Jules Verne's Metaphor of the Iron Cage

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Max Weber's concept of the iron cage has become a byword in the scholarly world since the publication in 1930 of Talcott Parsons’ translation of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. What is less well-known is that Jules Verne had earlier used the iron cage metaphor in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) to reveal the paradoxes of modernity. Roland Barthes criticized Verne's vision of modernity as bourgeois and positivistic, pointing out his narrow-minded enthusiasm for futuristic technology. In this essay, I argue that Verne's originality lies precisely in his equivocal attitude towards modernity with its high technology. Verne, I suggest, does not reject technological modernity, but by dissecting it he reveals its propelling forces, high demands and price. He shows that the Enlightenment's Rule of Reason is, in the end, governed by the ancient passions of fear, bitterness and the thirst for revenge. It is this combination that makes the human condition tragic. Verne's Homeric imagination creates an epic hero—Captain Nemo—who personifies the remarkable alliance of modern science and ancient heroism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-300
JournalEuropean legacy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • METIS-268626
  • IR-83143


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