Utopia Banished: Reading Zola Through Heidegger

Beginning with a close reading of the only appearance in La Bête humaine of the term progrès enables a reading of the novel that integrates its two settings—the railways and the legal system—into a single perspective. Zola’s narrative anticipates Heidegger’s postwar reflections on technology and technocracy, and the philosopher’s concepts of “Enframing” and “standing-reserve” in turn illuminate the novelist’s writing. Zola’s concern with showing the toxic effects of the Second Empire’s corruption, on both abstract ideals and physical systems, produces a work in which the possibilities of both progress and justice are precluded. Consideration of other novels such as Son Excellence Eugène Rougon and Travail establishes the railways as a dialectical site of tension between corruption and utopia across Zola’s œuvre.

Roderick Cooke
Volume 45.1-2