This essay sees the recent trend in novels that feature damaged, partial, or wayward protagonists as the ascent of a tradition of formal outliers as old as the novel itself to a position of dominance. Rather than formulate a self-contained individual capable of defending itself against whatever forces of nature or society might disperse and refigure it, this other tradition gave into those forces, releasing human subjectivity from the confines of the self-regulating individual. Why now? How does this major turn in the history of the novel contribute to the current reconsideration of human motivation and behavior in light of affect theory? If Robinson Crusoe provided a bellwether for the individual to come, then what can the damaged protagonist of Tom McCarthy's 2005 novel Remainder tell us about the selves we are likely to become?
Looking to establish a continuous history of novels in English from Robinson Crusoe and Clarissa through the major novels of Jane Austen to those of George Eliot and Henry James, a handful of postwar critics identified the novel's literary form with the complexity of the problem it posed for its protagonist. Only by surviving what amounted to an identity crisis could that protagonist become as internally nuanced as the literary text itself. As opposed to those who considered the formation of a self-governing individual a more rudimentary process, literary critics and historians who sought to add their own favorites to the list of novels distinguished by F. R. Leavis and Ian Watt were obliged to observe the same principle.1 They, too, favored novels that defended their protagonists against modernity's periodic assaults on individual autonomy and did so with all the finesse of an established classic. Looking at this tradition from a twenty-first-century vantage point, British novelist Tom McCarthy places his own work in an entirely different tradition, which he traces back through Thomas Pynchon, Samuel Beckett, and Franz Kafka to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. From there, McCarthy's lineup of idiosyncratic novels threads its way through the nineteenth-century fiction of Lewis Carroll, Herman Melville, and Charles Dickens to the eighteenth-century experiments of Lawrence Sterne.2 These novels continue to persuade readers that it is far more interesting, if not more accurate, to experience the material world through a partial, dispersed, damaged, immature, or wayward sensibility.3 To the degree that this retrospective account, with only a few substitutions, also applies to many of McCarthy's best-known Anglophone contemporaries–J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, and W. G. Sebald come first to mind–it makes little sense to consider his lineup of idiosyncratic novelists all that idiosyncratic, certainly not in twenty-first-century terms.
Having for more than two centuries occupied a subordinate relation to the great works of realism, it seems, a form of novel that damages liberal individualism beyond repair has suddenly come into dominance. In launching their memorable assaults on an individual whose form and social character are generally considered those of “the novel” itself, such novels have gone to war against the very form in which they are writing–and won. George Eliot's Daniel Deronda offers an instructive demonstration of the havoc such narrative misbehavior wreaks on the traditional novel form. As Daniel uncovers proof of his Jewish heritage, he finds himself overcome by a sudden rush of feeling that sweeps away the habits of mind and social interaction that distinguished him as a British subject and adopted son of the gentry. For F. R. Leavis, the sudden glitch in a marriage plot that seemed destined to put Daniel in a position of renewed responsibility within a crumbling social elite was the straw that snapped the back of Eliot's final novel. By throwing Daniel off his game, the flood of feeling that washes away his Britishness–and not Daniel's discovery of his Jewishness–calls into question the individual autonomy on which Leavis based his “great tradition.” While it made a good deal of sense for the midcentury canon-makers to look to the history of the novel for a principle of continuity between the Britain of the past and the one in which they found themselves stranded after two world wars, that canonical impulse cannot explain why McCarthy saw fit to place himself in a tradition of formal outliers that runs parallel to Leavis's.
To the question of what principle binds these traditions to one another while keeping them apart, we find intimations of an answer in the broken form of Daniel Deronda. The same flood of feeling that carries off the protagonist with his newfound kinsmen to found a Jewish homeland also forces his once intended Gwendolen Harleth to curb the errant spirit that attracts her to Daniel. Gwendolen, by contrast to the protagonist for whom Eliot named her novel, undergoes a long and heroic struggle to head up the household left headless by the death and departure of the only two men slated for that position. In Leavis's view, this struggle makes Gwendolen the novel's rightful protagonist, prompting him to propose that the publisher excise “the Jewish parts” and reissue the novel as Gwendolen Harleth.4 In all likelihood, very few readers, perhaps only Eliot herself, understood Daniel's sudden transformation as the novel's rejection of the mind-body distinction essential to the formation of a liberal individual in favor of a concept of sociality that observes some innate impulse.
My point in dwelling on this curious bit of literary history is to underscore the mutual incompatibility of the national tradition of realism with its idiosyncratic counterpart. As the translator of Spinoza's Ethics, Eliot was only too familiar with this argument. The difference between the form of her novel and the redaction that Leavis proposed almost a century later boils down to two incompatible ways of addressing the very same problem. The canonical form characteristically adopts the strategy of defending the autonomy necessary to sustain a protagonist's social character over time, while the recessive tradition is marked by a struggle against the confinement of individuated thought that bursts its bubble and floods the setting for human action with uncharted currents of inexpressible feeling. Were it not for the fact that both traditions grapple thus with the problem of individual autonomy, there would be no way that the history of the novel could have continued for centuries along these parallel trajectories, as it has until now.
In view of the novel's longtime commitment to provide a home for the personal lives and private thoughts of literate individuals, one must sit up and take notice when so many prominent novelists cease to do so. In addition to novels by Coetzee, Ishiguro, and Sebald, which preceded McCarthy's Remainder as already classics of a tradition bent on challenging realism's enduring attachment to the individual, we are now witnessing something of a worldwide boom in novels that would be considered idiosyncratic were there not so many of them.5 Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Michel Houellebecq's Submission, Colson Whitehead's Zone One, Rachel Kushner's Mars Room, Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World, Rachel Cusk's Trilogy, Daniel Kehlman's Fame, and Dinaw Megestu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears are only the first of this generation that come to mind. Why novels that refuse to focalize experience through an exemplary individual are now in ascendance–if not at every level of the book market, then certainly in the competitions for major prizes and prestigious venues for global distribution–is a question with no easy answer. Convinced that novels generally offer their own best explanation for significant revisions of the form, I rely on one that conspicuously performs the reversal of formal priorities marking our moment in the history of the novel. To reconsider the way novels used to think, not as a given of the form and a phase in its own development, but as a pair of formal options, I look briefly to Fredric Jameson's timely updating of the essay entitled “Narrate or Describe?”: Georg Lukács's defense of realism.
