Dickens and Bio Politics. Article

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Novel: A Forum on Fiction 43:2 DOI 10.1215/00295132-2010-002 © 2010 by Novel, Inc. Dickens’s “Supernumeraries” and the Biopolitical Imagination of Victorian Fiction EMILY STEINLIGHT The rise of Dickens is like the rising of a vast mob. This is not only because his tales are indeed as crowded and populous as towns: for truly it was not so much that Dick- ens appeared as that a hundred Dickens characters appeared. It is also because he was the sort of man who has the impersonal impetus of a mob. G. K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age In a classic Dickensian moment, the third-person narrator of Bleak House para- phrases the ominous political speculations of the distinguished guests at Chesney Wold, all of whom are in perfect accord on at least one point: that in matters of state, “nobody is in question” (190) but themselves. A People there are, no doubt—a certain large number of supernumeraries, who are to be occasionally addressed, and relied upon for shouts and choruses, as on the theatri- cal stage; but Boodle and Buffy, their followers and families, their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns, are the born first-actors, managers, and leaders, and no others can appear on the scene for ever and ever. (191) Juxtaposed against the previous chapter’s scenes of poverty, despair, death, and the horrors of the overcrowded churchyard, this glimpse of the beau monde seems to contain an obvious commentary on the fatal consequences of indifference to “our dear brothers and sisters who have not departed” (180). This is a familiar theme for Dickens; Little Dorrit offers a strikingly similar parody of political reason among the ruling class: It was agreed that the country (another word for the Barnacles and Stiltstalkings) wanted preserving, but how it came to want preserving was not so clear. It was only clear that the question was all about John Barnacle, Augustus Stiltstalking, Wil- liam Barnacle and Tudor Stiltstalking, Tom, Dick, or Harry Barnacle or Stiltstalking, because there was nobody else but mob. (333) Everybody else, in number, has become “nobody else” in social meaning and polit- ical representation—so pervasive is this problem that it can be no surprise that Arthur Clennam finds it futile to intervene in such a discourse, “bethinking him- self that mob was used to it.” It thus falls to the narrator to do what his characters cannot: to say something “on the part of mob” (334).

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Transcript of Dickens and Bio Politics. Article

Dickenss Supernumeraries and the Biopolitical Imagination of Victorian FictionEMILY STEINLIGHT The rise of Dickens is like the rising of a vast mob. This is not only because his tales are indeed as crowded and populous as towns: for truly it was not so much that Dickens appeared as that a hundred Dickens characters appeared. It is also because he was the sort of man who has the impersonal impetus of a mob. G. K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age In a classic Dickensian moment, the third-person narrator of Bleak House paraphrases the ominous political speculations of the distinguished guests at Chesney Wold, all of whom are in perfect accord on at least one point: that in matters of state, nobody is in question (190) but themselves. A People there are, no doubta certain large number of supernumeraries, who are to be occasionally addressed, and relied upon for shouts and choruses, as on the theatrical stage; but Boodle and Buffy, their followers and families, their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns, are the born first-actors, managers, and leaders, and no others can appear on the scene for ever and ever. (191) Juxtaposed against the previous chapters scenes of poverty, despair, death, and the horrors of the overcrowded churchyard, this glimpse of the beau monde seems to contain an obvious commentary on the fatal consequences of indifference to our dear brothers and sisters who have not departed (180). This is a familiar theme for Dickens; Little Dorrit offers a strikingly similar parody of political reason among the ruling class: It was agreed that the country (another word for the Barnacles and Stiltstalkings) wanted preserving, but how it came to want preserving was not so clear. It was only clear that the question was all about John Barnacle, Augustus Stiltstalking, William Barnacle and Tudor Stiltstalking, Tom, Dick, or Harry Barnacle or Stiltstalking, because there was nobody else but mob. (333) Everybody else, in number, has become nobody else in social meaning and political representationso pervasive is this problem that it can be no surprise that Arthur Clennam finds it futile to intervene in such a discourse, bethinking himself that mob was used to it. It thus falls to the narrator to do what his characters cannot: to say something on the part of mob (334).

Novel: A Forum on Fiction 43:2

DOI 10.1215/00295132-2010-002

2010 by Novel, Inc.


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While such rhetorical performances won him the title of Mr. Popular Sentiment in Anthony Trollopes The Warden1 and failed to awaken George Eliots social sympathies (264),2 Dickens has more oftenand for much the same reasons been acclaimed as a champion of the people so readily dismissed by the Boodles and Buffys, Bounderbys and Barnacles of the world. It is with approbation that G. K. Chesterton dubs him not only the democrat but even the demagogue of fiction (Appreciations 212), celebrating his achievement not merely as a spectacularly successful producer of mass literature but in every sense a phenomenon of the mass: the authorial personification of a moband a mob in revolt (Victorian Age 81). Nor was this revolutionary potential lost on Karl Marx, who famously praised the author of Bleak House as one of those writers whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together (English Middle Class 106). Other debates aside, critics have rarely failed to recognize in Dickenss work a profound commitment to the representation of the urban masses. read in light of this commitment, the political import of that scene in Bleak House must appear all too obvious. The vague perception of the people, among Sir Leicester Dedlocks circle, as a certain large number of supernumeraries would seem to be the target of a self-evident moral outragemuch the same outrage that attends Gradgrinds utilitarian indifference to an abstraction called a People (Hard Times 314), or Podsnaps chauvinistic refusal to hear of people dying of starvation in the streets of his great metropolis (Our Mutual Friend 14344), or Scrooges Malthusian attitude toward a surplus population ostensibly in need of decreasing (Christmas Carol 39). In Bleak House, however (as is so often the case in Dickenss writing), the implicit verbal irony of the narrators description produces the further irony of an unlikely narrative truth. For all its strident populism, the novel generates larger numbers than its own domestic and political economies can accommodate. Nor is it only what takes place in the crowded street scenes and labyrinthine underworld that both animates and troubles what Terry Eagleton aptly describes as a wonderfully overpopulated work (vii). Bleak House as a whole is a world virtually teeming with life, from the numberless children of the Jellybys to the inhabitants of the ancestral home of Sir Leicesterand the novel registers, with the sensitivity of a pressure gauge, the felt density of its population within the limited space of these human environments. For all the tumult of its London chapters,1

In the first of his Barsetshire Chronicles, Trollope caricatures the Dickensian project of radical reform through fiction. Parodying the formula of the study in contrasts, he describes a novel (ripped from the headlines, as it were, on the minor scandal that predominates the plot of his own novel) in which the conversation of . . . eight starved old men in their dormitory shamed that of the clergymans family in his rich drawing-room (137). While praising his power of rendering the external traits of our town population, Eliot faults Dickens for his frequently false psychology (264) and above all for what she describes as the miserable fallacy that high morality and refined sentiment can grow out of harsh social relations, ignorance, and want (265).



