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Coercive Pleasures: The Force and Form of the Novel 1719-1740

  • Author(s): Ungar-Sargon, Batya
  • Advisor(s): Sorensen, Janet
  • Duncan, Ian
  • et al.
Abstract

Coercive Pleasures argues that the early novel in Britain mobilizes scenarios of rape, colonization, cannibalism, and infection, in order to model a phenomenology of reading in which the pleasures of submission to the work of fiction--figured as analogous to these other

coercions--reveals the reader's autonomy as itself a fiction. This is a project about the novel but also about the way in which literary forms mediate political models of subjectivity. Literary histories of the novel tend to relate its "rise" to the emergence of a liberal subject whose truth

resides in her interior, autonomous and private self. I propose instead that privacy and autonomy are the price rather than the payoff of fiction. With its depiction of invasive and coercive content such as rape, colonialism, cannibalism, and infection, and its self-conscious deployment of forms that coerce absorbed reading, the novel reveals the reader's consent to read to be part of a structure that infracts both readers' and characters' autonomy, producing a particularly modern

pleasure. As Pamela Andrews complains, pleasure "is not a Volunteer thing." In its self-awareness of its own captivating effects, the novel distinguishes itself both from seventeenth-century romance but also from modern discourses that disavow fictional absorption altogether,

such as empiricism. My reading builds on Victoria Kahn's and Oliver Arnold's revisionist accounts of contract theory, in which both have shown that consent and coercion were viewed at the turn of the century not as opposed but rather as complementary concepts that give form to the modern subject. Coercive Pleasures argues that the novel intervenes to expose the pleasures of subject formation built on coercive consent. Some early novels identify and coopt the coercive

pleasure that contract theory and consent-based models of political subjectivity deploy, while others intervene to disrupt this pleasure, critiquing implicitly, or even explicitly, the fictions of

consent.

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