Editor’s Note: Last week, in the first installment of her series on the formal qualities of narrative and addiction, guest blogger Anne Moore talked about how both literary and psychotropic engagements invite us to the pleasures– and terrors– of delaying closure. Her example was Wilkie Collins’ 1868 novel The Moonstone. Today she fast forwards about 150 years to find similar structuring principles at work in the HBO series The Wire.
In a comment on last week’s post, Luke Walden asked if Victorian readers experienced the same kind of shame over bingeing on serials that we do—the short answer is yes, as demonstrated by Thomas Arnold’s 1837 anti-serial sermon that essentially boils down to the same argument my parents used about television: serial fiction rots your brain. At the same time, I’m less certain that Victorian serial fans had as conflicted a relationship with addictive reading as we postmodern readers do. In the intervening 150 years since the publication of The Moonstone, it’s become impossible to think of addiction without simultaneously thinking of its structural twin, recovery. The disease model of alcoholism allows for a both/and way of thinking about addiction: the figure of the “recovering addict,” who is simultaneously temperate and addicted.
On the level of narrative, this opens up new ways of thinking about the high associated with what Wilkie Collins calls “detective-fever.” The Moonstone allows the reader to revel in the pleasures of addicted reading, but the best postmodern serialized detective stories simultaneously highlight and undermine the pleasures associated with addictive reading. The best example of this dynamic is the universally acclaimed HBO series The Wire.