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Dickens similarly crowds the estate in Lincolnshire with an unspecified number of persons who apparently cannot be accounted for. Even the ranks of Boodle and Buffythough they regard themselves as the great actors for whom the stage is reserved (19091)denote, for the purposes of the novel, an unfixed quantity of trivialities. Contrary to Lord Boodles insistence on the impossibility of reassigning administrative agency, giving the Home Department . . . to Joodle, the Exchequer to Koodle, the Colonies to Loodle, and the Foreign Office to Moodle, what are you to do with Noodle? (190), Dickenss rhyming alphabetic designations plainly belie, in their arbitrariness, all qualitative distinctions among these variables. Like the unspecified Everybodys and Nobodys among Sir Leicesters seemingly innumerable cousins, parasitically swarming Chesney Wold and appearing quite as much at a loss how to dispose of themselves, as anybody else can be how to dispose of them (448), the MPs are themselves supernumeraries. To be sure, the burden of that something over that nobody knows what to do with (446; emphasis added) as represented by the dependent Dedlock cousinsmuch like the proposition that the country is shipwrecked . . . because you cant provide for Noodle (190)resonates ironically with the dire situation of those multitudes barely surviving in the streets, in the workhouse, and dying in the disease-ridden slums of Tom-all-Alones. At the same time, the persistent reappearance of such formulations, satirical or otherwise, underscores a problem of remainders that the narrative is repeatedly compelled to restage. Despite Dickenss commitment to the project of systematically . . . turn[ing] Fiction to the good account of showing the preventible wretchedness and misery in which the mass of the people dwell (To Working Men 227), his novels offer no clear indication that such ills are preventible even in theory. In Bleak House, where politics is a sham and where telescopic philanthropy (49), local pastorship, and familial relations alike prove more destructive than beneficial, all professions of humanitarian sympathy and instances of direct intervention only set into stark relief the seemingly inevitable failure of any individual or institution either to provide for or to dispose of an apparent surplus of human life. How, then, does the novel resolve this contradiction? This essay will argue that it doesntand for reasons that may require us to reconsider the nineteenth-century novels formal and ideological relationship to the institutions that shape and are shaped by its narratives. My procedure in what follows necessarily disengages the two predominant lines of argument about the politics of victorian fiction. I approach the novel neither as a crypto-bureaucratic technology of individuation nor as a reflection of cultural anxieties about the fate of individuals in a new mass society. Instead, I read it as a series of experiments in population management that disclose the literary, social, and political implications of such a project. In a period obsessed with the health of the social body as a whole, Dickenss fiction speaks to one of the greatest perplexities of the centurys bioeconomic discourse of population: the virtually unthinkable problem suggested by the term supernumeraries, or the paradox of a total in excess of the total. In its quantitative register, this concept belongs to the statistical imagination that supports what Nikolas rose characterizes as liberalisms project of governing by numbers (qtd.


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in Joyce 24).3 Where it appears in Bleak House, however, the cynicism implied in the narrators use of this term relies in part on the potential for statistical evaluation to produce its own exception. The abstract logic of statistics, as Patrick Joyce suggests, is in some sense the defining political technology of democracy and can operate only under the condition that the common personhood of all those who were counted was somehow more important than their differences (25). Dickenss novel, in allowing the totality of the people to be dismissed as supernumeraries, reverses this logic. resisting self-evident platitudes about including the excluded, Bleak House does not try to make each and every person count (as democratic citizen-subject, character, or demographic unit). To the contrary, as I argue, it introduces the possibility of equality by subsuming the entire population within the null set of the quantitatively uncounted and qualitatively discounted. Supernumeraries [T]he mother, her husband, the prying solicitor, the French maid, and the whole Dedlock set, might be eliminated from the book. . . . We should then have less crowd, and no story. . . . Even then, a comprehensive etcetera would be needed for supernumeraries. So crowded is the canvas which Mr Dickens has stretched . . . that a daguerreotype of Fleet Street at noon-day would be the aptest symbol to be found for it; though the daguerreotype would have the advantage in accuracy of representation. George Brimley, unsigned review of Bleak House The prevailing critical models for reading victorian fiction do not address indeed, are designed not to addressthe political questions raised by this notion of an excess of human life. Given Dickenss antagonism to the dismal science, it is understandably difficult to imagine his novels as ratifying anything like the Malthusian principle of population or a proto-Spencerian notion of the survival of the fittest.4 Such an idea must seem all the more untenable to readers who understand his fiction as a call for the reform of existing institutions: an effort to identify the root causes of poverty, inequality, and injustice within the realm of the social rather than submitting to statistical laws of necessity or to the indifferent forces of nature. For different reasons, critics who read the victorian novel primarily as a vehicle for domestic ideology are similarly compelled to sidestep the issue of population and the problems it poses. Arguing that the novel produces contradic3 4

See also rose 197232. It bears remarking that Malthusian theory was substantially revised during Dickenss lifetime. Edwin Chadwick, most notably, argued in the 1840s that Malthuss understanding of positive checks was a dreadful fallacy and demonstrated that in the poorest districts where the mortality rate was highest, the birth rate was still far higher (270). Misery is dreadfully prolific, wrote Louis Blanc, the French socialist, this fact is proven by figures (30). Further, as Chadwick insists, against Malthuss hypotheses, [T]he ravages of epidemics and other diseases do not diminish but tend to increase the pressure of population (423). This claim, as I suggest in what follows, will have important implications for Dickenss fiction.



tions strategically rather than symptomatically, D. A. Miller suggests that Dickenss narratives call attention to the incoherence of the socio-institutional world only to relocate power within the private-domestic sphere onto which the liberal fantasy of freedom from carceral authority is projected (98). While Miller is certainly correct that the success of a novel like Bleak House depends on the conspicuous failures it stages, it is nonetheless clear in Dickenss fiction that the domestic order cannot be extricated from these failures. Where the genres ideological work seems to require the functional separateness of domesticity from an external socioeconomic sphere, the texts that anchor Millers claims actually do much to trouble any such distinction. Alternatively, ifto put the question of domesticity in victorian termsthe novel supports John ruskins maxim that all true economy is Law of the house (227), then this proposition has interesting consequences in Dickenss fiction. Set up in theory as the site of individual morality and a model for good governance, exemplifying the code of waste nothing, and grudge nothing (ruskin 227), the Dickensian household actually stands on a precarious foundation. More often than not, it becomes a figure of monumental inefficacy and of general scarcity. In Our Mutual Friend, for example, it seems clear enough at first that Dickens can muster more sympathy for the petit-bourgeois domestic economy of the House of Wilfer than for the political economy that prevails in the House of Podsnap. Allowing for the mental arithmetic of r. Wilfer with regard to his brood (who were Many), the narrative grants him the point that the family cannot take in even two young ladies of the highest respectability whom his wife wishes to admit as boarding pupils; by Wilfers reasoning, regardless of class, these ladies amount to the same thing in number as any two other fellow-creatures for whom there is no space (43). In accepting this premise, however, the novel implicitly extends the argument to those far greater numbers who likewise cannot be accommodated from a fellow-creature point of view (43). If such calculationsthe ratio of too many bodies to too little spaceseem reasonable in Wilfers sympathetic construction, they nonetheless lay the ground for Podsnaps more overtly Malthusian response to the reports of deaths in the street that he finds so distasteful as a topic of after-dinner conversation: You know what the population of London is, I suppose (144). To approach the question of resources and their distribution from a fellowcreature point of view, then, is not to proceed with the compassion of common need but rather with the acknowledgment of common scarcity. Despite Dickenss declamation against the Poor Law, the workhouse, and their effects on such a fellow-creature as Betty Higden, who stands for so many other fellow- creatures (324), the fact of a shared humanity implied in this formulation is itself the name of a problem that neither legislative reform nor humanitarian sympathy can solve. While Mrs. Wilfers prospective pupils seem comparatively unlikely to starve, the domestic economies of Dickenss novels are determined by the same logic of equilibrium that governs the human population at large. Likewise, in Bleak House, despite the narrators memorable tirade on behalf of the neglected children of the world, like Jo, dying thus around us, every day (734), even the compassionate Woodcourt is permitted to marvel at the strange fact that, while Jo lives, this creature in human form should be more difficult to dispose of than an unowned


