Literary Mapping and Connectivity

Speaking on Uthis Haemamool’s 2006 novel Mirror | Reflection at the Tokyo-based Thai Gakkai conference in June 2015, Aan editor Ida Aroonwong noted that the presentation recalled Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel (1998). I first read the book for Michael J. Shapiro’s Urban Genres course in 2007 and Ida’s point was useful: I should’ve based this paper, which I first drafted in 2009, on Moretti’s literary approach to urban and geopolitical space. For Moretti, the novel is connectivity, between “the geo-political reality of the nation-state” (p. 17) and the emergent national subject; and also division and deformation (i.e., disorder) of space that becomes increasingly complex in the modern 19th century novel. The relationship between connectivity and disorder culminate in a kind of political equivalence between books and maps. “[O]ne looks at the map, and thinks.” (p. 7) This equivalence is useful for looking not only at his subset, that moves from Greek tragedy to the picaresque and realist novel, but at literary mappings of the global city that I see in Mirror | Reflection. Here is the basic equation:

New space–>                          new form–>                            new space

(character movement)             (nation/city)                            (planetary/global)

The equation is summarized in the final lines of the book. “A new space that gives rise to a new form—that gives rise to a new space. Literary geography.” (p. 197)

Moretti’s literary approach to geography is influenced by Benedict Anderson’s literary treatment of the emergence of nationalism in colonial-era Philippines. But the difference is that where Anderson projects the emergence of the nation-state, Moretti’s maps project deformation, class divisions, and procession toward a post-national space. To “deform,” Moretti writes, is to elide the binaries of possible outcomes with indeterminate possibilities produced, for example, by the rise of the urban. Novels thus offer a “micro-scopic level” (p. 77) by articulating (making “legible,” to borrow from Kevin Lynch’s 1960 classic Image of the City) the contours of the city. From the complexity of the city to the “illusions” of the suburbs, Moretti’s Paris and London become narratives of “the Third,” geographic structures that drive action as they project power.maps

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