The Historical Novel of Contemporary Capitalism

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Cet article a initialement été publié au sein du dossier “La Fiction politique (XIXe-XXIe siècles)” qui reprend les actes de la journée d’étude et de la table ronde d’écrivains organisées par le Groupe phi et New York University.

In a 2011 survey piece published in the London Review of Books – a genre in which he has lately come to specialise – Perry Anderson charts a history of the historical novel as that form of the novel which has, he writes, « almost by definition, been the most consistently political ». Essentially an extension of, and occasional critical engagement with, the work of both Georg Lukács and Fredric Jameson, the article tracks – as its title, « From Progress to Catastrophe », suggests – the genre’s development from early nineteenth-century narratives of bourgeois triumphalism, and the emergence of modern nationhood, to « the ravages of empire », and of « impending or consummated catastrophe », in the second half of the twentieth century. What later forms of the historical novel, from Marquez to Doctorow or Pynchon, come to transcribe, Anderson argues, « essentially, is an experience of defeat »[1].

Such an account has its roots in Lukács’s 1937 study The Historical Novel. It takes from it a conception of the genre as that which works, above all, to narrate the past as the « necessary pre-history of the present », and thus to constitute a properly totalizing form devoted to the representation of historical transformation « through a set of representative human types whose lives are reshaped by sweeping social forces »[2]. As Anderson rightly notes, in this way Lukács’s account lays the groundwork not only for a generic theorization of the historical novel, but also for his later theorization of the political efficacy of the great realist novel of the nineteenth century in general, and – just as crucially, one might add – legitimizes Lukács’s entirely new claim, in contrast to the melancholic position elaborated in the earlier Theory of the Novel (1914-15), that one may indeed identify, in Walter Scott’s fiction, the emergence of a properly modern epic form. As Lukács puts it: « When it comes to the modern epic … [it was] Scott … [who] united the totality and completeness of the epic form with a content that was consciously socio-historical in its entirety as well as its details »[3]. In other words, the historical novel becomes the vehicle for a modern epic form precisely by virtue of its figuration of some new sense of history definitive of the modern itself. Setting out, in this way, from a Lukácsian reading of Scott’s Waverley as a specifically novelistic « affirmation of human progress », Anderson’s account provides what is, consequently, a largely plausible narration of the changing politics of the historical novel’s attempts to give form to its own present’s prehistory, from its early nineteenth-century embodiment of bourgeois universalism, to its crisis post-1848, through, finally, to its ultimate re-appearance in an expression (often distorted and fantastical, Anderson observes) of the « thwarted hopes of the present »: a Benjaminian conception of the present’s pre-history as a catastrophic piling of « wreckage upon wreckage », in which progress comes to be re-presented, above all, as catastrophe itself[4].

Yet, convincing as this may be – up to a point, at least – it is also noticeable that, apart from one brief reference to Jameson’s account of the contemporary as an « age that has forgotten how to think historically », Anderson largely passes over what is so central to the accounts of both Lukács and Jameson themselves: that is, the developing political problem of historiography as such[5]. As a consequence, he fails to engage the central question of the ongoing adequacy – and, hence, historicity – of certain modern cultural forms to the representation of history, which so troubles both Lukács’s and Jameson’s work, and which might well be linked to the very shift from the dynamics of progress to those of defeat that Anderson recounts, but at a more fundamental, formal level.

In fact, in the case of Lukács, it is precisely this problem that is notoriously identified in his own account of a fundamental loss of some concrete form of collectivity or universality in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848. Hence, the novel’s turn towards an interiority which, Lukács writes, transforms history into little more than mere background for the examination of a series of « purely individual forms and purely private fates ». The shift from Scott’s or Balzac’s epic « we » to the individual « I » of a later critical realism consequently brings into question the very contemporary possibility of the historical novelist’s capacity to represent what Lukács terms the « concrete historical genesis of their time » in epic terms[6].

