- Market Corrections:Jonathan Franzen and the "Novel of Globalization"
Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (2001) makes a very deliberate attempt to locate its account of the Lambert family within defined social and economic contexts. There is the shift in American economic fortunes at the end of the twentieth century affected by the market correction alluded to in the novel's title. There are internet technologies and the force of the operating system developed by the all-conquering "W___ Corporation" (not M for Microsoft on, one assumes, legal advice, but W for Windows instead). There is the transformation of post-Soviet states, particularly Lithuania, and the impact of new economy money on old economy infrastructure ("What survived of Midpac's trunk lines had been sold off to enable the company to concentrate on prison-building, prison management, gourmet coffee, financial services; a new 144 strand fiber-optic cable system lay buried in the railroad's old right-of-way"). There are observations on the ever-greater refinements of consumer society and an exploration into the potential of new and more powerful pharmaceuticals. Reflecting Franzen's stated commitment to the "social novel" ("Perchance" 37) and his belief in fiction's "cultural authority" ("Exile" 178), The Corrections thus connects the private with the public and individual psychologies with material realities.
Franzen does more, however, than simply project his characters onto a backdrop drawn from general views of contemporary society. Offering precise descriptions of a world shaped by international politics, new technologies, consumer economics, and the free market, he sets out instead to link his portrait of the Lambert family with a vision of globalization's complex combination of forces. The familial and the domestic are thus known in relation to broader panoramas of global change. It is this approach that leads Susanne Rohr to [End Page 111] read The Corrections as "a new form to the genre of the novel: the novel of globalization" (103). Franzen's desire to write a social novel has required, it seems, an engagement with the contexts and conditions of a globalizing world. The result is a novel so heavily embroidered with patterns and themes linked to global economics, consumerism, and international politics that Rohr's position appears both convincing and uncontentious. Such a view is not, however, as unproblematic as it seems. The suggestion that The Corrections is a "novel of globalization" raises a host of questions about not only the ways in which Franzen's fiction is read and understood, but, on an even more fundamental level, the meaning of the term globalization itself.
By its very nature, the idea of globalization seems to defy easy definitions. Providing an explanatory context for phenomena as diverse as tourism, climate change, Jihadi terrorism, the power of international brands, mass migrations, the spread of the English language, and the rise of trans-national media conglomerates and understood as the product of intricately interrelated changes in the organization of social, political and economic spheres that are in turn linked to technological developments, the danger is that globalization offers both a theory of everything and an explanation of nothing. Used in some contexts as the foundation for complex readings of the meaning of modernity in the contemporary period (Anthony Giddens and Arjun Appadurai) and/or imperialism (Nestor Garcia Canclini, Leslie Sklair, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri), and in others as a simple shorthand for a culture that can be characterized by clichéd images of a child wearing a Chicago Bulls t-shirt in a remote corner of the Amazon, there is little doubt that globalization is a concept that is porous, unstable and potentially overstretched.
Despite these concerns, it is still possible to identify a consensus. Though many have contested his conclusions, few would argue with, for example, the way Giddens frames the debate by suggesting that:
Globalisation can [. . .] be defined as the intensification of world wide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa. This is a dialectical process because most local happenings may move in an obverse direction from the very distanciated relations that shape them.(Giddens 64...