Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

VIII.2 Hudson

Roderick’s sadistic sacrifice of his own project may be due, in part, to his identification with the statue of the lazzarone (Neapolitan slang for a beggar or scoundrel), who Leavenworth interprets as a dying form (perhaps of art for passion’s sake). When Roderick tells him he is only drunk, Leavenworth declares that intoxication “is not a proper subject for sculpture. Sculpture should not deal with transitory attitudes.” Roderick’s retort is passionate: “Lying dead drunk is not a transitory attitude! Nothing is more permanent, more sculpturesque, more monumental!” After just, as Rowland's writes in his letter to Cecilia, lain prone and drunken himself, Roderick identifies with the lowly street figure and idealizes living for one’s passions, rather than material production. 

Roderick goes on to tell Leavenworth that the “statue of Culture” he commissioned is “an abomination.” Leavenworth declares aghast “My culture!”  and Roderick shouts back “Yours, Indeed! . . . It’s none of mine. I disown it.” Leavenworth replies: “Disown it, if you please. . . . but finish it first!” Roderick replies “I would rather smash it!"

Roderick's racist midset leads to his further indebtedness to Rowland, as he rejects Leavenworth as a patron. Roderick had just commenced work on his sculpture of a drunken lazzarone (Neapolitan slang for a beggar or scoundrel), who, the sculptor claims, symbolizes “serene, irresponsible, sensuous life." This scene presents Roderick’s desire to escape his indebtedness to labor for Rowland. When Rowland finds him in a “state of high exasperation” with his commissioner Leavenworth . . . In a fit of rage, Roderick exclaims: “It's your infelicitous everything! I don't say that to offend you; I beg your pardon if it does. I say it by way of making our rupture complete, irretrievable!” Roderick’s exclamation conveys to Leavenworth that it is not his person that Roderick intends to injure, but his own self. 

In Wendy Graham's study of James's work, she notes that “For James, the Jewry of turn-of-the-century Manhattan embodied, physiognomically and otherwise, the concentrated force of the Israelites since the time of Herod. Spencer’s revision of Darwin’s law of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, is incorporated wholesale into this scheme of social evolution. James’s interest in the extent of the ‘Hebrew conquest of New York’ casually evokes an antisemitic climate in which the Jew serves as the scapegoat for the failing indigenous elites who cannot withstand the relentless competitive striving of the interloper” (119). She also notes that “The reputation for a ‘ruthless concentration on self-interest’ blinds Jews and Americans rather than classing them off from each other. . . . At this time, the pursuit of wealth was not only perceived as an ethical dilemma but also a health crisis endemic to the harried pace of American industrial society” (Graham 112). Graham correlates Leavenworth, who is a retired Pennsylvania mine mogul, with the trope of the “Wandering Jew, the man who admonished Christ to ‘Walk faster!’ as he paused to rest on his way to Calvary and was told, ‘I go, but you will walk until I come again. By the late nineteenth century, the Wandering Jew had come to figure in psychiatric literature . . . as a pathological type afflicted with a morbid and implacable need to travel” (Graham 111-2).

In quitting his project for Leavenworth, he condemns himself to being further indebted to Rowland. Rowland’s advice that follows Roderick’s severance from Leavenworth foreshadows his deadly plunge at the novel’s end: “You are standing on the edge of a gulf. If you suffer anything that has passed to interrupt your work on that figure, you take your plunge. It's no matter that you don't like it; you will do the wisest thing you ever did if you make that effort of will necessary for finishing it. Destroy the statue then, if you like, but make the effort. I speak the truth!” Rowland’s declaration here reinforces the role to which Roderick is expected to adhere or face death otherwise. If Roderick allows the interruption of his work—of his productivity as American male sculptor, then he may as well cease to exist.

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