Writing in the 1980s, Jameson, too, locates a similar problem for the contemporary historical novel. But – more drastically – he also understands such novels to be subject to a further intensification of a problem intrinsic to representation as such. This is the basis of, for example, that famous reading of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel Ragtime, elaborated in Jameson’s first essay on « Postmodernism » (1984), in which the novel is presented, first and foremost, as an « elaborated symptom of the waning of our historicity » per se: one which can only reflect (and reflect upon) an « aesthetic situation engendered by the disappearance of the historical referent » in a social world dominated by those processes that Lukács had himself defined as reification. What Jameson describes here is certainly a narration of defeat. Doctorow is, Jameson observes, from one perspective, indeed « the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past »; a description which works equally well for other post-1960s texts such as Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland (1990). Yet, crucially, such defeat is manifested not solely at the level of the novel’s political content, but, far more emphatically, at the level of novelistic form itself, in so far as the latter speaks to some far broader and, Jameson suggests, politically debilitating crisis in the possibility of representation per se[7].

History and epic form

Although Anderson does not mention it, it is worth noting that both Jameson and Lukács are here drawing upon, and modifying, claims which are central to a much longer history of the theory of the novel – most crucially, the relation (however mythicized) between the form of the novel and that of the epic itself. This is a conception that can be traced back at least as far as the mid eighteenth century, and is central to the early German Romantic philosophy of the novel in particular. However, it finds its most influential expression in what comprises little more than a few paragraphs of Hegel’s Aesthetics. Here, following on from a lengthy section on the epic from Homer to Dante and Milton, Hegel famously argues that « it is quite different with the novel » – what he terms « the modern bourgeois epic » – which, while it may indeed bring « before us again », Hegel writes, a « wealth and many-sidedness » characteristic of an « epic portrayal of events », misses, of necessity, that « general situation out of which the epic proper proceeds ». As such, unlike the epic, what no novel can, according to Hegel, by definition provide is the possible « occurrence of an action which in the whole breadth of its … relations must gain access to our contemplation as a rich event connected with the total world of a nation and epoch ». Instead, any story will henceforth always resolve back into the contingent and « unendingly particular »[8].

In this sense, Hegel’s assertion that the novel is the modern bourgeois epic contains, from the outset, a self-conscious contradiction – in so far as the very nature of bourgeois sociality does not, on this account, admit of epic form – one which Lukács precisely sought to overcome via his theorization of the historical novel. For, by re-reading Hegel’s definition of the novel as the modern bourgeois epic in terms effectively antithetical to Hegel’s own – that is, precisely as an epic of the bourgeoisie – Lukács locates in the historical novel, the representation and narration of the bourgeois class as themselves a collective subject of history[9]. It is this collective dimension that will, for Lukács, later find itself dissolved in modernism and naturalism. It is worth noting, then, the degree to which Jameson’s own description of what he calls the cultural logic of late capitalism – particularly, and significantly, in relation to its supposed « spatial turn » – continues to build upon Lukács’ analysis in this respect. Hence, for example, Jameson writes, in the « new spatial logic of the simulacrum » of « late capitalism » it is

what was once, in the historical novel as Lukács defined it, the organic genealogy of the bourgeois collective project – what is still for the redemptive historiography of an E.P. Thompson or of American « oral history » … the retrospective dimension indispensable to any vital reorientation of our collective future – [that] has [today] become a vast collection of images, a multitudinous photographic simulacrum[10].

In other words, what was once the task of the historical novelist on the left to assume the function of « the history-writing subject » – « that part of humanity whose solidarity embraces all [of] the oppressed », in Benjamin’s words[11] – is negated not just by a reversal of perspective in the face of that left’s « defeat » – a left which no longer has « the future in its bones », as T.J. Clark has recently put it[12] – but to a loss of the very capacity to perform any such historiographical task at all, by virtue of that very defeat itself.

