By Irvin Ehrenpreis
Read Online or Download Acts of Implication: Suggestion and Covert Meaning in the Works of Dryden, Swift, Pope, and Austen (The Beckman Lectures, 1978) PDF
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Additional info for Acts of Implication: Suggestion and Covert Meaning in the Works of Dryden, Swift, Pope, and Austen (The Beckman Lectures, 1978)
Nothing traditionally moral or hygienic, to be sure. And its incoherence is precisely its significance: it is not part of a moral or sanitary economy. Riis's red bandanna is excessive: it exceeds his demonstration about overcrowding. But Riis is interested in behaviors and objects that do not have a traditional moral or sanitary valence, such as ways of flirting and modes of dress. He goes to the Jewish market on "bargain days" because "then is the time to study the ways of this peculiar people to the best advantage" (85).
He refers to nothing as specific, as visual, as the Italian woman's red bandanna or the Chinese man's braided pigtail (on which Riis also remarks); instead, we are told about fantastic garments and pinched features. These are signs of the primitive and the undeveloped, not particularities of dress or physical feature. The visual and auditory peculiarities are not only buried by traditional moral judgment; they are also smothered by metaphor. Chapin's metaphor— that of "degrees of Riis and Charity Writing 37 civilization"—is a common one at midcentury.
97 There are almost no limits to Crane's and Riis's viewing of the New York slums, but this does not mean that they establish a panoptic technology. A panoptic or disciplinary technology involves two elements besides surveillance: a strict regime of rules of movement and punishments for their smallest violation. Crane and Riis do not stop deviants; on the contrary, their reporting and storytelling is quite likely to encourage them. "98 And if Riis is able to photograph toughs and to get them to confess their tricks, it is not because he threatens them with police force but because he offers them the possibility of a notoriety—and a confirmation—they seek.