Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

I.10 Hudson

Rowland observes that Roderick’s movements “should have no deeper warrant” than to display his “structure.” In viewing Roderick in such a way, Rowland sees Roderick’s physical body as a vehicle for production (rather than insight).
Rowland’s assumptions about Roderick’s purpose are so extensive that he completely disregards Roderick’s own artistic aspiration to be an “advocate for American art." Roderick’s aesthetic approach reflects the nation’s bustling industrialism and conflicts with Rowland’s classical taste. The language espoused by Roderick here emphasizes his perception of sculptural art as a cyclical and performative process. Repetition of the “biggest”—as it cycles through individual, idea, act—serves, for Roderick, to distinguish American creativity from the established modes of European art. Whereas Roderick values sculpture for its process and performance, Rowland sees merit only in the finished product. For him, sculpture is significant inasmuch as it results in an ideal form that is worthy of permanent stasis. This conflict reflects the novel's thematic kinesis and stasis. 

In this way, Rowland evinces the "conspicuous consumption" that Thorstein Veblen associates with the leisure class.* Rowland desires only to passively obtain a sculpted form—a figure that most acutely represents the body in a state of permanent leisure. Roderick’s working-class conception of sculpture (his emphasis on the cultivation and competition of sculpting as a labor form) is detestable to Rowland.

Rowland quickly dismisses Roderick’s passionate manifesto, concluding that he “launch[ed] his doctrine on the inspiration of the moment." Rowland’s privileged viewpoint relegates Roderick’s insight to supposed flippancy, since Roderick’s longing to “fling Imitation overboard” in an effort to achieve a “National Individuality” directly conflicts with Rowland’s intentions.

Rather than take the young man seriously, Rowland imagines that Roderick has the self-awareness of a “restless, bright-eyed animal,” rather than the aspiring artist that Roderick claims to be. 


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