Literary Realism. 37.3 (Spring 2005).
Berte calls for a reconsideration of the use of maps and cartography in The Octopus. The opening map of the novel, Berte suggests, has been too often condescendingly, or easily, dismissed as not integral to the novel. However, she argues that the map contained at the beginning does, in fact, play a crucial role in the text. Such a map “announces the centrality of cartography and space itself to the question of economic and political force that Norris explores in the novel” (202). Further, this “cartograph suggests that the ‘County Described in ‘The Octopus’ is governed, even constituted, by a complex combination of forces – natural economic, political, technological, and proprietary” (203). The stakes of such a project, then, are to present a “complex, layered geography that not only illustrates interconnected systems of force, but also offers a vision of citizenship in the modern world” (204). Essentially the ways the maps are used in the novels (re)arrange how we understand space and the forces that influence it – “the maps propose a different spatial reality – a naturalist view of space – in which the belief in a common, accurate narrative of space is replaced by an understanding of space as constructed by layered and competing forces” (212). The final effect, Berte argues, is that such (re)configurations of geography call for a reconsideration of citizenship within this layered forces of geography. That is, “Norris’ use of spatial scale as a rallying framework for citizens suggests a sort of geographical citizenship – citizenship conceived in relation to geographical layers – that enables him to make broad appeals to civic activism” (213).
Largely, Berte’s argument is a little blunt and obvious, especially with its ideas that cartography is subjective and not a final authority on the reality of a space. Her conclusion, as well, seems to be apologizing for Norris’s imperialistic leanings. Her interpretations of Norris’s “global citizenship,” and defenses of it, suggest a capitalistic, liberal-imperialism, one that reduces all difference in relation to the world’s determined same-ness to Anglo-Saxon/American ideals. However, the essay does provide some interesting insight into how the nation was imagined by Norris. See the middle sections, especially, on citizenship for inroads to thinking about the nation in the novel.
Castronovo, Russ. “Geo-Aesthetics: Fascism, Globalism, and Frank Norris.” boundary 2. 30.3 (Fall 2003).
Castronovo takes Frank Norris, and The Octopus in particular, as a case study for turn-of-the-century globalization and the expansion of empire. He argues, and which is illustrated by Norris’s work, that “turn-of-the-century globalization is an aesthetic project, which is not to say that it is beautiful but rather that globalization became a thinkable concept via certain formal properties” (159). And, furthermore, “the formal properties of art allow economic and imperial interests to condense dispersed geographies into a single unified form as the beauty of empire” (159). Essentially, what he is arguing is that specific aesthetic forms allowed an epistemic shift in thinking about the globe. Through aesthetics, the nation was “replaced with the globe as the fundamental unit of human association” (159). This was a necessary shift because the US had run out of room and could only continue to expand Imperially if it defined itself as a global unifier.
Really interesting stuff in how the literary form of Norris embodied “Empire.” Not sure if I buy the argument about Norris as a postfascist, but there is a lot of interesting stuff here to support and contextualize my ideas on the Anxiety of Empire. Also, very dense, but interesting. Bears a re-reading.
Last few pages are particularly interesting, especially the suggestion that “as the sole locus of political identity, the…