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dog (719). And the novel, for all its outrage, knows of only one way to dispose of such a creature. Nor is there any clear answer, within the existing frameworks of politics, private charity, or moral sentiment, to the brickmakers declaration that the deaths of his five dirty and onwholesome children were so much the better for them, and for us besides (132). Indeed, even for the middle-class Jellybys brood of Wild Indians, Caddy cannot entirely dismiss her fathers alarming pronouncement that the best thing that could happen to them was, their being all Tomahawked together (475). And Dickens, notwithstanding Adas and Esthers horror at this macabre joke, does not seem altogether prepared to conclude that he is wrong. Such moments reveal the substance of what is at stake in the economic and political discourse in which Dickenss fiction intervenes. Life itself, and the means by which it is preserved or expended, has become more elemental to the ideological work of the novel than any other object, telos, or metric.5 Operating within the conceptual framework and metaphoric vocabulary of an organically connected social body whose needs and fitness are established through medical examination, statistical generalization, and actuarial analysis, Dickenss city novels do more than simply thematize contemporary debates on the Poor Laws, housing, sanitary reform, and public health.6 Their plots are formally structured by the central evaluative and political apparatuses of a system of governance under which the care of the city and care of the body became as one (Joyce 65). While his fiction and journalism have often been read as an attempt to expose the emptiness of politics as such, Dickenss critiques of the inefficacy of bureaucracy and the indifference of government to the vital interests of human life are often rhetorically consistent with the statements of government agencies themselves. Dr. Charles Wilsons remarks on a survey of sanitary conditions in Kelso, quoted in the conclusion to Edwin Chadwicks Sanitary Report (1842), similarly look forward to a day when governments shall be induced to consider the preservation of a nations health an object as important as the promotion of its commerce or the maintenance of its conquests (410). Even in pointing to the need for such a change of priorities, these official reports illustrate a major shift that has already taken place both in political discourse and in the specific bureaucratic practices of governance.7 Inseparable5

Foucault notes that one of the greatest transformations political right underwent in the nineteenth century was the appearance of a power that is not the right of the sovereign to take life or let live but rather the power to make live and let die. For all the questions this raises, he suggests, it clearly demonstrates how the problem of life began to be problematized in the field of political thought, of the analysis of political power (Society 241). See Mary Poovey on the conceptual distinction between the body politic and the social body (124, esp. 79). Also see Pamela Gilbert (4761) on the social body and the discourses of health and pathology. That the preservation of life should be among the most crucial interests of the victorian state is an ideology that cuts across political differences. While such conservative commentators as John Eagles criticized Sanitary reform as an institutional intrusion into the domestic sphere and viewed the 1851 census as an affront to decency and a violation of privacy by a great Gargantuan Busybody obsessed with vital statistics (319), the results of the census are nonetheless interpreted as signs of a problem that goes beyond party platforms. In an 1854 essay in





from and essential to this shift, the victorian novel is neither an agent in, nor an antidote to, the mystifications of state power. redefining the function of social organization and government, it produces a habitus in which success and failure play out at the level of population. In the contingencies the novel creates, its plots test the logic of biological and social futurity. Despite such evidence of an emergent biopolitics, debates about the politics of victorian fiction for the past two decades have overwhelmingly focused on questions of disciplinary power. Where recent critics have taken issue with D. A. Millers and other classic accounts of the novels relationship to the rise of discipline, their efforts mostly advance the tendentious project of liberating liberalism from its detractors.8 In disputing the Foucauldian claims of New Historicism, those scholars who advocate a sympathetic view of victorian new liberalism take for granted precisely what earlier critics had sought to problematize9: the assumption that the private individual, the domestic sphere, and the family exist prior to and remain independent of the sociopolitical sphere, compensating for the inadequacies of a crowded external world and providing a safe haven from the nightly clashes of its ignorant armies. What is most striking in contemporary critical debates is the underlying consensus that the victorian novel is necessarily, for better or for worse, a liberal projectinvested in the idea of separate private and public spheres (whether that separateness is an ideological fantasy or a historical reality) and committed to the value of individualism (whether fiction produces the individual as an effect of power or defends its inherent autonomy). On balance, critical revaluations of liberalism tend to naturalize, or to imagine as an already completed process, the literary event that New Historicism only forestalled by inscribing it as the telos of fiction: the formation of the modern subject. The disagreement is thus little more than a question of primacy. Whether it is understood as preceding the novel or as invented by the novels form, the individualas critics since Ian Watt have overwhelmingly assumedseems unquestionably to give the novel its reason for being.the staunchly Tory Blackwoods, Eagles expresses dismay at the rate of child mortality and the limited life expectancy of children in Englands manufacturing towns; citing the finding of the registrar Generals Seventh report that in Manchester more than half of every 100,000 children born will be dead within six years, he notes that wealth cannot justifiably be accumulated at such a cost of human life and insistsdespite his apparent antagonism to liberal interventionism by ostensibly meddlesome state apparatusesthat government must act to prevent this massacre of childhood (356). From whatever state of things this great evil arises, he reasons, it ought not to be, and surely the people as one man should look to the Legislature to provide proper sanitary and other means to check a national cruelty (356).8 9

See especially Amanda Anderson, Lauren Goodlad, and Pam Morris. Morris, in reading Bleak House not as an instance but as a critique of new form[s] of power as a sinister panopticon knowledge (118), and Goodlad, in contending that Dickenss fiction expresses an acute distrust of modern agency and seeks not to totalize but rather to plot the limitations of the New Police and of bureaucratic power as such (106), both seem to disregard Millers claim that the novel is ideally situated to disavow policing because it has already reinvented it, in the very practice of novelistic representation (20).