In his Antinomies of Realism, Jameson sees the novel's present assault on traditional realism as only the most recent in a history of such assaults that periodically provide the novel with a source of human energy to be formally managed and incorporated within historically new systems of belief and desire. In that the protagonist acquires the means to deal with these disruptions in the course of growing up, his or her maturation should provide a milestone in the history of the novel form itself. Where a more traditional reading would stress the way in which particular novels attach their form to that of the modern individual, as if their status as novels depended on it, Jameson focuses on how periodic eruptions of uncoded feeling, or “affect,” expand and update the possibilities for managing such feeling. What simply feels necessary, desirable, and right from a traditional perspective might actively limit what human beings might do–for good or ill–if freed from the obligation to become self-contained individuals.6 To show how, from the very beginning, there was indeed another way of viewing the social imperative to become one, I offer a reading of Robinson Crusoe that downplays the pragmatic problem-solving that arguably made its protagonist the first modern individual. Such an openly anachronistic reading throws its hermeneutic weight behind the same response to traditional realism that prompted Jameson's revision of Lukács as well as McCarthy's claim as a novelist to descend from a distinguished line of outliers.
To work my way through such a reading from Robinson Crusoe and the double history of the novel in English inaugurated by Defoe to an explanation for the recent displacement of the tradition of realism by its schizophrenic double, I will have to venture outside the history of the novel to a recent turn in modern thought that novels had long anticipated. I plan to sketch in overly broad strokes the culture-wide debate generally known to academics as “the turn to affect” and to a new generation of nonacademic service workers as “emotional intelligence.” This debate, as I read it, observes the same antinomies whose tension organizes the novel form and the history of its relation to outliers that periodically assault the representative individual. The current argument over affect within the academic disciplines and between the academy and other sectors of the service economy consequently raises a question that bears directly on the recent eclipse of that tradition. Rather than a question of what causes emotion to irrupt and threaten the very principle of government, the turn to affect calls into question whether or not the apparent surge of uncoded human feeling can be said to originate in the individual at all. The novel enters directly into this argument by showing why our moment in history fails to provide the material suitable for formulating even some radically new version of the autonomous individual that readers once imagined we were.
I am at a loss to name a social scientific theory or popular belief system that does not assume one is born, perhaps not as an individual, but with the potential to become one, an assumption that dooms us to struggle against our present state of being in order to become the person we imagine it is necessary, desirable, or right to be. The novel sets this process of self-discovery in motion by introducing a certain restlessness of spirit that diverts the individual from the predictable path toward an anticipated identity in much the same way that Magwitch's appearance in Great Expectations sets Dickens's protagonist on an uncertain course to London. Where the protocols of Pip's adoptive family and relative social obscurity all but guarantee he will remain in that position, a restless impulse has put that identity at risk even before Magwitch can sponsor his unwitting protégé's progress from village to metropolis. As that struggle to become someone was repeated by countless protagonists who felt compelled to do so at the risk of becoming no one at all, an expanding readership came to regard the restless factor as essential both to individual maturation and to the progress of the nation as a whole.
At the dawn of the modern period, John Locke attributed the desire that instigates the process of becoming an individual citizen-subject to an “uneasiness” of the mind,7 which prompts the faculty of reason to venture outward in search of new sensations to sort and arrange in a cognitive map of its material environment. Fast-forward from 1689 to the decade following the French Revolution and one finds Thomas Malthus attributing the accumulation of unrest on the Continent to the unchecked sexual passion that produced an excess of mouths to feed.8 Differ as they might as to whether this restless body syndrome was an affliction of the mind or a condition of its embodiment, both Locke and Malthus saw human restlessness as the instigator of a process that would inevitably bring the wayward impulse under rational control. Though a century apart, each understood the individual as divided against itself, so that its maturation was necessarily a struggle, on the one hand, against a social system that undervalued the body's sensations and, on the other, against an innate instability that would destabilize the social system that failed to accommodate it. So long as it eventually subjected the restlessness of embodied subjectivity to a problem-solving process that made it productive of a self that was itself productive, both men considered this experimentation worth the risk.
It was with something like this cultural balancing act in mind that Fredric Jameson undertook a revision of Georg Lukács's theory of literary realism, a revision that depends on one subtle but absolutely decisive move. Where Lukács argues that too much description works against realism, Jameson relocates description within realism as one of two poles between which a narrative must navigate if it wanted to be recognizably realistic. Were we to see description as Lukács did, as the limit where narrative time pools up and swamps narration, then plot would have to provide the antithetical pole, Jameson reasons, at which narration loses its traction in the historical particularities of things and people.9 For want of the flesh of life, narration begins feeding on itself, he suggests, and vanishes into abstraction. Having thus established description and narration as the formal poles of the contradiction that realism struggles to resolve, Jameson shifts attention onto the undervalued term of this opposition. Whenever it emerges from the background and overwhelms a plot, the setting that should provide the background for human actions becomes an expression of the eternal restlessness that he equates with affect.10 Henry James deliberately pushed this principle to the descriptive limit of realism, I would add, when The Turn of the Screw animates the setting so aggressively that it drives the plot into hiding, and neither James's several narrators nor his readers can say for sure what if anything has happened.
To address the question of how the novel manages affect, let me disentangle what I see as the decisive move on Jameson's part from what is a wide-ranging and deeply learned book. This one move, I have suggested, makes description integral to the work of realism as one of two cultural antinomies that constitute the problem for which the novel strives to formulate a resolution. Were we to lift the opposition of description and narration, so reconfigured, and bring it to bear on the history of the novel, we would find the same narrative principle operating at the macronarrative level as well.11 Whether this same problem-solving mode of thought holds true for most British novels over the entire history of the British novel, I cannot say, much less whether the same principle obtains for other national traditions. But if these antinomies do determine the formal limits that a narrative must observe in order to be received as a novel, then it would seem to follow that the same opposition shapes the history of the novel as well. As they unfold an individual capable of enduring over time, the novels Leavis selected for The Great Tradition can be said to pursue the impulse toward narration. The novels with which McCarthy identifies his own work, by contrast, exploit description in order to draw attention to indexical details and displays of technical virtuosity that disable the canonical defenses of individual autonomy. With the loss of that autonomy, the setting emerges from the background in a novel like Alice in Wonderland and choreographs human action.