Jameson’s argument here is well known. But there is an interesting resonance then, at this point, with a similar problematic of representation as it appears in the reading of Marx in Jameson’s most recent book, Representing Capital. For if a « dilemma of representation » is indicated, in part, Jameson writes, by Marx’s own frequent use of the term Darstellung in Capital, what it concerns here is not – or, at least, not directly – the problem of how to figure some organic genealogy of either a bourgeois or proletarian collective project, as Lukács presents it, but, above all, the fundamental aesthetic and epistemological problem posed by the question of how to represent capitalism itself. As Jameson puts it: « No one has ever seen » capitalism as a totality, « nor is capitalism ever visible as such, but only in its symptoms »[13] – a representational dilemma viscerally encapsulated in, for example, Roberto Saviano’s 2006 docu-novel Gomorrah, where, observing the intense difficulty of « imagining the economy in all its aspects », the narrator suggests: « Perhaps the only way to represent the workings of the economy is to understand what it leaves behind, to follow the trail of parts that fall away … as it marches onwards »[14].

While, in this sense, the waning of historicity that effectively undermines the historical novel, for Jameson, would still appear largely to turn on the growing difficulty of assuming some Lukácsian perspective of totality that might be connected to any actual revolutionary, collective sense of history, this very loss is itself, from another point of view, a function of the ever-more totalising and abstract character of capital itself as the « universal » social form. Historically, such a problem is not, therefore, merely a consequence of the fact that, today, it is inescapably clear that the « standpoint of the proletariat … simply could not and cannot sustain the historico-philosophical weight that Lukács had placed upon it »[15]. It is also a function of the fact that if there is anything like a « subject of history » in Marx’s Capital, it is in fact, more obviously, self-valourizing capital itself. To the degree, therefore, as Lukács writes, that, in the epic forms of both the historical novel and classic realism, each narrative detail is significant precisely « to the extent that it expresses the dialectic between man-as-individual and man-as-social-being », it is what Marx calls the actual or real abstraction of that « self-moving substance which is Subject », in the « shape of money », that constitutes the most « real » (in the sense of being the most determinative and universal) social being of modernity here[16].

The peculiarly modern, aesthetic dilemma of representation that Jameson identifies is, in this sense, not simply one of growing complexity or size – as Jameson can seem to suggest, and which he connects, problematically I think, to an aesthetics of the sublime – but of the fact that, as essentially abstract, capitalist societies are, by virtue of their production of ever more extensive forms of interconnectedness, in a way profoundly « collective », but can only assume the structure of anything like a collective Subject in an objective, inhuman form. As such, they pose what may seem an insurmountably obdurate problem for any literary or cultural forms of representation, image and narration. For what can it mean to give « figurative » form to that which is, of its very essence, abstract[17]?

Capital made material

My question is then: what does this mean for a reading of the political possibilities of the historical novel, in particular, and for its own apparent historical trajectory from the narration of progress to the narration of defeat today? Of course, the use of the term « epic » to describe various post-1960s forms of the novel is not unusual – from the novels of the Latin American boom, to canonical North American figures including Doctorow, DeLillo and Pynchon, to the recent New Italian Epic led by the authorial collective Wu Ming[18] – though, significantly, it is precisely this epic dimension that has itself often been subjected, interpretatively, to some pathologization as, variously, schizophrenic, hysterical or paranoid in form. At the same time, and just as importantly, an epic scope and scale is figured frequently enough in the imagery characteristic of such novels themselves[19]. Pynchon is, as always, exemplary, as in the « ev’rywhere, and ev’rything » that constitutes the East India Company in his 1997 novel Mason & Dixon, with its promise of a « world that is to come, [in which] all boundaries shall be eras’d »[20]. Or, one could cite that direct invocation of the past as pre-history of the present to be found in one scene in Wu Ming’s 2007 novel Manituana, set during the period of the American war of independence: « Philip has a vision: A London as big as the world. A single vast excresence … in perpetual motion, paved, cobbled, propped up; a world of artificial light and a great deal of darkness, salvation for the few and damnation for the majority »[21].