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In their concern for the individuated subject, literary scholars invested in the epistemic transformation described in Discipline and Punish tend to overlook the importance of Michel Foucaults own assertion that the history of modern power in the West does not end with Enlightenment, the rise of discipline, and the invention of the liberal subject. As his 197778 lectures propose, the larger trajectory from the end of the eighteenth century to the present day is toward governmentality:10 a system that has population as its target, political economy as its major form of knowledge, and apparatuses of security as its essential technical instrument (Security 108). Taking precedence over all other modalities of power, these security apparatuses are no longer a juridical-disciplinary system (37). Their object is neither the control of individual bodies nor the self-mastery of subjects but the management of the population as an aggregate. In the epistemic shift Foucault describes, the concept of the individual becomes a means rather than an end: [I]ndividuals, the series of individuals, are no longer pertinent as the objective, but simply as the instrument, relay, or condition for obtaining something at the level of the population (Security 42). recognizing the victorian novels role in reimagining the object of politics, I suggest, requires this insight. Yet it also requires some attention to the question of how fiction frames a largely untheorized problem that even Foucaults definitive account of biopower does not address: the tension between the category of population and the mass that resists incorporation. As a means of articulating this categorical tension and the host of problems it presents, Dickenss concept of the supernumerary is far from nugatory. Doubly ironized by the narrative, this figure of negated excess operates as a sort of double negative; the novel unexpectedly affirms its positivity even where it withdraws from literary and political representation. As if in anticipation of Jacques rancires argument that the demos of democracy is, in a positive sense, the count of the uncountedor the part of those who have no part (305), the multitude that materializes in Dickenss narratives is evidently not reducible to, and often appears at odds with, the statistical object of population. A figure of ontological uncertainty, the supernumerary at once designates that which exceeds the maximum allowable number (thus the number of units in excess of the total) and that which appears in excess of number as such: the uncountable mass of life that defies containment. It marks as a category that which exceeds categorization, rendering inclusion and exclusion equally impossible. Inseparable from the novels effort to mediate a sociopolitical world in which material containment strategies and security mechanisms are elemental to the exercise of power, this figure produces effects within the text that compel us to reconsider what it might mean to praise Dickenss extraordinary literary faculty of managing a crowd (Chesterton, Appreciations 212). As my reading of Bleak House will demonstrate, the supernumerary is not merely the nondescript backdrop against which character emerges, nor a literary attempt to represent what cannot10

See especially Security 1089. As it bears on victorian culture, the turn toward governmentality has been of interest to such critics as Goodlad, who identifies Foucaults late work on pastorship with a Millite liberal desire to build individuality without homogenizing individuals (30). See also Morris 117.



represent itself and must be represented. rather, it is the presentation of something that defies representation. Disrupting the logic of reference on which realist representation depends, its emergence in fiction exerts a metonymic force that radically refigures collective humanity neither through liberal-populist fantasies of common personhood nor through quantitative parity but rather in moments of collision, breach, immersion, explosion, and contagion. The Tough Subject Their identification is next to impossible, for they are like each other as apples in a sieve, or peas in one pod. Moreover, to tell their number is out of the question. It is as incomprehensible as is their nature. They swarm as bees do, and arduous indeed would be the task of the individual who undertook to reckon up the small fry of a single alley of the hundreds that abound in Squalors regions. James Greenwood, The Seven Curses of London unaccountable though they are to the heedless MPs and public officials who imagine them in the abstract, Dickenss supernumeraries take positive living form in Bleak Housenotably in the figure of Jo, who seems virtually inseparable from the medium of the general crowd in which he travels and the physical environment to which he belongs (163). Metonymically connected to the mud he sweeps from the streets, Jo himself is part of that kindred mystery . . . which is made of nobody knows what, and collects about us nobody knows whence or how: we only knowing in general that when there is too much of it, we find it necessary to shovel it away (163). Like the sediment that touches and contaminates everything in the city, the vagrant crossing-sweepers fleeting presence leaves traces of irradicable problems, contingencies, and possibilities of which the novels world cannot be cleansed. Constantly ordered to move on, he uncannily resurfaces everywhere, encounters everyone, sees everything, and yet knows nothink. He likewise remains unknowable not only to the legal system when it addresses him but also to the narrator who monitors his movements only to show him, among the other lower animals, get[ting] on in the unintelligible mess as they can (258). In a novel that seems to invite critical debates wherein the totality of disciplinary power and the conflicting reality of individual agency are the only options, Jo is difficult to pin down. Though entirely lacking in personal agency or autonomy, un-free without question, he proves remarkably impervious to the mechanisms of discipline. Despite his propensity to turn up again and again like a bad penny, he can scarcely be located even within his own temporary dwelling; Snagsby and Bucket, inquiring after him in Tom-all-Alones, discover that the Jo they seek could be anyone: Carrots, or the Colonel, or Gallows, or Young Chisel, or Terrier Tip, or Lanky, or the Brick (35859). Emerging from an environment in whichas a superintendent of police, cited in Chadwicks Sanitary Report, had incredulously relatedthere might be some thousand children who have no names whatever, or only nicknames, like dogs (199), Jo turns out to be, as his nickname suggests,


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a Tough Subject indeed (Bleak House 359). The intelligence he produces in the inquest regarding the death of Nemo cannot even be recorded in the official report; finding him unable to respond to the most basic questions that would identify either himself or the deceased as juridical subjects, the Coroner cannot receive his evidence anddeclaring Jos statements terrible depravityorders that the boy be put aside (177). With no fixed address, no surname, no family, no legally recognized occupation or legitimate social function, and only the most aleatory associations, Jo is less an individual subject than a walking synecdoche for the crowd [that] flows round (359). unless dragged bodily by Inspector Bucket, the narrator relates, neither the Tough Subject nor any other subject could be professionally conducted to Lincolns Inn Fields (362). Even when apprehended or temporarily detained, his very proximity proves inimical to everyone with whom he comes into contact. Debased, devalued, and abjected though he is, and interchangeable though he may be with any other child of Tom-all-Alones, Jo presents something beyond the moral abomination and sociological peril of unfed, unwashed, untreated, unschooled, and . . . dangerous bodies (Goodlad 100). Indeed, what takes place in Bleak House is impossible without him. Transforming everything he touches, Jos circulation throughout the novels geography fuses Dickenss impersonal narrative to Esthers narrative and drives the plot inexorably forward. While Esther Summerson would seem to be the obvious protagonist of the novel that includes her life story, her apologies for always writing about myself (137), [a]s if this narrative were the narrative of my life (40), are perhaps too often taken with a grain of salt. As if in answer to this self-effacing rhetoric, Dickenss counterpart narrative not only formally interrupts the autobiographical mode but also calls into question whether Bleak House is, or can be, Esthers story. Like the figure of Allegory pointing obtrusively toward the window to that muddy world outside where Tulkinghorn refuses to look (259), the impersonal narrator insistently points to something just outside the frame that the novel struggles to impress upon the readers attention: Dirty, ugly, disagreeable to all the senses, in body a common creature of the common streets, only in soul a heathen. Homely filth begrimes him, homely parasites devour him, homely sores are in him, homely rags are on him: native ignorance, the growth of English soil and climate, sinks his immortal nature lower than the beasts that perish. Stand forth, Jo, in uncompromising colours! From the sole of thy foot to the crown of thy head, there is nothing interesting about thee. (724) Though routinely described as deficient in cultivation and rendered alien because his poverty is all too prosaic and familiar, Jo appears not merely as the bad conscience of domestic fiction but as the avatar of a more general condition that no house or nation can hold at bay. His wonderfully strange (258) state of being both unsettles and connects the world of Bleak House precisely because it is coextensive with the institutions that seek either to eject or to contain his bodily presence. His futile labor of sweeping the city streets collapses all distinctions between sanitation and filth, work and idleness; his vagrancy is not the opposite