To offer a thumbnail sketch of what a history of the British novel might look like if periodized in these terms, I would call attention, first, to the frequency with which the Gothic setting of eighteenth-century novels arrests a heroine's search for the man who can secure her social identity and sends her on an extended detour through winding tunnels, dark hallways, and tomb-like inner chambers whose labyrinthine interiors threaten to engulf even the crumbling walls that once distinguished it as a space in which aristocratic passions had free reign. By 1798, when Malthus wrote, the novel had enclosed the passions in the human body for which they provided instincts and drives that simultaneously ensured the continuation of the species and sealed the doom of populations that had yet to develop the means of harnessing those instincts for productive ends. It was in the form of survival instincts that the passions returned with a vengeance nearly a half-century later to provide the wrecking ball for Victorian novelists to demolish a country-house culture that had served the polite eighteenth-century reader as individualism's first line of defense. Within its walls, the passions could no longer be broken up, sorted out, and reassembled according to elaborate protocols of reason and decorum. Skipping then to the end of that century, we find Sigmund Freud teaming up with Josef Breuer to discover an unconscious repository of thwarted desires within certain women that could bypass social censorship and speak in body language. During the period of his first attempt at naming and systematizing the impulses responsible for the disturbing symptoms of hysteria, Freud would certainly have come across the novels of Bram Stoker, and if not Stoker, then Rider Haggard or Robert Lewis Stevenson, all of which accosted men and women of the new professional classes with the same fantasies of haunted bedrooms, live burial, incest, multiple selves, and cannibalism that Freud held responsible for the social dysfunctions of his patients.12 Like those other fin de siècle narratives, his case studies featured female protagonists who struggled against demonized personifications of their passions that assailed the conscious mind through the biological body housing it.
Even so cursory a survey as this should suggest that the form registered major turning points in its history by staging new and sensational outbreaks of unclassifiable feeling. Whether it was seen at the time as a passion, a drive, or an affect, novels responded to these outbreaks as to a pathogen, which they then struggled to name and systematize, until they brought it under cognitive control. Nor did the arts and human sciences fail to respond to the challenge, which sent what would become their most prominent representatives scrambling for a conceptual vocabulary that would lend intelligibility to the outbreak, its causes, and its effects. It should come as no surprise that such periodic remappings of the human emotions corresponded too exactly to moments of major change in the way the nation lived and worked to be dismissed as literary phenomena alone. During periods of economic crisis that seemed to come out of nowhere, novels leant imaginary substance to a phenomenal world that had suddenly turned against its inhabitants and seemed intent on consuming those who depended on it for their livelihood. In providing protagonists who sallied forth onto that landscape and subdued its demons by incorporating and domesticating them, the successful novelist offered readers something like a popular model of emotional management, the first and still paradigmatic of which is Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.
A prodigious writer of prose, Defoe did something with the journal of a fictional traveler that set Robinson Crusoe apart from all other prose narratives then in circulation: He split off a restless protagonist who hungered for new experiences from the cool-headed narrator who accounted for those experiences in writing. I am far from the first of Defoe's readers to dwell on his retrospective narrative and how it revisits each problem that confounds the protagonist until it can incorporate that encounter in a continuous narrative of problem-solving, a form of self-mastery that lends order to the island as well. Along the way, one particular episode stands out for defying the narrator's best efforts to rationalize it: namely, Crusoe's discovery of the “Print of a Man's naked Foot on the Shore” of an island that he assumed was his alone to occupy. Why does the sight of a single human footprint make him stand “like one Thunder-struck, or as if [he] had seen an apparition”? How can a mere footprint render Crusoe “like a Man perfectly confus'd, … mistaking every Bush and Tree, and fancying every Stump at a distance to be a Man”?13
To regain his footing on the very land that he so laboriously transformed into an extension of himself, Crusoe distinguishes what he can still imagine as his from the side of the island on which the footprint has put the stamp of no-man's-land. It takes no more than the sighting of a single bonfire on his side of the island to dissolve the boundary distinguishing his property and return the island to a landscape of malevolent intent. As if to insist that it takes an unwilled act of imagination to conquer a threat instigated by an unwilled act of imagination, Defoe has the solution to the problem of the unidentifiable footprint occur to Crusoe in a dream, in which he either kills or scares off potential enemies while naming and clothing those willing to become his servants and companions. On waking, Crusoe puts this fictional narrative into practice as a method of dispatching enemies as those bent on violence from potential friends with a legitimate need of his protection. Having solved the problem of the footprint, he devotes half again as much of his journal to establishing a government to carry out the same method of distinguishing enemies from those in need of protection.
Historically inclined to read this novel as the transformation of a religious dissenter into entrepreneurial man, which in equal parts describes Defoe himself, distinguished readers from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Karl Marx and Virginia Woolf threw their weight behind the novel's managerial narrator. This tradition of critical commentary anticipated that of Leavis's contemporary, Ian Watt, who attributed the unrivaled popularity of Robinson Crusoe to its formulation of an “autonomous individual … as the quasi-divine mastering of the environment.”14 Were we, however, to take a second look at the ending of Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a novelist like Tom McCarthy, we might be struck by an alternative that characterizes not only today's superhero movies and television serials, but also a novel like Alice in Wonderland that leaves the menacing landscape of girlhood open for successive generations to experience. In sending Crusoe back to England intent on settling down, Defoe established the basis and point of departure for The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
The sequel appeared in 1719 as Robinson Crusoe was barreling through four editions, only to be followed a year later by Defoe's Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a collection of essays on solitude, religious freedom, and epistemology supposedly authored by the fictional castaway himself. Together illustrating the formal bipolarity that organizes the original, the pair of sequels launched the “Robinsonade,” a tradition of sequels that either recounted a sequence of adventures or set the stage for extended bouts of self-reflection, but in either case acknowledged the gravitational pull of the opposite narrative mode. Beginning in 1726 with Jonathan Swift's satiric uptake of Defoe's novel in Gulliver's Travels, new versions of the model extended its life as the consummate adventure novel from The Swiss Family Robinson (1826) and Treasure Island (1882) to Andy Weir's 2007 novel The Martian narratives that also saw translation into other languages and media and redaction for different reading levels. I credit that solitary footprint with prying open the gap between sign and referent that sends the reader on a fool's errand to discover a stable basis for meaning, whether in the world of things and people or in the science and philosophy of mind. Without a trope that can bridge the same ontological gulf between subject and object worlds that it opens, Defoe's fictional travel journal would remain just one more travel journal, incapable of generating a succession of narrative attempts to formulate purely imaginary resolutions of the mutually conflicting worlds to which individualism was about to condemn the English readership.
