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Machinic Fu Manchu: Popular Seriality and the Logic of Spread

From: Journal of Narrative Theory
Volume 43, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 186-217 | 10.1353/jnt.2013.0021



This paper explores the processes of serial narration in view of the serial enactment of Fu Manchu. Its contention is that seriality is a principle rather than a technique and that this principle cannot be deduced to one author, author collective, or instigator. It gains a ‘machinic’ momentum of its own in the course of its unfolding. It is no mere circumstance that the most successful serial narratives—like the Fu Manchu narratives—were initiated in the ‘long’ 19th century with its expansionist ambitions regarding the spread of global capitalism and the modern nation state, and then were propelled by the engines of 20th-century media modernity. The Fu Manchu narratives lend themselves to an investigation of the principle of seriality because they vent the serial logic of expansion, excrescence, and spread both on a thematical and a formal level and tightly interweave structural and ideological functions. In consequence, the narratives have to be seen as serial performances or enactments, rather than representations, of the yellow peril theme. They do not so much express politico-social fears and cultural anxieties from the vantage point of an author or individual text, but work as engines in the serial machinery which generates and spreads ideological certainties.

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