peek back beyond the long lonely passageways into the word’s etymology, you find the courier, crosser of boundaries, carrier of money and messages. If in modernity the corridor’s embodied origin has fallen out of linguistic memory, noting this valence of the term is helpful for recognizing the active functioning of the hallway as an architectural technology that both connects and separates rooms, reproducing distinctions between private and public spaces within the domestic sphere, directing the flow of individuals. Drawing on German media-theorist Friedrich Kittler’s expansive definition of communication as the transmission of goods, people, and messages, Marshall suggests that the corridor is an example, and a paradigmatic one at that, of the many forms of communications media that come to dominate the modern urban-industrial landscape, including the modern novel. In fact, she suggests that the notions of individuality and interiority represented in, and perhaps even produced by, the novel are also embedded in the structure of the corridor, which emerged as a defining feature of late-eighteenth-century architecture. Just as the corridor restructured domestic relations by generating private spaces and regulating “the communication of and between bodies,” the novel “formally enacts the corridor,” encoding and transmitting private thoughts within a reading public (p. 25). Although Marshall is engaged in demonstrating the parallels between the communication processes enacted by architecture, infrastructure, and what is more commonly known as “the media” (namely, novels, newspapers, radio), she is most interested in moments when these systems intersect with or irritate one another. The book’s most significant thesis is that when corridor and corridor-like structures show up in modern novels, they serve not just as a material backdrop, a location among many for characters to play out their dramas, but as flashpoints where novels observe their own mediality. Ultimately, Corridor is a demonstration of how, as “self-conscious forms that both communicate and reflexively produce interiority and sociality,” the late naturalist American novels under discussion “indicate their own narrative structures when they query the relays of the hallway” (p. 24).
At the center of each of the book’s chapters is Marshall’s concept of corridoricity, or what she self-glosses as “likeness.” This term denotes the ways in which media architectures constantly erode boundaries of difference, troubling distinctions between, for example, private and public space, individuality and sociality, and the concrete and the metaphorical registers of language. Each of Corridor’s chapters engages with a different aspect of corridoricity as it plays out in late naturalist American fiction and material culture: Theodor Dreiser’s An American Tragedy provides an opportunity to sketch the process of “versioning” operant in the novel’s collar-stamping factory, its cinematic remakes, and modern subjectivity; a discussion of Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider opens onto an explanation of the ways that the 1918 flu epidemic made visible the materially connective character of communications technology and the heteronomous quality of personhood; and a reading of C. P. Snow’s novel Corridors of Power is placed in relation to his more popular “Two Cultures” lecture with the assertion that “any continuation of the discussion Snow began about the modes of communication between the disciplines demands a consideration of architectures of that communication in all of their literal and metaphorical complexities” (p. 152). In each of these cases, the corridor appears as metaphor, as concept, as material, as media.
By attending to the places in texts where novels and modern infrastructure refer to and support one another and reading them as moments where the distinction between medium and message breaks down, Marshall provides an intriguing account of how media studies might engage with the material and fictional aspects of novels without sacrificing the specificity that both projects demand. The fruitfulness of this methodology is evident, for example, in her discussion of Richard Wright’s Native Son. Here, Marshall reads the “self-feeding” furnace in which the main character Bigger Thomas attempts to dispose of the evidence of his murder of Mary... - Jesse Miller


UNC English Ph.D students Ben Murphy and Sean Dileonardi speak with Professor Kate Marshall (University of Notre Dame) concerning her ongoing work on the “nonhuman turn” in literature and critical theory. After first contextualizing the “nonhuman turn,” Marshall discusses the way in which her research charts a development whereby self-reflexivity in novels moves from a 19th century fascination with the materiality of information to a more contemporary concern with “narrating the nonhuman.” For Marshall, this later concern is bound up with the geological concept of the Anthropocene, and, as she discusses, both this concept and other ancillary fields important to her work (media theory, systems theory, etc.) call for a robustly interdisciplinary approach to literary studies. Apart from offering some words of advice to scholars interested in similarly dynamic methodologies, Marshall also advocates for the importance of studying theories of realism and reading neglected 19th century works of naturalist fiction.

Marshall is currently working on a monograph, Novels by Aliens, which examines the relations between contemporary literary experiments in nonhuman narration and theoretical debates about the category of the nonhuman, and shows how these forms of thinking and writing have an important and overlooked history in the old, weird American fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

across & beyond - a transmediale Reader on Post-digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions

Daïchi Saito proposes a personal reflection on language and the image, a meditation that does not strive to theorize practice, but to recount it.

Thor Garcia - By turns defiant, paranoid, brooding, absurd and knock-down funny. Like Hunter S. Thompson meets Russ Meyer’s Under the Valley of the Supervixens meets Daft Punk – wearing a press pass and a smiley badge to a San Francisco gangbang