If such retroactively « prophetic » moments as these attest, therefore, to a certain « necessary anachronism », as Lukács terms it, at work in such novels’ construction of « a felt relationship to the present », there can be no doubt that a narration of defeat does indeed play a central role in this – from the Native Americans of Manituana, or the millenarian communists of Wu Ming’s earlier Q, written under the multiple pseudonym Luther Blissett, to Pynchon’s turn of the century anarchists in Against the Day, to the radical puritan revolutionaries of Neal Stephenson’s remarkable Baroque Cycle, published between 2003 and 2004. Yet this defeat is also interwined with what is (shall we say) an unusual and more specifically contemporary fascination in such works with the historiography of emergent forms of new capitalist relations of exchange themselves – in particular, the history of the money form – which, I suggest, mobilises a rather different means of, in Lukács’s words, « giving poetic life to those … forces which have made our present-day life what it is and as we experience it »[22]. As Saviano remarks, in his review of Manituana – but the point is more general – what is at stake in such historical novels is thus « the telling of the gestation period of the modern world, the historic pregnancy that would give birth to the world we know today »[23].

Take the following exchange in Q, set amidst the insurgencies and religious schisms of sixteenth-century Reformation Europe, between the novel’s unnamed hero – a revolutionary veteran of Munster and the Peasant’s Revolt – and the character Eloi, who speaks here:

« We were born and bred in two different worlds, Lot. On the one hand you’ve got the lords, the bishops, the princes, the dukes and the peasants. On the other the merchants, the bankers, the shipowners and clerks. … Here there is no ancient and unjust order to turn upside down, no yokels to sit on thrones, There’s no need for an apocalypse, because it’s already been underway for a while. … » Eloi pulls out a coin and turns it around in his hands, throws it in the air and catches it a few times. « You see? You can’t topple money: whichever way you turn it, one side always shows »[24].

Such passages as these exemplify what might – in the face of Jameson’s generalized contemporary waning of historicity – be best described, therefore, as a kind of self-consciously pedagogic mode of historiographic narration in the novel[25]; an endeavour not only to find a fictional means of representing or showing such an historical emergence as it impacts upon the lives of representative characters, but, at some level, to reflect upon this, discursively, as a means to understanding the broader social logics at stake within it. In Q, this is manifest in, for example, lengthy passages devoted not so much to the forwarding of plot as to an explanation of credit, and those processes by which « money generates money » (Q, 363), or to an historiography of modern banking; something even more apparent in the more than 2500 pages making up Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, which combines picaresque stories of seventeenth-century war and piracy with remarkably detailed dialogic expositions of changing monetary forms and the technical dimensions of commerce.

In Q, at least, this is certainly readable as part of the novel’s depiction of the « experience of defeat », and of its attempts to bear political witness to those who are « lost » from history – « minor shades … slipping away, forgotten », inhabitants of « unmarked graves », as Q’s central character puts it (Q, 626-27). As a mode of political historiography, epic narration thus takes the shape here, as it does in Pynchon’s Against the Day, of a particular focus upon moments of bifurcation, historical turning points or passages of transition. To the extent that this imagines something like what Saviano describes as an « other »: « drowned, aborted, but retraceable in that which did happen »[26] – the moment when, in Wu Ming’s own words, « history “might have gone” in a different direction »[27] – it can certainly be read as conjuring up one, so to speak, speculative or mythopoetic response to what Jameson identifies as those problems posed by a certain effacement of any really existing « collective project ». From this perspective, the inhuman connectivity of capital is pitted against a progressively fragile revolutionary horizon of some communist « we », like the « Garcons de ’71 » balloonists who choose « to fly on » in Against the Day, leaving the world behind after the failure of the Paris Commune. Returning to past moments of struggle, a kind of shadow or phantom history becomes in this way discernable as unrealised possibility, a « lateral world », as Pynchon puts it, set « to the side of the one we think we know »[28]. Yet, crucially, far from offering this up as some consoling vision of redemption, re-imagining defeat as success in some literal « counterfactual » history (or ucronic « what if? »), such novels work through the forms of what Jameson describes as those reified images making up the contemporary historiography of « that which did happen ». This is less concerned to imagine history otherwise, than it is to identify within our present’s prehistory the various occluded points at which past « hopes corroded to fragments », so as to inform our political understanding of contemporary capitalist modernity itself;[29] part, too, of such novels’ pedagogical mode.