Is emotional intelligence an oxymoron? If recent novels were alone in dismantling the prevailing model of the emotions, we might consider the novel's current assault on individual autonomy but another of those periodic mood swings by which the form renews itself. But a glance beyond literary studies to the larger debate now raging over the biology of the human feelings in relation to the models we use to classify them suggests otherwise. Prompted by a combination of contemporary breakthroughs–chiefly in brain science and the technologies of medical imaging and artificial intelligence–the onset of “the affective turn” has shifted the focus of the disciplines away from depth models of human emotion and equally contentious methods of empirical observation of human behavior. These discoveries have staked out a conceptual space between body and mind, where the biological body sometimes thinks for the individual without that individual knowing that it is doing so. By sidelining questions of how to define either mind or body, the recent turn to affect not only calls new attention to the interface between the human being as subject and the human being as object but also resurrects the old question of how to draw that very line. Certain subareas of interdisciplinary research have in turn gained unprecedented influence by casting doubt on whether it can be drawn at all without calling into question the individual whose existence depends on negotiating that line.15
Along with Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of carnival as “the world turned upside down,” Lukács's notion of class consciousness as the (revolutionary) self-realization of “a collective subject-object in history” shares Freud's hydraulic theory of emotion.16 According to this libidinal economy, if contained or submerged, human energy will accumulate until sheer compression forces it to rise up and push against the social interdictions that limit self-expression. To endure in any form, a government must develop permissible means of periodically releasing that collective energy, or what amount to safety-valve policies of population management. Should such forms of release or self-expression persist to the point of putting government itself at risk, forms of resistance aimed at church, family, classroom, or police will authorize forced compliance. Rather than depend upon pressure from above to energize forms of resistance from below that in turn call for top-down measures, affect makes its presence felt in a manner resembling sound waves that pulsate through the body and occasionally reach a level of audibility requiring modulation. The fact that we lack a vernacular explanation for such “intensities” does not render them any less real and corporeal than the traditional emotions or the natural instincts, but it does force us to resort to analogies by way of accounting for its operations and effects. To understand what affect theory means by the intensities that set affect apart from the qualities of feeling associated with the various emotions, I err on the corporeal side and fall back on the experience of restless leg syndrome, a feeling perversely absent when one is in motion but likely to break through and set the legs and feet in motion when one is at rest. That a vaguely vertiginous feeling accompanies any attempt to ward off or resist the sensation that compels those legs to move distinguishes this feeling from forms of resistance as something the body is simply disposed to do. Such restlessness is not to be confused, I am suggesting, with repetition compulsive disorders that can be folded into a hydraulic model and attributed to interdicted desires that reappear in some fantastic form to disrupt our conscious life. As the novel summons and activates it, then, affect can neither be restricted to an individual character nor folded into his or her development. More in keeping with the behavior of Epicurean atoms, affect seems to behave as would a current that passes through the body untroubled by our volition and so might be regarded as a form of volition in its own right.
If there is any truth in this comparison, then to think in terms of affect requires us to throw into reverse the disciplinary trope that subjects one's spontaneous responses to a form of retrospection and self-correction that builds, rounds, or individuates his or her character. When subject to affect, by contrast, the individual is attracted to certain stimuli and avoids others, so that experience becomes a matter of incorporating some and suppressing or ignoring other bits of information. So construed by William James, human consciousness is neither a bounded nor a sovereign space but a process of “rivalry and conflict [among] one's different selves.” These part-selves must cooperate as “a community” to overcome breaks in any one of several modes of perception, its coherence thus requiring some kind of recognition on the part of these scattered bits of thought that they somehow belong together.17 The hodge-podge of part-selves could maintain its sense of coherence over time, James speculated, only by continuously adjusting the relation among parts to accommodate the changing relation to their immediate environment and thus to one another. Being so in flux, such a loosely knit community can disperse and recollect, as dramatized by brother Henry's The Turn of the Screw, but never adequately explain itself.
If, as a more traditional novel would insist, the discipline of retrospective self-remediation is essential to the pedagogical production of a modern individual, then it would seem important to understand precisely what turn of thought succeeded in calling the viability of that model into question. In sifting through the critical literature, I was struck by the combination of demonstrable rhetorical force and scant scientific evidence that did so much to make “the turn to affect” a familiar phrase. Working in the interdisciplinary discourse of critical theory, philosopher Brian Massumi introduced us to an arresting example of Ronald Reagan's extraordinary success as a political candidate that located the politician's remarkable popularity in the actor's ability to “produce ideological effects by non-ideological means.” On seeing an image of Reagan's face, Massumi concluded, prospective voters decided to vote for him before they had an inkling that they had done so.18 In historian of science Ruth Leys's account, a concept borrowed from the well-known but soon discredited scientific experiment conducted by Benjamin Libet, Nobel Prize–winning pioneer in the physiology of consciousness, was crucial to Massumi's case for the precognitive response of Reagan voters. In this experiment, Libet asked a group of students to move their index fingers, signaling with a timer exactly when each decided to do so. The results revealed a slight but consistent lag between the finger's motion and the signal indicating exactly when each became aware of commanding it to move.19 Massumi uses this “half-second delay” as the rhetorical means of detaching human volition both from the survival instincts of the body and from an individual's cognitive processes by locating it in the brain's impulse to move toward what it finds attractive and away from what repels or terrifies it. The half-second delay between this reaction and the conscious decision to react thus provides the trope allowing him to think of affect as an untapped source of unmediated self-expression.
