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The mind a department store: reconfiguring space in the Gilded Age

By Gail McDonald


The essay examines the metaphor of blurred or absent architectural boundaries–what Georg Simmel termed the "modern feeling against closed spaces"–in three discursive arenas: the physical space of domestic interiors and department stores, the mental space of William James's psychological writings, and the fictive space of utopian and naturalist novels. Edith Wharton's and Ogden Codman, Jr.'s The Decoration of Houses and Henry James's The American Scene express alarm at the paucity of closable doors in American architecture, seeing in this form of decor a disregard for decorum. In contrast, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and Bradford Peck's The World a Department Store celebrate the open-plan emporium as a blueprint for the successful cooperative society. The open-plan appears again in William James's descriptions of mentation: mobility, circulation, interdependence, replaceability, malleability and drift displace the more static models of faculty and associative psychology. James's substitution of fluid constructs for static ones has significant consequences for conceptions of selfhood. The malleable self, its permeability and relationality, provides both a topic and a set of narrative problems for writers like Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris

Topics: PE
Year: 2002
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.soton.ac.uk:42155
Provided by: e-Prints Soton
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