Animacy at the End of History in Changrae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay examines how dystopian depictions of US-China interdependency speculate on the material and aesthetic consequences of China’s rise, which, of late, have been articulated-though rarely explicitly-as “capitalist realism”: a belief in the impossibility of imagining alternatives to capitalism at the end of history. I focus on Changrae Lee’s 2014 novel On Such a Full Sea, arguing that it stages a pragmatic acceptance of China’s rise through its depictions of the end of history, environmental apocalypse, and perpetual economic stagnation; and through its reimagining of the novel form itself. I then show how Lee’s novel explores the limits of capitalist realism by exchanging a sine qua non of the novel genre-a liberal, bourgeois protagonist-for a minor character: specifically, an “animacy,” to use Mel Y. Chen’s term. As a refraction of American stereotypes of Chinese workers, this character/animacy mediates the novel’s consideration of how US-China interdependency portends the end of history and, via environmental crisis, the end of the world. I show how AlexandreKojève’s orientalist end of history theory-the progenitor of Francis Fukuyama’s end of history theory, which is the main provocation for “capitalist realist” criticism-might in fact offer some surprising possibilities for imagining beyond the end of history via “post-historical” aesthetics.