It is crucial then that in their historical topology of « two different worlds », novels like Q or Against the Day also combine with such narration of defeat, or indeed generate from it, something like a novelistically-compelling « plotting » of the emergence of Capital, in the form of what is a kind of epic, if inhuman, « subject » in itself – a causal agency located not at the level of individual characters but rather in that « self-moving substance which is Subject » in the « shape of money »[30]. What is thus, for example, described by Eloi, in Q, as that apocalypse which has « already been underway for a while » is accorded, in the millenarian imagery of the novel’s historical setting, an increasingly autonomous character as a kind of historical agent in its own right: the modern Antichrist embodied in the shape of that money « in the purses that pass from hand to hand around the world » (Q, 357), and where, progressively, as the novel develops across the period that it represents, the « lives of whole countries and populations revolve around commerce … Everything depends on money » (Q, 355). As the upwardly mobile, picaresque character Eliza puts it in Stephenson’s The Confusion, what is narrated here is « the beginning of the new ways of things that shall replace the old one that has died, or is dying »[31].

Similarly, in Pynchon’s Against the Day – which, over the course of more than a thousand pages, stretches from 1893 to the early 1920s, geographically spanning the United States, Mexico, Turkey and Europe, as well as a number of invented locations – the novel’s almost overwhelming, epic sprawl is itself immanently mediated by its attempts to represent, first and foremost, the dynamics of capital’s own movements, and – not without some comedy – the movements of people, ideas and technology that follow from it. The ballooning Chums of Chance, with whom the novel opens, looking down on a slowly changing world below, see the growing global railroad system as, above all, « Capital made material », while, for another character, « [i]n crazier moments it seemed … that the steel webwork was a living organism, growing by the hour, answering some invisible command ». If « history emerges from geography », as one of the novel’s several scientist characters later remarks, the railway lines appear to obey « their own necessity, interconnections, places chosen and bypassed, centres and radiations therefrom »[32]. Such animistic, or supernatural, depictions are not, of course, unusual in the history of attempts to represent capital – from Adam Smith’s invisible hand to Marx’s famous chapter on the fetish-character of commodities – but they take on a more particular formal significance here in serving to articulate the very dilemmas of representation, and narration, that the novel itself thus poses (not least to « us » as readers). The critical complaint, as articulated by a reader like James Wood, that « the conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted, overworked » in the « epic » ambitions of a writer such as Pynchon, fails, in this sense, to consider whether such « overworking » might in fact be a certain mimetic strategy in itself, a condition of a contemporary realism as anything other than a provincial narrowing down to purely private lives and fates[33].

Narrating abstraction

Writing on Balzac in a lecture from the 1950s, Adorno argues that one way in which the development of the urban realist novel may be read is as depicting, in its ironic repetition of epic « wholeness » and collective « fate », the « superior power of social and especially economic interests over private psychology ». In this way, the novel necessarily struggles, Adorno suggests, with the problem of how « to conjure up in perceptible form a society that has become abstract », the dilemma of how to narrate the means by which, through the « form of a medium of circulation, money, the capitalist process touches and patterns the characters whose lives the novel form tries to capture »[34]. Similarly, when it comes to the contemporary historical novel, we might say that the dilemma of representation becomes one of how to render perceptible a society in the process of becoming abstract: « the invisible taking on substance » in the universalization of exchange relations. This is a process in which the increasingly challenging problem of narration’s very capacity to deal with what, in Against the Day, is described as money’s « own Unspoken », that leads back to « rubber and ivory and fever and African misery » on the other side of the world, must become itself part of the historical genesis of the contemporary which it narrates[35]. In this way, the historiographic difficulties posed by capitalism come themselves to be foregrounded precisely as issues of narrative form[36].

