Working group on the novel

Please join us on Thursday, November 30 for the third meeting of Working Group on the Novel this quarter. Erik Fredner (PhD candidate, English) will present a chapter excerpt from his dissertation: “Average, American: statistical imaginaries in Jason Edwards and The American.” Heather Brink-Roby, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at Stanford, will serve as Erik’s respondent.

Unsurprisingly, averages receive far more attention from statisticians than literary critics. And for good reason: the average privileges the quantitative over the qualitative, matter over mind, reduction over expansion. Multiplicity gets divided out when we think in averages. Yet I argue that the average rewards critical attention because of the many ways in which it has been used to account for individuals, peoples, and nations. During the period from roughly 1865 to 1940, a debate about the uses and meanings of the American average rages—one that ends in a stunning rejection of its central term. This paper, a chapter excerpt taken from my dissertation, analyzes the novel Jason Edwards: An Average Man as a peculiarly American manifestation of this problem, Hamlin Garland’s debt to and interest in Henry George’s reforms (as expressed in Progress and Poverty), and the vacillations of scale that are essential to the liberal reformist imagination, fluctuating between the actually existing individual and the population as a measure of the impact of public policy. I contrast Garland’s explicitly political use of the average with James’s use of type in The American.

Dinner and drinks will be provided. We hope to see many of you there!

erik’s expanded abstract


fall 2017


16 October Renren Yang and Peggy Phelan Comp Lit Literary fame in socialist China 6:00pm to 8:00pm Terrace
14 November Boris Shoshitaishvili and Robert Pogue Harrison Comp Lit Kairos and Chronos in Homer’s Iliad: Priam and the Hero as Figures of Time 6:00pm to 8:00pm Terrace
30 November Erik Fredner and Heather Brink-Roby English Average, American: statistical imaginaries in Jason Edwards and The American 6:00pm to 8:00pm TBA