The Crisis of Scale in Contemporary Fiction
Kason, Daniel Joshua
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The Crisis of Scale in Contemporary Fiction studies how globalization has transformed our relationship with scale and creates a problem of representation in fiction. After the Second World War, new geopolitical, economic, cultural, and technological developments radically changed the form of existing spaces such as the nation-state, while producing new ones like the global city. By the late twentieth century, with the end of the Cold War, the spread of free trade policies like NAFTA, and the start of the Internet Age, these historical developments led to what I term the crisis of scale; that is, humanity’s growing awareness of the planet’s complexity and interconnectedness has called into question established narratives about the spaces we inhabit, necessitating the development of new representational strategies. Analyzing depictions of the global city, nation-state, world, and galaxy in novels by China Miéville, Karen Tei Yamashita, Nalo Hopkinson, and Samuel R. Delany respectively, I uncover the set of narrative strategies they use to account for the way globalization shapes daily life. Turning to popular genre fiction to describe the disorienting and dislocating effects of the crisis of scale, these novelists join a tradition of writers of literary fiction interested in advancing generic traditions such as science fiction and detective fiction. While most critics read the generic turn starting at the end of the twentieth century as a response to the decline of postmodernism, I interpret the literary movement as a formal solution to the problem of representation under the crisis of scale. By self-reflexively and intertextually engaging with their own generic histories, popular genres develop a language for the perspectival experience of the crisis of scale. This dissertation contends that tracking literary developments in genre provides us with a theoretical toolkit not only for articulating and understanding new globalizing conditions, but for developing new subjectivities capable of contending with them.