In such light, Anderson’s account of the development of the historical novel from progress to catastrophe, may then take on, politically, a rather different significance for epic modes of narration today. For, as Jameson himself observes – in a brief but incisive reading of Sukin and Georgakis’ 1975 book on the League of Black Revolutionary Workers, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying – critically speaking, « successful » representation « need not be some uplifting socialist-realist drama of revolutionary triumph but may be equally inscribed in a narrative of defeat, which sometimes even more effectively causes the whole architecture of global space to rise up in ghostly profile behind it, as some ultimate dialectical barrier or invisible limit »[37]. For Lukács, writing in 1915, in « the created reality » of the novel, the « entire structure » of which can only be based in « abstract systematisation », what « becomes visible is the distance separating the systematisation from concrete life »[38]. Yet, in a sense, it is then precisely its capacity to render visible such distance that is, in fact, the novel’s own distinctive « epic » mode; giving representational and narrative form to the irresolvable gap between the real abstractions intrinsic to modern capitalist social being and what Hegel called the « unendingly particular » with which the novel has, historically, been most persistently associated. As such, a certain running up against what Jameson calls the invisible limits of representation – as well as the frequent pathologization of form in terms of which such novels’s apparently excessive complexity and scope are interpreted as a result – may well be, paradoxically, the condition of some new kind of politically-enabling narration of history in fiction, rather than merely the aesthetic reflex of its contemporary eclipse.


  1. P. Anderson, « From Progress to Catastrophe », London Review of Books, July 28 2011, p. 24, 28.

  2. G. Lukács, The Historical Novel [1937], trans. H. and S. Mitchell, London, Merlin, 1962, p. 222.

  3. Ibid.

  4. P. Anderson, op. cit., p. 24, 28. In this sense, Anderson’s historical reversal from progress to catastrophe is also, to invoke another passage from Benjamin, the latter’s reversal of a perspective on historiographical truth, in which each « document of civilisation » is revealed at the same time to be a « document of barbarism ». W. Benjamin, « On the concept of history » [1940], trans. H. Zohn, in Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940, Cambridge, MA, Harvard, 2003, p. 392.

  5. P. Anderson, op. cit., p. 27.

  6. G. Lukács, Historical Novel, p. 286, 199.

  7. F. Jameson, « Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism », New Left Review n°146, July 1984, p. 66, 70.

  8. G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, 2 vols, trans. T.M. Knox, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1975, p. 1092 [trans. modified], 1109, 1044.

  9. See D. Cunningham, « Capitalist epics : Abstraction, totality and the theory of the novel », Radical Philosophy n°163, September 2010, p. 11-23.

  10. F. Jameson, « Postmodernism », p. 66.

  11. W. Benjamin, « Paralipomina to On the concept of history » [1940], trans. E. Jephcott and H. Eiland, Selected Writings, Volume 4, p. 404.

  12. See T.J. Clark’s recent lecture, « The Experience of Defeat », whose terms very much echo those of Anderson: « The Left in advanced capitalist countries has lived for the past two decades looking failure square in the face. The disappearance of a Left alternative from the space of politics, or even from the space of political imagination, remains the great fact of our time. … [What does it] mean to a Left politics for it no longer to consider itself “on the side of history”: not to imagine its task, in other words, as the realisation of the baulked potentials of capitalism and/or modernity, not to see its eventual victory written into the DNA of an economic order, not to posit some version of utopia – not, in a word, to “have the future in its bones” ». Online abstract at: See also T.J. Clark, « For a left with no future », New Left Review n°74, March 2012, p. 53-75.

  13. F. Jameson, Representing Capital: A reading of volume one, London, Verso, 2011, p. 5, 6.

  14. R. Saviano, Gomorrah [2006], trans. V. Jewiss, London, Pan Macmillan, 2008, p. 282.

  15. N. Larsen, « Lukács sans proletariat, or can History and Class Consciousness be rehistoricized? », in Georg Lukács: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence (dir. T. Bewes and T. Hall), London, Continuum, 2011, p. 84.