of domesticity but rather carries with it the homelessness of home itself. Further, in a genre that sets a high premium on the interiority of its principal characters, Jo presents a surface that not only resists interiorization but also evacuates the depth and frustrates the agency of those who rise to the level of subjectivity. What happens to a category so fundamental to the novel genre as that of character, in Dickenss fiction, is a significant question for the discourses of liberal individualism and literary subjectivity. readers have rarely failed to note that the phenomenal imaginative energy of Dickenss novels lies elsewhere than in his protagonists. E. M. Forster famously remarks on the almost galvanic illusion of vitality and roundness sustained by Dickensian characters who are actually flat (7172), and even to some of Dickenss literary contemporaries, it seemed that his great attraction [was] in his second-rate characters who (unlike his idealized protagonists) live among our friends a rattling, lively, life (Trollope 13536). Later critics maintain these distinctions between flat and round or first-rate and second-rate. Eagleton marvels at Dickenss bizarre, perverse creations, observing that Woodcourt is admirable, but Krook is magnificent. We may pity Oliver . . . but we delight in Fagin. The pious Little Nell . . . is an intolerable bore, whereas Quilp . . . is hideously fascinating (vii). More recently, Alex Woloch offers illuminating insight into the political implications of asymmetry between major and minor, lauding Dickenss extraordinary democratizing effort to make more of minor characters (35).11 Such suggestive commentaries stop short of remarking how scrupulously the novel undermines apparent distinctions between the one and the many. Only if we attend to the function of supernumeraries are we likely to discern that Dickenss fiction performs its most vital work through what might almost be called its third-rate characters: those who are so inseparable from their milieu that they often remain nameless, susceptible to being confused with, substituted for, or merged with others, virtually ceasing to be characters at all.12 Circulating infectiously through narratives in which they have no evident function other than merely to live and die in incomprehensibly large numbers, they give form to the novels urban-gothic lifeworld, evincing a strange capacity to transcend all distinctions between round and flat, subject and object, known and unknowable. Their multiplicity resolves into an uncontainable yet positively charged nonidentity, lending unexpected credence to the otherwise dubious condition described as Nobodys State of Mind (Little Dorrit 325). While such formulations as Nobodys Fault, in Little Dorrit and elsewhere, seem freighted with bitter satire, Esthers frequent references to herself as Somebody in Bleak House simultaneously point in the direction of particularity and11

Cf. Daniel Stout for a bold and compelling reading of Dickenss revolutionary decapitation of character in A Tale of Two Citiesa novel conventionally read as a reaction to the horror of reducing individuals to numbers. Gilles Deleuze seizes on something elemental to Dickenss fiction when he reads it as the art of immanent life: an impersonal and yet singular life . . . a haecceity no longer of individuation but of singularization (2829). Cf. Georgio Agamben 22834.



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anonymity.13 As the indefinite pronoun inevitably implies, Somebody might, for all intents and purposes, be Anybody. Like her father, whose moniker Nemo is Latin for no one (161) and who earns, in death, his pretensions to his name (167), the novels heroine proves no exception to the principle of impersonality. Critics have credited Esthers character with a unique capacity to bridge without collapsing public and private interests, subjective and objective perspectives, individual and aggregate realities (Morris 131). As a result, they tend to consider her exemplary of the victorian novels ethos of personal responsibility. Yet the outcome of her encounter with Jo effectively inverts the logic of individual accountability implied in the prospect of meeting, as Gridley would have it, face to face (252). In a novel whose personae can, like Mr. Smallweed, unexpectedly collapse into a shapeless bundle, restored to life only by vigorous poking and violent shaking (427), or, like Krook, spontaneously combust, Esthers relative prominence in her own narrative cannot protect her from losing her face and all [her] experiences (555). Anyone and everyone in Bleak House is bound to become, in George rouncewells coinage, a self-unmade man (845). The Sickness unto Life [T]he course of the social disease from which England is suffering is the same as the course of a physical disease; it develops, according to certain laws, has its own crisis, the last and most violent of which determines the fate of the patient. And as the English nation cannot succumb under the final crisis, but must come forth from it, born again, rejuvenated, we can but rejoice over everything which accelerates the course of the disease. Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England It is not as a character, nor even as representative of a class, but above all as the means of contagion that Jo fulfills his transformative function in the novel. The illness he spreads corresponds to a phenomenon that Henry Mayhews sources in the casual ward term tramp-fever: an infectious disease that seems to be communicated particularly to those who wash the clothes of the parties suffering from it (379). It is no surprise, Mayhew observesechoing the tropes of contamination and the standard equation of pathogeny and moral degeneracy that prevail in the sanitary movements discourse about the urban poorthat habitual vagrants should be the means of spreading a pestilence over the country in their wanderings (379). Where middle-class home-visitors like Mrs. Pardiggle and Parliamentary Blue Books on housing suggested that filth was detrimental to public health and13

This language echoes an earlier essay in Household Words lamenting the insidious power of Nobody in modern society (Nobody, Somebody, and Everybody). Dickenss desperate appeal for Somebody who can be held accountable resonates strangely with Harold Skimpoles reflections on that fantastical and providential agent who always does what he cannot do himself (Bleak House 595), and likewise, with Skimpoles observation, upon Esthers recovery, that he felt that he appreciated health the more, when somebody else was ill (593).



decency alike, some commentators nonetheless concluded (as Mayhews scenario of contagion through the washing of clothes suggests) that attempts to impose sanitation often did as much harm as good (Hollingshead 246). Dickens certainly maintained that sanitary reform, and particularly improved housing, must precede all other reforms; and . . . without it, all other reforms must fail (To Working Men 227). In Bleak House he also suggests that cleanliness desirable though it may beis not only difficult to achieve given the lack of drainage, clean water, space, and ventilation in the inner city but is also liable to contribute to the spread of disease. While typhoid, smallpox, and other viral and bacterial illnesses all too evidently flourish in the citys most crowded and impoverished quarters, their potential for transmissibility is unlimited. Dickens is not alone in recognizing the practical, theoretical, and political significance of this fact. In Charles Kingsleys Christian socialist tract, Cheap Clothes and Nasty (1850), the clothes produced by sweatshop labor turn out to be tainted, indeednot only morally, as Thomas Hoods Song of the Shirt (1832) had suggested, but also quite literally, for it comes out now that diseases numberless are carried home in these same garments from the miserable abodes where they are made. . . . These wretched creatures, when they have pawned their own clothes and bedding, will use as substitutes the very garments they are making. So Lords coat has been seen covering a group of children blotched with small-pox. The Rev. Dfinds himself suddenly unpresentable from a cutaneous disease, which it is not polite to mention on the south of Tweed, little dreaming that the shivering dirty being who made his coat has been sitting with his arms in the sleeves for warmth while he stitched at the tails. The charming Miss C is swept off by typhus or scarlatina, and her parents talk about Gods heavy judgement and visitationhad they tracked the girls new riding habit back to the stifling undrained hovel where it served as a blanket to the fever-stricken slop-worker, they would have seen why God had visited them. (xiixiii) The scenario Kingsley describes might be read not simply as an anticipation of but as an unexpected, early counternarrative to Marxs classic account of commodity fetishism. Whereas the commodity in Capital is the great concealer of the secret source of surplus values extortion, Lord s coat (unlike Marxs exemplary article)14 ironically mediates the material conditions of production that its very form would seem to obscure. Though it cannot, as a commodity in exchange, represent the reified social relations or the quantity and intensity of the specific human labor that is its provenance, the coatat the precise moment when it realizes its use-valuebecomes an accidental substrate for an unexpressed relation between bodies that manifests itself as contagion. Conveying the absent presence of these wretched creatures through the mysterious agency of the diseases they carry, the garment forcibly transmits misery and death from the sphere of production to the sphere of consumption.14

Cf. Capital 13877.


