Olivia Bartz


Olivia Bartz had a long-standing interest in American literature of the 1920s, which led to her taking a course on the subject offered by Professor Godden. Through that course, she was exposed to John Dos Passos’ frenetic portrayal of Manhattan during the early 20th century and became particularly interested in the different realms that occupy his novel—namely, the realms of production and consumerism—and the ways in which these realms manipulate bodies. Throughout her project, Olivia truly enjoyed being able to work independently, and to change direction according to the directions her interests were taking her. After graduation, Olivia intends to pursue a graduate degree in English.triangle.gif (504 bytes)




We often think of our bodies as ahistorical. But Marx argues for a historical reading of bodies, in which sense-certainty (a person’s first attempt to grasp the nature of a thing) proves to be merely the history of its process. John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer has often been read as offering an impression of early 20th Century Manhattan, rather than a full depiction of any one character. And yet, his book includes apparently dissociated portrayals of various “bodies” as they work, window shop, and socialize in the city. What happens if we read the various bodies that populate Dos Passos’ Manhattan, as Marx might, within their historical processes? Does doing so shift the way in which we read other structural events in the novel? Ewen’s account of the search for sexual satisfaction in the market place, Marx’s account of commodity fetishism, and Haug’s account of commodity aesthetics work together to create a paradigm of early 20th century Fordist production and advertising through which the consumer’s and laborer’s bodies can usefully be glossed in Manhattan Transfer. Situating these bodies within their historical processes reveals the presence of other determining structures within the novel, such as reification as forgetting, and the structural trauma involved in Fordist production.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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Faculty Mentor                                                                                                                

Richard Godden

School of Humanities

Olivia sought to extend her interest in literary language and its close-reading as that language both appealed to and grew from economic and filmic imperatives. In our weekly discussions, Dos Passos’ “Manhattan Transfer” (1925), and most typically single paragraphs or sentences from that text, served as points of access through which the “interference” of language, urban experience and the imaging of commodity, one with another, might be addressed. Olivia’s focused and gradual recognition of the dense singularity of literary knowledge was a pleasure to witness. Olivia’s sustained research and her equally sustained revision of her paper, additionally (and by her own report) had lasting consequences for the confidence with which she writes. On which basis, I would hazard the suggestion, after Paul Goodman, that style matters because “style is a hypothesis about how the world is.”triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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