  16. G. Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, trans. J. and N. Mander, London, Merlin, 1970, p. 75; K. Marx, Capital, Volume I, trans. B. Fowkes, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1976, p. 255-256.

  17. See D. Cunningham, « Floating on the same plane: Metropolis, money and the culture of abstraction », Journal of Visual Culture n°12, 1, April 2013, p. 38-60.

  18. See Wu Ming, New Italian Epic: Letteratura, sguardo oblique, ritorno al futoro, Torino, Einaudi, 2009.

  19. As Paul Innes puts it in his recent study of the epic: « In popular usage … “epic” is an adjective that is applied to any grand sweeping narrative in a multitude of possible forms … Range, scope and sheer size define what can [today] be described as epic. This element of ancient and classical epic has served to become its most significant defining feature ». P. Innes, Epic, London, Routledge, 2013, p. 2-3.

  20. T. Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, New York, Henry Holt, 1997, p. 406. See also Don DeLillo’s tribute to Pynchon in a 2005 special issue of Book Forum: « The scale of his work, large in geography and unafraid of major subjects, helped us locate our fiction not only in small anonymous corners, human and ever-essential, but out there as well ». Online: Significantly, Delillo’s distinction here is more or less that made by Hegel in the 1820s – between the novel as a fleeing « from great national events into the restrictedness of private domestic situations » and the novel as an impossible attempt to capture « the background of a whole world, as well as the epic portrayal of events ». G.W.F. Hegel, op. cit., p. 1109, 1092.

  21. Wu Ming, Manituana [2007], trans. S. Whiteside, London, Verso, 2009, p. 208.

  22. G. Lukács, Historical Novel, p. 53

  23. R. Saviano, « I side with the Indians », L’Espresso n°12, LIII, April 2007, online:

  24. Luther Blissett, Q, trans. S. Whiteside, London, Arrow Books, 2004, p. 352; further page numbers given in text as (Q, ).

  25. In a recent review of Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, Jameson implicitly acknowledges this possibility, which he relates to « Brecht’s defence of the didactic – learning facts and skills is a pleasure in itself ». However, it is not entirely clear how such « communication of technical information for its own sake », of which Against the Day and the Baroque Cycle would be exemplary, relates then to the more general waning of historicity that Jameson elsewhere identifies with the « postmodern ». See F. Jameson, « In Soviet Arcadia », New Left Review n°75, May 2012, p. 123, 122.

  26. R. Saviano, « I side with the Indians ».

  27. ‘1954: A Pop-Autonomist Novel: An Interview with Wu Ming’, online at:

  28. T. Pynchon, Against the Day, p. 22.

  29. Ibid., p. 95, 256.

  30. K. Marx, op. cit., p. 255-256. See also D. Cunningham, « Capitalist Epics ».

  31. N. Stephenson, The Confusion, London, Arrow Books, 2005, p. 512.

  32. T. Pynchon, Against the Day, p. 198, 272.

  33. J. Wood, The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel, London, Pimlico, 2005, p. 168.

  34. T.W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, Volume One, trans. S.W. Nicholsen, New York, Columbia University Press, 1991, p. 130, 122-23, 132.

  35. T. Pynchon, Against the Day, p. 184, 602.

  36. See also D. Cunningham, « Here Comes the New: Deadwood and the Historiography of Capitalism », Radical Philosophy n°180, July 2013.

  37. F. Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London and New York, Verso, 1991, p. 415.

  38. G. Lukács, Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock, London, Merlin, 1971, p. 70.

Maître de conférences à University of Westminster | Site Web

David Cunningham est maître de conférences à l'Université de Westminster en littérature anglaise et théorie critique. Il est également membre de l'Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture. Ses recherches portent notamment sur le modernisme, l'esthétique, la théorie urbaine et le roman.