Daniel Goleman, best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, drew a comparable trope, known as “the neural tripwire,” from another neuroscientist, Joseph E. LeDoux, to develop the method of self-management Goleman marketed as emotional intelligence.20 LeDoux belongs to a “fresh breed of neuroscientists who draw on innovative methods and technologies” and can, in Goleman's view, “bring an unknown level of precision to mapping the brain at work … putting the amygdala at the center of the action.”21 In the face of danger, the amygdala, which LeDoux identifies as the part of the brain responsible for coding our emotional reactions to sensory information, allows a portion of the original sensory information to bypass the cognitive centers of the brain and go straight to the muscle centers that trigger action. Goleman's considerable reputation rests on his method of teaching people to control such backdoor responses. To acquire emotional intelligence, one must learn to recognize the signals of insurgent feeling and slow down the response, allowing the cognitive faculties to catch up and transform that energy into marketable “social skills.”22 By training ourselves to second-guess our spontaneous reactions–anger being the most “toxic” in his view–we can reroute the information that activated the neural tripwire through the visual cortex and repurpose that surplus energy to promote the smooth operation of the contemporary workplace.23 By means of this application of the neural tripwire, Goleman deftly updates the Hobbesian assumption that only top-down modification of natural human aggression can defend society from the very impulses that Massumi identifies with an innately human creativity endangered by the ascent of a disciplinary society and the self-governing individual that it produces.
Where Massumi casts the emergence of our precognitive potential in a utopian light, Goleman identifies it with an “uneasiness” within the individual mind that harks back to the Enlightenment concept of restlessness, an impulse he considers positive only to the degree that it extends the acquisitive mind and eventual cognitive control. Beyond the cubicles and tract housing that Goleman's readership would seem to traverse on a daily basis, then, we can sense a lawless landscape haunted by invisible forces that economically ruin those who fail to harness their impulses for social success in both domains. With the evaporation of such institutional captivity, by contrast, Massumi imagines a new and potentially utopian basis for human community. Taken together, these two accounts of affect propose incompatible ways of describing the same future, one in which affect plays, respectively, the roles of protagonist and antagonist. What has changed in recent years is not the opposition between these two positions, then, but the fact of their consensus that affect is now poised to ascend to the position of protagonist. As the form that has long experimented with this possibility, it remains to consider how the novel deals with an apparent collapse of the opposition so basic to its form.
Given that Defoe makes mastering “fear itself” a matter of life and death in Robinson Crusoe, a novel in which the landscape–in the form of feral cats, a typhoon, and tainted turtle soup– periodically endangers the narrative, we might see the footprint as another occasion for the protagonist to establish his autonomy. To imagine the bounded and sovereign being whose story would become virtually indistinguishable from the novel form, Defoe has indeed put his castaway and author-surrogate in a situation where assaults on his individual autonomy pose a threat to his human identity. In writing Remainder–a novel that quickly became a staple of undergraduate and graduate classrooms, a preferred example of literary critics, and a popular success with something of a cult following–Tom McCarthy crafted a protagonist whose autonomy has been irrevocably damaged before the novel begins. So far as we can grasp them, the thoughts and feelings of this protagonist, along with the content of his experience, are indistinguishable from those of a twenty-first-century city, and to survive in that environment, he must, like Crusoe, unmake one self and make another. Their similarity in this respect is the measure of their difference.
The novel begins shortly after the narrator-protagonist leaves a hospital, having physically recovered from the injuries received from “something falling from the sky. Technology: Parts, bits. That's really all I can divulge.”24 To repair the damage to the right temporal lobe responsible for motor functions on the right side of his body, a physiotherapist did some “rerouting,” which the narrator describes as “exactly what it sounds like, finding a new route through the brain for commands to run along.”25 After an extended period of relearning the sequence of minute commands required to perform such simple actions as picking up a carrot, commands we never remember learning unless we have to learn them twice, the narrator embarks on his new life with a brain able to fire off commands to his various limbs and digits and have them carried out. He soon discovers that his body, thanks to the accident, has acquired another master. As he pauses on a sidewalk outside a tube stop for the second time in two days, the process of recalling the route to his broker's office is abruptly preempted by “the same tingling, the same mixture of serene and intense” he had experienced at the moment of his accident. Indeed, it is all he recalls of that decisive moment, and “remembering it sent a tingling from the top of my legs to my shoulders and right up my neck … I felt different, intense: both intense and serene at the same time.”26 Outside the tube stop, the “feeling of intensity” increases until he automatically extends a hand and demands “spare change” from passers-by, a gesture that tells us less about his past than about the impulse that will direct him to his broker.27 To occupy the position of protagonist, a character was once obliged to demonstrate some degree of the self-awareness that comes with having schooled his impulses to meet the demands of urban life. While at his broker's, this protagonist abandons all effort to “think for himself” and obeys an impulse that Massumi might characterize as “a never-to-be-conscious autonomic remainder,” some residual quality of being human that is “social in a manner ‘prior to’ the separating out of individuals.”28 Reading Remainder with this in mind, one sees this visit to his broker as the moment when the novel launches a sequence of experiments choreographed by something that, in key respects, fits this description and so tests its impact and limitations.
As in making his way from the tube stop to his broker's office, so in making economic decisions, this impulse preempts what the protagonist learned in rehab. As he recounts the experience, “the tingle” bypasses his conscious brain functions and triggers an autonomic response that deviates sharply from the wisdom of the stock market as his broker explains it. The value of shares in today's market is propelled upward not by “what they actually represent in terms of goods and services,” he contends, but “by what they might be worth in an imaginary future,” which, as his broker assures him, need never arrive. “By the time one [disappointing] future's there, there's another one being imagined.”29 “Telecommunications and technology,” he recalls blurting out: “As soon as he'd explained how [the futures market] worked, I'd known exactly what I wanted, instantly.” When advised to consider a more diversified portfolio, he objects, “rather than be everywhere and nowhere, all confused[,] I want to have a … a … I searched for the right word for a long time, and eventually found it: ‘position.'” Before he can materialize his position in the futures market, the protagonist must possess the means of doing so.30 Crusoe brought only his own labor to the task of remaking a terra nullius in his image–a fortress, a field of grain, a pasture, a cave, a secluded harbor–while his money worked for him through the slave labor it had funded for a plantation in Brazil. His twenty-first-century counterpart, in turn, sets his investment in the futures market to work for him as he renovates a once run-down neighborhood in Brixton–an apartment building, a tire repair shop, a random street homicide, a bank heist–into smoothly operating self-contained machines. Once he brings each enactment to the point at which it will repeat itself without his oversight, the game is played, and the “tingle” directs his attention elsewhere. The result is a sequence of the disaggregated and redundant institutions of a society sustained by the spatial capture, reproduction, and commodification of human energy, the very society that Defoe had written into existence, or so Crusoe claims, out of the materials of nature itself.
