Reading to the Test: Character, Method, and Complicity in U.S. Writing from Emerson to Adorno Restricted; Files Only

Laville, Claire (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/0v8381201?locale=en
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Abstract

In "Reading to the Test," I demonstrate that recurrent literary figures and changing theories of reading drove the evolution of experimental psychology, and argue that the ubiquity of the test motif demands that we reconsider the priority granted to character and experience in recent critical theory and U.S. intellectual history. Additionally, I show the pertinence of earlier debates surrounding human-subjects research to discussions of figure and personification in literary theory.

Chapter 1 responds to an increasingly canonical assessment of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry James as proto-pragmatic thinkers, an assessment that relies upon the link between experiment and experience. I argue that Emerson and James contest that link, often holding to a stubborn and potentially queer disbelief in the existence of other minds.

In the second chapter, I describe the psychological experiments Gertrude Stein carried out as an undergraduate. She told the story of trying to write "automatically" several times, in different genres and voices. In so doing, she grappled with traditions, literary and scientific, that held repetition to be a characteristically feminine style of passivity or complicity. Her 900-page novel The Making of Americans reflects her ambivalence toward studying human subjects and toward her teachers' all-encompassing theories of character, habit and experience.

The third chapter begins with the curious fact that Henry A. Murray, who designed numerous personality tests for psychiatric and military use, was also one of Herman Melville's earliest biographers. Murray and his colleagues' appropriation of Melville and Hawthorne unsettles the conventional history of American Renaissance scholarship, as well as commonsensical distinctions between a close (or even queer) reading and a reductive one.

Chapter 4 finds Theodor Adorno and Vladimir Nabokov, emigre writers of conflicting ideologies, mocking and reimagining the personality tests whose creation I discussed in the previous chapter. Particular tests challenge each author's presumptions about the redeeming value of art and the power of self-reflection. At the same time, testing provides a way for each author to abstain having to accept either social or disciplinary formations as given.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations.............................................................................................................. 1

Introduction......................................................................................................................... 3

1. Other than Experience: Emerson's Unpragmatic Styles......................................................... 24

2. How Experiments End: Gertrude Stein................................................................................ 72

3. Shocks of Recognition: The Thematic Apperception Test and the Melville Revival.................... 113

4. Method and Mimicry: Adorno with Nabokov....................................................................... 137

Bibliography..................................................................................................................... 173

Permissions...................................................................................................................... 199

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