This essay considers the use of “serial thinking”—an approach to representation and cognition that emphasizes repetition, enumeration, and aggregation—in the work of Thomas Hardy. Examining his first novel, Desperate Remedies (1871), it connects Hardy's approaches to serial thinking with the discourse of Victorian logic (especially the work of John Venn) and links this early sensation novel to Hardy's later output. Serial representation operates in two modes in Hardy: one material, tactile, and affective (figuring long-run processes of wear, attrition, and change); the other discrete, rational, and numerical (depicting patterns of counting and aggregation). Serial thinking also speaks to the problematic generic identity of Desperate Remedies in Hardy's oeuvre and to broader difficulties of genre designation through its historical and formal relation to problems in inductive logic. The novel enacts in its figures for class thinking a generic identity that is by turns stable and dynamic. Hardy's intuitions about serial and class thinking, which draw on nineteenth-century logic's decision problems and its discourse of “sets” and “classes” and their “members,” can be thus linked to questions of genre writ large. The essay concludes by connecting nineteenth-century images for the bounding and blurring of classes to similar figures in recent studies of genre. Considering the deeper historical relationship between generic thinking and the areas of logic that undergird later approaches to genre—both theoretical accounts and empirical studies, often using digital tools—can show how generic dynamism demands methods of reading that collaborate along different explanatory axes.
Daniel Williams; Slow Fire: Serial Thinking and Hardy's Genres of Induction. Genre 1 April 2017; 50 (1): 19–38. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-3761324
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