Though confined to small-scale experiments, the process triggered by the tingle, funded by an unlimited supply of capital, envisioned by the protagonist, overseen by his manager, and carried out by hired actors gnaws away at the vestiges of individuated motivation. The process simultaneously subjects all participants, including the protagonist, to a force that extends the probing fingers of financial capitalism into the social networks that govern relations between self and world. This force transforms Brixton, institution by institution, into real estate that efficiently reproduces the sensations of a bygone way of life but without the inconveniences that would make it less attractive to upscale consumers.31 In that McCarthy's protagonist wants to fill his apartment building with anything but such consumers, however, we must assume that this novel has no intention of fulfilling the promise of a remedial Bildungsroman by having him move up in society. While the detailed account of his time in rehab encourages expectations that this protagonist will struggle against his disability and earn our admiration by recovering a level of independence necessary to survive in the new economy, it soon becomes clear that it is his lack of any desire to be like one of us that makes him different from earlier protagonists.
McCarthy is among a growing list of novelists to take up the task of bringing legibility to changes in the way we are connected to one another as a society. Within but a paragraph or two, Remainder takes us behind the institutional curtain concealing a small piece of the global machinery–at once narrative and governmental–that simultaneously sets the novel in motion and renounces all responsibility for the string of minor catastrophes that follow. The rehabilitation center that reroutes the protagonist's neural infrastructure is clearly in cahoots with an invisible economic conglomerate that his lawyer designates as “these parties, these, uh, institutions, these uh. …”32 In return for the protagonist's nondisclosure agreement, this conglomerate provides him with the funding necessary to become a new social person who can in turn reshape the workforce that materializes his projects, as well as the bioengineers, programmers, lawyers, financial advisors, and bureaucrats who plan and finance these projects. Equally bound by the infrastructure installed in the protagonist, those at the highest levels of these “institutions” serve a government that requires not a population of self-regulating individuals but the mathematical smoothness of a single machine that capitalizes on its own disruptions by reducing resistance to the repetition of synchronized and replaceable parts.33 Rather than rationalize ruptures in the protagonist's experience as part and parcel of the maturation process, then, Remainder transfers all sensory information to something like a machinic memory that gathers, sorts, and stores that information to be accessed at any time. So transformed, experience provides a form of compensation for the protagonist's complete inability to interact directly with other things and people.
So complete is that loss that the protagonist initially recollects life before “the accident” in terms that progressively cancel themselves out: “a blank, a white slate, and black hole.”34 This suggests that his lack of memory after the accident generates his apparent nervousness concerning the impending arrival of a woman with whom he had been living off and on before the accident. It is certainly understandable that he is fixated on the logistics of her visit–how to get to the terminal to meet her and when to set up the extra bed–rather than how he feels about this woman. But where the prospect of resuming a romantic relationship falls significantly short of the excitement accompanying the vision that emerges, soon thereafter, from a crack in his friend's bathroom wall, we know this is no traditional memory:
There'd been that same crack … and a window directly above the taps just like there was in this room. … Out of the window there'd been roofs with cats on them. Red roofs, black cats. It had been high up, much higher than I was now: the fifth or sixth or maybe even seventh floor of an old tenement-style apartment building … neighbors beneath me and around me and on the floor above.
Although his description lacks any trace of personal feeling for this place, he nevertheless claims to have “remembered all this very clearly. There'd been liver cooking on the floor below–the smell, the spit and sizzle–and then two floors below there'd been piano music.”35 Where his reunion with Catherine rapidly evolved from overthought to awkward to annoying, the vision triggered by the tingle “had been seamless, perfect.” Having “cut out the detour” through self-awareness installed at the rehab center, he achieved the sense “I'd been real–been without first understanding how to try to be” and recalls this sensation “with all the force of an epiphany.” With the fervor traditionally reserved for lovers and zealots, this man without feelings decides on the spot to find and renovate an apartment in a shabby section of Brixton that exactly matches the vision. “I knew on the spot, what to do with my money,” he proclaims, “I wanted to reconstruct that space and enter it so that I could feel real again … nothing else mattered.”36 So begins a sequence of “enactments” that emerge where and when the tingle demands.
These reconstructions are designed to dismantle neglected sites in the protagonist's old neighborhood and retrofit the activities performed with infrastructure that synchronizes its human parts to run no less automatically than the Taylorized factory and so carries its economic project into new social territory. In this respect, the setting produced by the novel mirrors the condition of its protagonist. Like the cinematic Robert De Niro he had always admired, his body has been broken open and reassembled, much of it remaining on the cutting room floor, to perform on movie sets constructed from pieces of devalued London real estate. It takes but a phone call to his multilimbed and tentacled production manager to summon the materials and human actors from anywhere in the world and have them arrive simultaneously at the assembly site, a method of imaginary world-making that calls to mind not only the on-location movie set but also the just-in-time automobile assembly plant. These artificial worlds capture the sights, sounds, and smells of an earlier cityscape so exactly and reproduce them on a daily basis at such great cost of human energy that their ingenuity, quite like that of Kafka's diabolical writing machine, overwhelms mere analogy. Behaving in a manner resembling the invisible machinery of today's real estate market, the protagonist's enactments mindlessly reproduce the cycle of deflation, foreclosure, investment, demolition, and gentrification that drives up property value.37
It seems somehow appropriate that a renovated Brixton should turn out to be more vigorously and unabashedly stereotypical than its past, not because the protagonist's past experience was commonplace, but because the futures in which he invests are repetitions that were reproductions in the first place: scenes from popular cinema, photographs, newspapers stories, forensic reports, and advertising. As the director, voiceover, scriptwriter, and star of a sequence of enactments, he secures for himself a future as a sequence of minutely detailed scenarios in which figure and ground exchange roles on a cyclical basis. To relocate the source of man's world-making power in the material from which he or she assembles it, the novel strips that material of any discernible emotional investment and turns those procedures over to technologies of mediation that, like the image of Ronald Reagan's all-American face, substitute for encounters with the world external to the self.
In lieu of a concluding statement, let me circle back to the question that initiated this inquiry and try to explain why it has to remain open-ended: to what purpose has the novel turned against its own form and dismantled a narrative that had for centuries artificially integrated the making of a modern individual into that of a national community? This question in turn begs the question of whether such an individual is indeed the source of human creativity and thus of the energy that once fueled and now resists any cultural narrative that would incorporate it in a hydraulic model of the subject. If the source of economic value originates in the creative expression of individuated subjectivity, it seems clear, then such an individual would have to be the means both of reinforcing and of resisting the production of capital. If, on the other hand, individuated subjectivity is not, as Remainder suggests, the source of human creativity but its product, consumer, and means of regulation, then where does a novel imagine that the past and future power of imagination might come from?
