By Jason Puskar
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Extra info for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
Most other pragmatists tended to think of law and necessity as habits of thought, ossified into incontrovertible statements. In the case of legal pragmatists such as Nicholas St. 36 He used the case of a drowned man as an example. When we ask what caused the man’s death, different social, political, and institutional frames of reference yield equally valid answers: “A medical man may say that the cause of his death was suffocation by water entering the lungs. ”37 Green’s skepticism undermined two traditional instruments of reason, necessity and causation, which in Green’s view were value-laden constructions masquerading as actual facts.
By reading Peirce’s famous account of his own sleuthing after a stolen watch alongside Green’s detective fiction, I show how difficult it was for both writers to reconcile a socializing conception of chance with narrative forms that are, by definition, strongly teleological. The last two chapters attend to social and political conflicts that accompanied the successful implementation of chance collectives. In Chapter 4, I address the industrial accident crisis of the early twentieth century, through Edith Wharton’s little-read industrial accident novel, The Fruit of the Tree (1907), and in relation to Crystal Eastman’s influential study of industrial injuries, Work Accidents and the Law (1910).
4 But from that date, critics have long recognized a clear shift of emphasis in his work, as Annie Kilburn (1888) and then A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) took a greater interest in the working class, more overtly addressed jarring social and economic changes, and more openly engaged, without exactly embracing, the appeal of socialism. These post-Haymarket novels do something else important as well, expanding an already pronounced emphasis on chance and accident in Howells’s work, as if Howells were attempting to counteract the Haymarket trial’s overdetermination of blame with an equal and opposite underdetermination of blame.