The Artifice of Myth

Posted by Happy Landings - October 20, 2010

The desacralization of canonical work is always a tenuous task. As Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” is a bildungsroman of such acclaim and influence, it begs evaluation and re-evaluation for the ideal it perpetuates. Robinson is a prototypically dispensed hero of Capitalist, imperialist Western lore. The son of German immigrants(who, naturally upon naturalization, adopt a less difficult and exotic surname) willfully embarks on a journey of self discovery which can only occur through distance from his roots and, along the way, constantly picks himself up by bootstraps in the face of occasional slavery, starvation, and bad weather. Crusoe’s quest is initially spurned by dissatisfaction in his status, an attempt perhaps to dissociate himself from what his father deems “the middle state, or what might be called the upper Station of Low Life, which he had found by long Experience the best State in the World” (2). Robinson seeks a self-constructed and earned identity, whittled through “Experience,” rather than assigned. Yet, while he shirks this characterization, he cannot avoid reconstructing his colonialist world and worldview.

The excerpt from John Bender’s “The Novel and the Rise of the Penitentiary” notes the shared features of the novel and the urban phenomenon, the Penitentiary. The novel “formally embodies the fabric of urban culture: the very self-consciousness concerning the fabric of concrete particulars that defines it…[as] the technical ability to keep track by writing and to retrieve by reading” (398). The essence of the theoretical penitentiary is marked by “isolated self-consciousness shaped over time, within precise material circumstances, and under the regime of narrative discipline” (392). The marks of the novel and the penitentiary idea are demonstrated by Crusoe. He scrupulously records his labors and ruminates on their moral implications, best demonstrated on his chart of miseries-which he describes as being a method “like Debtor and Creditor” (66)- wherein, under the “Evil” column, he states “I have no Soul to speak to, or retrieve me” against, under the “Good” column he notes, “But God wonderfully sent the Ship in near enough to the Shore, that I have gotten out so many necessary things as will either supply my Wants, or enable me to supply my self even as long as I live”(66). Crusoe cannot escape a utilitarianism sanctioned by God, or rather, justified by the belief of being divinely sanctioned. Even in the remotest regions of the world, he cannot escape this logic or resist the compulsion to scrupulously record it.

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