As I was reading Pierre Bourdieu’s piece, two thoughts came to mind. The first was that, having experienced his challenging syntax, I would do well to keep my use of parenthetical and prepositional phrases in check from now on. The second, more fruitful idea was that it would be interesting to apply his rigorous method of literary field analysis to Sayers and get a better sense of where she stands in relation to the other agents in her field.
Then, I remembered something in Robinson Crusoe about the folly of starting something without counting the costs.
Bourdieu does not make implementing his analysis easy. As covered in Cohen’s article earlier this semester and reiterated on page 31 of Bourdieu, it is difficult to reproduce the “spaces of original possibles” because some of an era’s problematics became extinct or were not commented upon at all. Furthermore, Bourdieu seems mostly occupied with the avant-garde and with oppositions to bourgeois culture within autonomous subfields; popular writing figures little in his discussion. This limitation, in turn, prompts some more questions. How do we classify Sayers? Where does she fall in relation to the three competing principles of legitimacy? How does whatever position she takes in her literary subfield displace other positions and struggle with avant-garde or “consecrated” writers?
More than anything, though, I am interested in how Sayers’s disposition—is she daring, conventional, desperate, or out to make a buck? —shapes what position she might be taking. She does not seem to be striving for the post of poet or “pure” artist, so to consider what she is striving for requires one to consider the “social direction” that guides he towards her goals. We can consider that social factors are “the basis of the astonishingly close correspondence that is found between positions and dispositions, between the social characteristic of ‘posts’ and the social characteristics of the agents who fill them” (Bourdieu 64). We could consider how her need to make a living would perhaps push her far away from the “art for art’s sake” crowd, which as Bourdieu points out, might be composed of the guardians of truth and justice who are “explicitly defined as such in opposition to the constraints and seductions of economic and political life” (54). We can also consider how structural time-scales of the literary field of the novel shape Sayers’s position-taking. The novel goes through changes more rapidly than theater but less so than poetry if Bourdieu is to be believed (52), and the detective novel, as a popular form closely attached to the market, must undergo changes even more rapidly. Do the rapidly changing aesthetics of the detective novel make it hard for Sayers to challenge an established antagonistic position or even to fend off newly arising forms?
There is a lot to consider. The rigorous demands of Bourdieu’s method, the nature of which are not-so-succinctly described on page 65, seem to be raising more questions now than answering.
Bonus: I couldn’t help but think that the séance in Strong Poison was a dig at Conan Doyle for believing in fairies and ghosts. With that being said, please enjoy this recording of Conan Doyle’s ghost recorded at a séance in 1934.