Heidi Smith responds to Devin Griffiths
Devin Griffiths’ astute observations about presentism raise helpful questions about what Ward’s “technological formalism” does or could do, and about why she chose 19th century British novels and 20th century theories of computing as central interlocutors. Like Griffiths I found Ward’s use of this “historical middle” compelling and also wondered what this “analogy makes possible.” It is terrific and fitting that Ward’s account raises numerous and wide-ranging questions for the field, because it is more invitation than polemic. After reading Griffiths’ response I wondered about one modernist in particular, Henry Green, and a novel he wrote called Party Going (1939). Comprised entirely of flat and mostly vapid characters, Party Going compresses the eight years leading to the eve of WW2 into four hours in a train station; evening commuters and party goers alike trapped there by London fog. I was reminded of Ward’s reading of Hardy’s novels through the perceptron, in which a “series of overlapping [character] perceptions constructs an alternate version of interiority” (106). This would also apply to Green’s novel, and helpfully push back on readings of it that get hamstrung by the insipidness of the Bright Young Things in the novel. Thoughts are repeated verbatim between characters of various classes, building a mode of sociality out of social fragmentation in a time of cultural and political uncertainty without healing that uncertainty. Ward’s account of the perceptron as a portable form can help us unite texts across time (Hardy and Green here) that might seem to have little in common; novels and novelists who trouble aesthetic distinctions between realism and modernism. I offer this merely as an example of the kind of thinking Ward’s book invites us to do.