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In such instances, metonymy is not simply a rhetorical device but the figural expression of a material truth that eludes the logic of exchange: the mere contiguity of bodies and things and the contingency of their very matter. In Bleak House, Jo becomes both the medium and the substance of this truth. Through the vehicle of his diseased body, Tom (the personification of Tom-all-Alones) has his revenge on the society that begat him: There is not a drop of Toms corrupted blood but propagates infection and contagion somewhere. It shall pollute, this very night, the choice stream . . . of a Norman house, and his Grace shall not be able to say Nay to the infamous alliance. There is not an atom of Toms slime, not a cubic inch of any pestilential gas in which he lives, not one obscenity or degradation about him . . . but shall work its retribution, through every order of society. (710)15 Like those tainted articles of clothing through which infection permeates class boundaries and indiscriminately enters houses and bodies, Jo serves as a relay. Metonymic in the most absolute sense, his function cannot be understood by a critical tradition that equates metonymy with the figural logic of realist reference and reads it strictly as the structuring principle of realism.16 resisting metaphorization, with its suspension of substance and substitution of signs, he is not a referential bearer of deferred meaningnot the index of mimetic realisms absent realbut a site of multiplicitys own immanence. If Tom metaphorically embodies, personifies, represents the crowd of foul existence that inhabits Tomall-Alones (256), Jo is simply of it: an arbitrary instance of its uncontainability. The narrators allegorization of epidemic as retribution seems to accord with Dickenss charge in Household Words that public indifference to pestilence and health hazards among the dwellings of the poor is tantamount to wholesale murder (To Working Men 226). Even in identifying the crime, however, the novels sanitary plot suspends the passage of judgment and is not, in any meaningful sense, a fable of responsibility. Though Esther is appalled by Skimpoles callous suggestion that the suffering child should be turned away, his reasoning that such a contagious body is not safe (493) proves no less sound than Buckets avoidance of a procession carrying a corpse that he perceives only as the fever coming up the street (358). By contrast, Esthers unflagging dedication to the principles15

A similar scenario unfolds in Nobodys Story, in which Dickens narrates the spread of a pestilence that seems to originate in the squalid and overcrowded quarters of Nobody and his kin but quickly decimates his Masters family and an entire rural community without regard to class. The nameless protagonist of this allegorical Christmas tale, upon being questioned by the aggrieved Master, observes that while most calamities will come from us, as this one did, . . . none will stop at our poor doors (65). The plague in this story likewise follows a Christian apocalyptic schema of divine justice that levels worldly distinctions. Though Nobody acknowledges that he (like Jo in Bleak House) is little likely to be heard of . . . except when there is some trouble, he goes on to insist: But it never begins with me, and it never can end with me. As sure as Death, it comes down to me, and it goes up from me (65). See especially roman Jakobson (25) and J. Hillis Miller (100). Also see Elaine Freedgood, who offers a strong metonymic reading of realisms fetishized object matter (11).




of hospitality, individual responsibility, and interpersonal care produces more harm than good.17 Her voluntarism not only fails to save the dying boy but also infects Charley and herself with the disease. Further, her contact with Jo sets into motion a series of events leading to Tulkinghorns discovery of the scandal of her birth, her mothers subsequent flight and ignoble death, and the fall of the House of Dedlock. I am not suggesting that the plot punishes Esther for attempting to admit Jo into Bleak House, to contain this contaminating figure of the masses within the sphere of middle-class domesticity, and to mitigate poverty and sickness through sympathy and care. Quite the contrary: in allowing the ravages of disease (rather than the force of intentions) to determine the course of events, the novel projects a transpersonal field of poweran epidemiology of power, we might almost say that does not recognize an individuated subject. The population of Bleak House is brought into communication through the agency of an epidemic that violates established distinctions; as Eagleton puts it, [w]hen the East End sneezes, the West End catches a cold, if not something altogether more lethal (ix). It is through the infection of Esther (via Charley), as much as through Jo, that Toms revenge on every order of society finds expression; her own illness becomes a link in the fateful chain of circumstances connecting her to her unknown parents, rich and poor, whom Jo unwittingly reunites in death (468).18 The fever that indirectly reveals and conceals the secret of her identity (and the original infamous alliance through which she was conceived) at once brings her into contact with her concerned mother and affirms her own self-effacing drive quite literally, rendering her nearly unidentifiable. Exceeding bodily containment, the character whose tale has been read as a true liberal story of individualism (Gilbert 148) becomes paradoxically inseparable from the horde, and contagion operates as the organizing principle of an otherwise obscurely connected social body. Though Esthers life, unlike Jos, is spared, the transformative effects of this encounter leave their disfiguring mark in more ways than one. Even after she becomes useful to [her]self . . . and attached to life again (557) and comes to believe that she could not have been intended to die, or [she] should never have lived (586), there is no rational answer to nor recovery from the crowding reflections (791) that nevertheless continue to beset her. Echoing the figural language of the polluted stream and the impersonal narrators persistent oceanic metaphors for the urban crowd (710), and likewise anticipated by Sir Leicester Dedlocks dread17

In Our Mutual Friend, too, arguments in favor of personal responsibility seem almost automatically to produce their own critique. As if in response to the narrators sincere plea, [D]o not pass by the people as they pass us by (321), the appearance of the Good Samaritan (in the form of Deputy Lock, aka rogue riderhood) leaves little room for ambiguity as to whether the elderly and homeless Betty Higden, again narrowly escaping confinement to the workhouse at his hands, would have been better off if . . . the Samaritan had in the lonely night, passed by on the other side (502)and this case, Dickens insists, is not the exception but a type of many, many, many (498). Catherine Gallaghers reading of Our Mutual Friend is relevant here. Gallagher argues persuasively that death in that novel is actually portrayed as a sanitizing process and one in which a pure potential called Life is released (93).