This is the very question that novels, to be novels, have always been obliged to open up, as well as to resolve in terms that provide a local and temporary answer. From Defoe through Pynchon and Beckett's grand paranoid implosions of the individual subject, as a result, the question of whether man's world-making capability could truly be captured by the aesthetic duplicity of class consciousness has remained a stubbornly open one. Major novelists still think within the same cultural antinomies that shape the history of the novel, a framework that depends on man's immanent restlessness to fuel periodic attempts at containment on the part of some new theory of human motivation or desire that will succeed only so long as it can intellectually account for that restlessness. Premised on an increasingly vexed concept of subjectivity as the repository of potential human creativity, such an individual is programmed to assemble narrative futures from imagined pasts by means of personal recollection via the passé antérieur. This is the very rhetorical strategy that Remainder disallows. Without the language of emotion to set subjectivity within and apart from a world of material objects, McCarthy contends, the reservoir of human creativity will reside in an exponentially expanding media environment. This is what provides his protagonist with the memory and technology to string together a continuous identity across repeated temporal breaks, much as the novels of the great tradition did for Leavis and Watt. But where their tradition insisted that the more things change, the more we remain the same, Remainder has reversed that axiom.
In The Great Tradition (1848), Claudia Johnson explains,
Leavis mapped out how novels were to be understood in qualitative relation to other novels, and he set the terms on which novels were to be discussed as a collectivity; in short, he invented the idea and the practice of the modern novelistic canon. And, in raising novels to the level of art deserving and requiring disciplined study, he created novel studies as a field whose work was to be differentiated from the chit-chat of genteel readers who regarded novels as entertainment.
Claudia Johnson, “F. R. Leavis: The ‘Great Tradition’ and the Jewish Part,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 56 (2) (2001): 200. Based on Sir Walter Scott's Lives of the Novelists (1825), Ian Watt's influential The Rise of the Novel (1857) established a national tradition of the novel beginning with Daniel Defoe and concluding with Jane Austen, with whom Leavis had already picked up and extended the canon through George Eliot to Henry James and a curious assortment of modernists.
McCarthy explained his relation to this tradition in a keynote address to the Society for Novel Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 2016, later published as Tom McCarthy, “Vanity's Residue,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 51 (2) (2001): 166–175.
Witness the fact that Gilles Deleuze made Alice in Wonderland the model and inspiration for his The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).
Leavis declared that “Henry James wouldn't have written his Portrait of a Lady if he hadn't read Gwendolen Harleth (as I shall call the good part of Daniel Deronda), and of the pair of closely comparable works, George Eliot's has not only the distinction of having come first; it is decidedly the greater.” F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (London: Faber and Faber, 1848), 104. As Johnson explains,
the pressure that Daniel Deronda puts on Leavis's claims on behalf of the English novel is clearest in his last and least-known essay, “Gwendolen Harleth,” written in 1974 to preface the abridgement of Deronda that he eventually undertook, and published posthumously in 1982. In 1973 James Michie, editor at the Bodley Head Press, invited Leavis to produce a redacted Gwendolen Harleth and so “win a new range of readers for George Eliot.”
Johnson, “F. R. Leavis,” 215.
Continuing the argument begun by Richard Todd in Consuming Fictions: The Booker Prize and Fiction in Britain Today (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), James English calls the Booker nothing more than “cultural money laundering,” in the Economy of Prestige (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2019), 199. Sarah Brouillette argues that the global distribution of literacy and literature has become an instrument for “development-oriented U.S. policy [to promote] its international operations as the building of partnerships in the making of a new global community … with U.S.-style social organization at its center.” Sarah Brouillette, unesco and the Fate of the Literary (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2019), 139. A cursory glance at the transformations of the prestigious Booker Prize in fiction after it was taken over by the Man Group plc, an alternative investment firm traded publicly on the exchange market, suggests that more than great reading is responsible for this boom. The question ultimately posed by these novels, then, is whether and how they can participate in the global expansion of Anglophone cultural and financial power while providing an inside view that sufficiently critiques those systems; I suggest that their ability to accomplish both aims at once is the source of their appeal.
The phrasing of this opposition does not imply that the release of affect is inherently subversive, resistant, or emancipatory. Nor is the capture and classification of disruptive human feeling inherently conservative. I tend to see these oppositional impulses as two sides of a single historical process in which one side presupposes the other. To translate such a formal opposition into political terms, one would have to account for the fact that periodic activation of the affect/emotion dialectic coincides with moments of dissensus: uncanny moments in which an acute division within the reigning common sense “puts two worlds in one and the same world.” By translating these worlds into subjective states of being, novels that let affect take the upper hand may very well not be encouraging so much as psychologically containing the latest threat of political upheaval. Jacques Rancière, Dissensus, trans. Steven Corcoran (New York: Continuum, 2010), 69.
In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), Locke puts it this way: “A power to direct the operative faculties to motion or rest in a particular instance, is that which we call the Will. That which in the train of our voluntary actions determines the Will to any change of operation, is some present uneasiness, which is, or at least is always accompanied with that of Desire.” John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1975), 282–283.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Malthus proceeds from the assumption that all plants and animals “are impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of their species, and this instinct is interrupted by no reasoning or doubts about providing for their offspring” to the conclusion that, as a result, “the superior power of population cannot be checked without producing some misery or vice.” These principles proved notoriously true when carried out as British policy on the Irish people during the period of the potato famine. Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976), 26.
As Lukács explains with special clarity in the essay “Narrate or Describe?” narration allows us to experience the emergence of “the general social significance … in the unfolding of characters’ lives,” while description renders characters, by contrast, “merely spectators, more or less interested in the events.” When this happens, “we are merely spectators” as well. Georg Lukács, Writer and Critics and Other Essays, trans. Arthur D. Khan (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1970), 116.
