Representing the Planet: Affect, Scale and Utopia
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Abstract The discourses of planetarity and globalization are both governed by the relationship between the maximal scale of the world and the subsidiary scalar levels that constitute it. However, if in globalization those subsidiary levels are envisioned as converging on a homogenous whole, in planetarity the aim is to maintain them in a dialogic relationality. On the face of it, such a recalibration seems relatively straightforward. However, the three novels discussed in this essay suggest that the retention of the maximal scale as a constituting frame for representation risks forestalling any attempt to move beyond the paradigms of globalization. In both Doris Lessing's The Four-Gated City (1969) and Ben Lerner's 10:04 (2015), the relationship between parts and whole takes shape via the medium of affect, as the defining characteristic of the part becomes a desire for the whole that is seemingly destined to extinguish it. Consequently, both novels turn to a formal modeling in which individual and collective can supposedly blend without either suffering reduction—a maneuver also characteristic of many theoretical discussions of planetarity. Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora (2015), in contrast, self-consciously repudiates the possibility of representing the maximal scale, instead prioritizing narrative over the kinds of formal modeling seen in the other texts. This point of difference allows the periodization entailed by the planetary turn to engage with the work of that preeminent theorist of periodization, Fredric Jameson: in particular, with his account of the relationship between spatiality, temporality, and the utopian impulse.
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