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of the ends of aristocratic privilege as an opening of floodgates (450), Esther describes the sensation that great water-gates seemed to be opening and closing in my head, or in the air; and . . . the unreal things were more substantial than the real (913). As if in consequence of her own mere survival, the narrative hurtles with increasing force toward a conclusion that decimates the great old Dedlock family (889) and levels a moribund aristocratic order. While he fails to recognize that the floodgates are already open and that the tide has been steadily rising from the beginning, the hydrophobic Sir Leicester has good reason to fear his own defenselessness against what he experiences as the radical of Nature (184). Indeed, what seeps through his skin, and through the walls and floors of every home in Bleak House, is a threat to more than the class interests of the hereditary aristocracy. This leveling force that renders bodies indistinguishable heralds the end of all sociopolitical distinctionand reveals the obscure promise of a new formation yet to come. In simulating the exposure of a population to itself through its encounter with a mass that it can neither incorporate nor exclude, the epidemiology of Bleak House leaves the social body radically open to contagion and ultimately unbound by subjectivity. Population, Policing, and the Ends of Administration A clerk enters in a thick ledger the name, age, trade, and place of birth of the applicants [to the Asylum for the Houseless Poor of London], as well as where they slept the night before. As the eye glances down the column of the register, indicating where each applicant has passed the previous night, it is startled to find how often the clerk has had to write down, in the streets; so that ditto, ditto, continually repeated under the same head, sounded as an ideal chorus of terrible want in the minds ear. Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor If the socio-material problem Jo instantiates cannot be contained, much less resolved, by the intervention of bourgeois domesticity, neither is it dismissed by killing him off. As James Greenwoods reportage on Londons street children grimly suggestscontrary to the Malthusian hypothesis that premature mortality serves as a necessary check to populationShould death tomorrow morning make a clean sweep of the unsightly little scavengers who grovel for a meal amongst the market offal heaps, next day would see the said heaps just as industriously surrounded (12). And, as William Booth later remarks of the high mortality rate in what he calls Darkest England, [T]he dead are hardly in the grave before their places are taken by others (24). How such a crisis should be addressed (or how it might be prevented) is a question that the victorian novel is compelled to ask and yet reticent to answer. At stakeas nearly all of Dickenss novels imply, in their various satires of business as usual in the Circumlocution Officeis no less significant a question than that of why institutions and governments fail: more particularly, why they fail not only to secure the biological survival of the entire


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population but also to produce the autonomous citizen-subject in whose interest they have been understood to operate. In the novels perorations on Jo and his milieu, Dickenss rhetoric is consistent with a broader victorian discourse accusing the public of a murderousand ultimately suicidalindifference to a problem that is at once obvious and unknown: the condition of a vast deal of life that skulks or struggles in London and burrows in holes and corners, at the back of busy thoroughfares, where few know of its existence, or care to follow it (Hollingshead 7). In the press, this specter is perpetually brought to light only to be declared an even greater mystery than it had seemed. Here is a country, marvels John Hollingshead (a journalist and protg of Dickens), that spends one hundred million pounds sterling a year in universal government, and yet allows hundreds of its children, in the metropolis alone, to be annually starved to death! (189). Greenwood, writing of the untold numbers of homeless orphans who feed on garbage every day, holds that they are of as small account in the public estimation as stray street curs, and, like them, it is only where they evince a propensity for barking and biting that their existence is recognised (12). With regard to the calamity these and other journalists describe, perhaps no quantity of information (or quality of mercy) could ever suffice. Even while complaining that [t]he sweepings of society have seldom been carefully traced back to their hiding-places, Hollingsheads London Horrors series in the Morning Post cynically attests that certain parts of the city have been visited by day, inspected by night; have formed the text-books of preachers, the back-bones of sanitary reports, and the building materials of popular authors (13), all to no effect. For all the outrage of journalists and novelists, it seems that neither public indifference nor lack of information is to blame. Despite the narrators accusation in Bleak House that his contemporaries find nothing interesting about Jo (724), the sheer proliferation of investigative journalism, sociological analysis, ethnographic narratives, and medical studies of Englands urban poor attest that there must be something quite interesting about the homeless young crossing-sweeper, who seems almost to have wandered into the novel from London Labour and the London Poor. Dickenss fiction draws upon and seems to accord with Mayhews analysis of the crisis that street-children represent for society at large: [E]very means by which a proper intelligence may be conveyed to their minds is either closed or at the least tainted, while every duct by which a bad description of knowledge may be infused is sedulously cultivated and enlarged. Parental instruction; the comforts of a home, however humblethe great moral truths upon which society itself rests;the influence of proper example; the power of education; the effect of useful amusement; are all denied to them, or come to them so greatly vitiated, that they rather tend to increase, rather than to repress, the very evils they were intended to remedy. (185) This lament sounds a note echoed in cultural commentary throughout the century. In a similar study of metropolitan social degradation, Hollingshead concurred: With all our electro-plated sentiment about home and the domestic virtues, we


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ought to wince a good deal at the houses of the poor (vvi). If such analyses enshrine the norms of bourgeois culture and the evaluative apparatuses of a disciplinary society, they do so not simply in regretting the absence of such norms and apparatuses but in conceding their inevitable violation and failure. Indeed, in Dickenss narrative, the spread of disease effectively undermines the validity of any distinction between Tom-all-Alones, in its obscenity or degradation, and Bleak House, in its apparent safety and middle-class propriety. For a novel originally titled Tom-all-Alones, the erosion of such distinctions seems to be underway even in the authors preliminary notes, which explore various permutations of titles and subtitles. On the one hand, the process of revision and selection that begins with Tom-all-Alones and ends with Bleak House might appear to illustratein anticipation of the plot that kills Jo and saves Estherthe teleology of a series of substitutions and displacements by which the domestic locus of Esthers narrative comes to supersede the crowded, homeless world that might have been its subject. On the other hand, the list of working titles that includes The ruined House, The Solitary House, The ruined Building / Factory / Mill / House actually elaborates a set of possibilities within which the architecture of Bleak House is not simply analogous to but continuous with and constructed from the imaginative materials of Tom-all-Alones (Appendix 3, 993). Accordingly, where Dickenss dual narrative form seems implicitly to stage an ongoing argument between Esthers sentimental personhood and the forces of impersonality, Jos crossing from one narrative to the other renders the conflict all but irrelevant. His passage troubles the texts apparent boundaries between domestic and professional, interior and exterior, individual body and indivisible mass. And this, as I have suggested, is the function the supernumerary: to resurface precisely where it has been submerged and to posit itself as inalienable from the very categories that function to occlude or oppose it. What the form of the house fails to contain seems just as inevitably to escape the grasp of the carceral institutions that domesticityaccording to D. A. Millers seminal thesiswas constructed to render virtually unnecessary. If victorian fiction fetishizes a concept of home that its narratives cannot sustain, its preoccupation with detection operates to similar effect. Indeed, where it requires the intervention of police, the novel allows policing to work only when it does something quite different from what it claims. This contradiction is already evident in a much cited report of the inefficacy and fear of Paris police officers called upon in 1834 to impose sanitary measures during a cholera outbreak and to quell a riot by mobs of chiffoniers. As the prefect of police recalls: My agents . . . could not be at all points at once, to oppose the fury of those crowds of men with naked arms and haggard figures, and sinister looks, who are never seen in ordinary times, and who seemed on this day to have arisen out of the earth. . . . I had great difficulty in getting through these dense masses, scarcely covered with filthy rags; no description could convey their hideous aspect, or the sensation of terror which the hoarse and ferocious cries created. (qtd. in Chadwick 163)



