- Fiction:The 1960s to the Present
A decade and a half into the 21st century, everyone knows that forces abound. Often contrary, but sometimes in league for even more powerful effect, they raise the level of discourse to heights that provide encompassing perspectives. From what one critic calls "a planetary imagination" to other scholars' interests in academic politics and digital transformations, these forces strive for an overview that enriches each of its component parts. "What this country needs is a good five-cent synthesis," a Saul Bellow character once famously remarked. Today that synthesis is more likely to be priced in the millions.
i General Studies
In Reading for the Planet: Toward a Geomethodology (Michigan) Christian Moraru aims as high as the force for a worldwide vision can take him. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 brought America into a conflict it had heretofore kept at hemispheric length. Now the time has come for "a planetary epistemology necessarily underwritten by an apposite ethics." Such aims are achieved in fiction by what Moraru calls the "cartographic plays" of Thomas Pynchon, Guy Davenport, David Foster Wallace, and Michael Chabon. Their remappings anticipate a deglobalization that will accomplish the "planetary recharting of world spaces." To counter the possibly ethereal aspects of this task, Moraru [End Page 285] finds roots for it all in the fiction of Philip Roth. Here geopolitical bearings take effect on "the private, the emotional, and their expression," creating an "affectsphere" modeled on the Cold War phenomenon of living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. In Roth's novels personal doings are "mapped onto world affairs," a manner that carries on with writers as varied as John Updike, Robert Coover, and Don DeLillo. Gish Jen and Changrae Lee join the effort by devising "macro-micro telescopic rites" that "reembed" places, people, and traditions from China into the United States. Moraru's reach is worldwide, with writers from Europe and Asia sharing prominence equally with Americans in this study. But the United States has a special advantage in its vibrant multiculturality; witness Bharati Mukerjee's success at integrating the concerns of families from the subcontinent with the realities of life in America and Jhumpa Lahiri's move beyond simple postcolonialism to "rewire the system's spatial capabilities." Not that there can be simple "utopias of harmoniously multicultural cohabitation"; instead, writers that Moraru admires construct "a literary GPS" that invites readers to navigate the cosmopolitan style that characterizes increasing numbers of lives.
Moraru has coedited with Amy J. Elias The Planetary Turn: Relationality and Geoaesthetics in the Twenty-First Century (Northwestern). His essay, "Decompressing Culture: Three Steps toward a Geomethodology" (\pp. 211–44), expands the paradigm of planetary thinking to include its impact on the most basic acts of conversation and reading, with new shapes for fiction as indices to the process. Such phrases as "macroscopic vision" and "interval-informed approaches" articulate a style in which thought creates new material, from topological spatializations and structural relations to ethical concerns. Novelists now excel at unfixing their narratives from temporal constraints in favor of enhanced spatial shiftings. Hence DeLillo, Paul Auster, and Andrei Codrescu craft fictions that are more fluid and multidirectional than older conventions prescribe. Much like the higher profile thematics of French novelist Michel Houellebecq, these American works profit from "the disappearance of the outside," a factor that allows a fascinating dialectic between the macro and micro perspectives that can be found also in the work of Changrae Lee, Jonathan Safran Foer, Gish Jen, and Lahiri. For this part of Moraru's argument the determining text is Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, which considers how the United States must "reconstellate" itself to deal with the post-9/11 world—in other words, how to "really see it." [End Page 286]
Planetary forces take a meteorological turn in Adam Trexler's Anthropocene Fiction: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change (Virginia). For novelists to grasp the human implications of global warming they must escape the canonical limitations for American fiction that forward-looking critics have long abandoned. Trexler's introduction makes a strong case for disavowing the self-contained seriousness of writing that aspires to canonical status in favor...