Writing in a subdiscipline in which affect theory has run rampant in recent years, Jameson usefully specifies “a very local and restricted practical use of the term ‘affect’ … by incorporating it into a binary opposition which historicizes it and limits its import to questions of representation and indeed of literary history.” Moreover, he links its rise to “the bourgeois body, as we now call it,” and considers this relationship a means of periodizing “a competition between the system of named emotions and the emergence of nameless bodily states.” Fredric Jameson, The Antinomies of Realism (New York: Verso, 2013), 29, 32. I would push this argument back to the beginning of the eighteenth century and locate the emergence of unclassified human feelings in a mutually constitutive relation to a new class body with the rise of the novel against a background already disturbed by the first impulses of a new mode of production.
This move makes a great deal of sense if we see the novel's way of using affect to challenge the prevailing systems of emotion as a means of self-periodization. Such breaks in the history of the form configures with Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of “the chronotope” as the spatialization of time as a single “carefully thought-out whole,” where “time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history.” Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas, 1981), 84. Here, Bakhtin distinguishes the history of literary chronotopes from the history of the novel as such, which he describes as an ongoing struggle among past and present chronotopes, both literary and not, for control of literary space. These warring chronotopes endow the modern period with a distinctive character that cannot be folded within a single stable chronotope, as the signature narratives of other periods can, and thus must periodically renew their conflict on new historical turf.
In the early Studies on Hysteria (1895), Josef Breuer formulates a theory of “affects” as “intracerebral tonic excitations” that erupt when the brain's normal oscillation between sleep and excitation is disrupted, resulting in a “surplus of excitation” that requires a release. Thinking with this hydraulic principle, Sigmund Freud held some unnamed “mechanism of the retention of large sums of excitation” responsible for the hysterical symptoms of Frau Emmy Von N. See Sigmund Freud, Studies on Hysteria, trans. James Strachey (New York: Basic Books, 1957 ), 192, 102. It is an easy matter to see the same principle at work throughout the field of characters in a novel like Dracula (1897).
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 130.
Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 74.
I identify this turn of critical theory with the appearance of two breakthrough works, both of which first appeared in print during the mid-1980s to declare the end of the bourgeois individual: Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146 (1984); and Donna Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism for the 1980s,” Socialist Review 80 (15, 2) (1985): 65–107.
During carnival, according to Bakhtin, social protocols were temporarily suspended, “all were considered equal. … Here, in the town square, a special form of free and familiar contact reigned among people who were usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession, and age.” Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Katrina Clark and Michael Holquist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 10. In modern culture, by contrast, Lukács asks us to understand the history of consciousness as the history of institutions that produce “false consciousness” to harness popular energy and direct it toward individual interests rather than those of the people as a whole. Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1968), 70–74.
In his The Principle of Psychology, vol. 1, rev. ed. (New York: Dover, 1950), William James notes that “even within the limits of the same self, and thoughts all of which have this same sense of belonging together, a kind of jointing and separateness among the parts.” If what is actually a continuous flow of thought appears to be a disjointed “chain” of separate segments, he contends, it is because of “breaks that are produced by sudden contrasts in the quality of the stream of thought.” Ibid., 239.
Brian Massumi, Parodies of the Virtual (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), 29.
In “The Turn to Affect: A Critique,” Critical Inquiry 37 (3) (2011), Ruth Leys offers an overview of the impact of affect on critical theory. At the end of her discussion of Libet's influential experiment, Leys concludes,
both Massumi and Libet seem to be in the grip of a false picture of how the mind relates to the body. The mistake they make is to idealize the mind by defining it as a purely disembodied consciousness and then, when the artificial requirements of the experimental setup appear to indicate that consciousness of the willing or intention comes “too late” in the causal chain to account for the movements under study, to conclude in dualistic fashion that intentionality has no place in the initiation of such movements and therefore it must be the brain which does all the thinking and moving for us.
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books, 2005).
Ibid., 27. In “Down with Love: Feminist Critique and the New Ideologies of Love,” Women's Studies Quarterly 45 (3–4) (2017), Kathi Weeks attributes the workplace that generates this bifurcated view of affect to the “passage from a Fordist to a postfordist regime of accumulation” in which “traditional forms of women's work have come to characterize so many kinds of employment.” An increasing number of jobs comprising the contemporary workforce call upon the worker to cultivate “a deep love for work comparable to the stereotypical feminine attachment to romantic love.” Ibid., 48.
Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 144.
Tom McCarthy, Remainder (New York: Vintage, 2005), 4.
Ibid., 44, 9.
Massumi, Parodies of the Virtual, 25, 9.
McCarthy, Remainder, 46.
A district of South London, Brixton is now a residential area and tourist attraction known for its music, arts, central market, arcades, and club scene. Its history as such began in 1948 when the hmt Windrush brought a population of immigrants from Jamaica to Brixton, many of whom established its present Afro-Caribbean character. During the economic downturn of the late 1970s, social unrest among the working population exacerbated by an aggressive stop-and-search policy came to a boiling point in the riots of 1981 and again 1986, during a period of attempted gentrification. Following the explosion of a neo-Nazi nail bomb on the main commercial street during shopping hours, Brixton became a prime site for gentrification (marketed as regeneration) and tourism, which won it The Great Neighborhood Award in 2013. Set in 2005, the spaces of the enactments providing the events of Remainder take place in just the run-down sort of neighborhood that would be ripe for rebuilding even though there is little attempt in doing so to reproduce marketable characteristics of its ethnic past.
McCarthy, Remainder, 12.
Mark McGurl graciously shared a chapter titled “Generic Love” from his book in progress. Here, McGurl explains in some detail why Christian Grey, protagonist of the bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, is “more than a poster boy for neoliberal capitalism … he is also the symbolic vehicle by which that system is ‘softened’ and made caring again in the little welfare state … of a loving marriage.” I consider it significant that Remainder, by contrast, strips the Alpha Billionaire of all the qualities that might “soften” the new economy, especially his sympathetic status as its victim. Nor, as it turns out, is his character precisely tailored as the agent of financial capitalism. Like the urban protagonists of Teju Cole's Open City and Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho, McCarthy's protagonist advantageously occupies multiple characters while neither becoming nor achieving control of anyone.
McCarthy, Remainder, 3.
In Literature and the Creative Economy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2014), Sarah Brouillette identifies a new class formation that includes major novelists and poets, as well as their publishers and critics. Preferring weak to strong social ties, this “highly educated and mobile group … are typically city dwellers who encounter within the urban milieu the cultural and experiential diversity necessary to their self-conception.” Ibid., 21. When they move into neighborhoods “whose residents were dispossessed when manufacturing jobs moved overseas,” gentrification comes with them. Ibid., 30.