Despite the emphasis on surveillance and sanitation in New Historicist accounts of the period, this and numerous other descriptions of policing indicate that the totalized gaze of the law and the omnipresence of police and of such regulatory apparatuses as the cordon sanitaire are little more than a fantasyand an improbable one, at that. Nor, apparently, can the misery of these dense masses be alleviated, or even accounted for, by public or private institutions that exist to supplement the already failed institution of the home. Hollingshead insists that the evils illustrated in his reportage are not and ultimately cannot be remedied by Government, nor tinkering philanthropy (vi), whose efforts he dismisses as misguided at best: The metropolis, not to speak of other towns, is not managed, not cleansed, not relieved from the spectre of starvation which dances before us at our doors. We are evidently surrounded by a dense population, half buried in black kitchens and sewerlike courts and alleys, who are not raised by any real or fancied advance in wages; whose way of life is steeped in ignorance, dirt, and crime; and who are always ready to sink, even to death, at their usual period of want. How many they really number, what they really profess to be, and in what proportion they may be found in different parts of the metropolis, are secrets that no census has ever fully exposed. (67) Impenetrable to bureaucratic evaluation, mapping, and census figures, yet evidently larger than the structures of a society from whose wishful norms and organizing principles it deviates, this abject spectre of starvation is, in effect, the form in which society attempts to contain its own negation. Thus, in Hollingsheads analysis, it is not simply the specific disciplinary technologies and institutional practices but the very idea of administration that proves woefully inadequate to the scope of such a problem. The ideological force of such claims, I think, has not been sufficiently grasped. reading the discourse of urban crisis, critics have been quick to identify an implicit panoptic schema in which the labouring and dangerous classes would be transformed . . . once they became visible (Stallybrass and White 135). Yet as Bleak House likewise atteststracking the path of Jo, whose brief existence embodies those secrets that no census has ever fully exposed (Hollingshead 7)visibility is no guarantee either of knowledge or of safety. In a text that has often been read as a case study in surveillance and preventive policing, the mass of humanity remains an open secret that resists detection precisely because it has never been, and cannot be, concealed. Perhaps the most shocking discovery of Bleak House is that even the activity of policing reveals the anachronism of disciplinary power, calling for a different form of power altogether. The means and ends of this new form of power are already implicit in Dickenss reportage in Household Words on his experiences shadowing Inspector Field (widely understood as the model for Mr. Bucket). Following the detective and his constable on their nightly patrol, Dickens is led into the innermost recesses of the city and immersed in the element of mass life (On Duty 316). In this murky realm, the function of policing will have less to do with


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identifying the suspect and solving the unspecified crime under investigation than with an inspectors command to [c]lear the street, half a thousand of you! (309). Inspector Field and Constable rogers hail specific individuals (at times by name) only to tell them we dont want you! and order them to disperse (3089); they demand that crowds of sleepers in lodging houses show their faces only to declare that [i]ts not you whom the law seeks (312, 315). Thus, we might say, the police exercise their authority in looking the other way. Dickenss account reveals, in effect, that the object of policing is not discipline so much as security. In contrast with the techniques of discipline, which necessarily seek to regulate everything and allow nothing to escape from surveillance, Foucault defines the distinctive strategy of security as that of let[ting] things happen (laisser-faire) in the interest of a more general equilibrium. An extension of the logic of political economy, it consists in allowing prices to rise, allowing scarcity to develop, and letting people go hungry so as to prevent something else happening, namely the introduction of the general scourge of scarcity (Security 45). Dictating that the interests of society are served by a certain degree of neglect, the law of scarcity governs the agenda of policing, which does its work in Bleak House merely in ordering Jo to move on. In allowing his narratives and their human populations to be governed according to the principle of security, Dickenss fiction confronts the central ideological problem of biopower. In an effort to preserve equilibrium, the victorian state, the police, and the institutions that operate on the object of population approach it as a more or less predictable statistical entity; however, they routinely encounter the aggregate of humanity as something other than this: a surplus of ungovernable life that exceeds and threatens the survival of the social body. victorian sociological discourse often makes it possible, or even inevitable, for us to translate the substance of this threat from mass into classa formation often imagined in racial rather than economic terms, Foucault suggests, as a degenerate subrace that is ceaselessly infiltrating the social body (Society 61). Yet Dickens, in testing this hermeneutic without seeking to contain its projected threat, not only allows such a process of infiltration to take place in Bleak House but also collapses the qualitative distinctions that ground all attempts to naturalize bourgeois normativity, to domesticate and sanitize the dangerous classes, and to police the abject. Enabling its literary experiments in population management to confront the contradiction they necessarily defer, Bleak House introduces the paradox of the supernumerary wherever theory and practice meet. The novel demonstrates, if nothing else, that the totality of the population will always emerge in excess of itself, effectively placing the human species at odds with the society that seeks to organize it. This problem is also a condition of possibility. Much as institutions and governments require that which exceeds their administrative capacities and violates their law in order to exist, so too does the novel find in the unmanageable mass of supernumeraries its own peculiar reason of state. What takes place in Bleak House necessitatesmuch to the frustration of readers, and designedly sothat Jo and his swarm of misery (256) remain a greater problem than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle . . . and all the fine gentlemen in the office, down to Zoodle, shall



set right in five hundred years (257). In producing the longing for an ending it does not offer, the Dickensian novel stakes the future of the social on the solution to a problem that the institutions of capitalism, modern states, and biopolitical apparatuses of security are structured to leave unsolved (if not, indeed, to perpetuate). rather than solve the problems it creates, Bleak House relentlessly reproduces such problems, exposing the perverse logic by which liberal governmentality sustains itself not despite but precisely through its administrative failures and contradictions. In so doing, however, the novel also opens up an empty interval between the collective wish for a better ending and the perpetual nonfulfillment of that wish. This gap between the represented and the unrepresentable is not simply the space occupied by ideology. It is the potential for a community that has yet to present itself in the narrative except by the announcement of its suspension. Such a community, as Jean-Luc Nancy would suggest, will not be objectifiable and producible through work or Bildung but will transpire through the mere interruption of singularities (31). What resists literary and political representation does not simply remain foreclosed but is in fact everywhere immanent in the novel: it is the possibility of an equality that can be realized only in the form of the mass. Works CitedAgamben, Giorgio. Absolute Immanence. Potentialities. Ed. and trans. Daniel Hellerroazen. Stanford: Stanford uP, 1999. 22039. Anderson, Amanda. The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment. Princeton: Princeton uP, 2001. Blanc, Louis. Organization of Work. Trans. Marie Paula Dickor. Cincinnati: u of Cincinnati P, 1911. Booth, William. In Darkest England and the Way Out. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1975. Brimley, George. unsigned review of Bleak House. Spectator 24 Sept. 1853. rpt. in Charles Dickens: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Philip Collins. London: routledge, 1995. 28389. Chadwick, Edwin. Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. Ed. M. W. Flinn. Edinburgh: Edinburgh uP, 1965. Chesterton, G. K. Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens. New York: Haskell, 1970. . The Victorian Age in Literature. New York: Holt, 1913. Deleuze, Gilles. Immanence: A Life. Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Trans. Anne Boyman. New York: Zone, 2001. 2533. Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. Ed. Nicola Bradbury. London: Penguin, 2003.


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