Juliana Spahr’s The Transformation (2007) makes, as Sianne Ngai has noted, a procedural point of describing politics in terms of connection, distributed responsibility, and global networks. As Ngai describes the novel’s collective of three protagonists, “they,” “the more ‘they’ become aware of their ties to other actors, the more their collective agency spreads.” Seeing one’s views and actions always through one’s position within a global network, the novel suggests, constitutes a distinctive mode of perceiving the world as a system. Fredric Jameson called in the early 1990s for a literary form that would aid readers and critics in orienting ourselves within the complexities of technologically advanced transnational capitalism. In the decade between 2000 and 2010, a significant group of works in literary fiction, television, and film, including The Transformation, might lay claim to answering Jameson’s call for a new literary form of mapping. During the decade in which social media became a mainstream part of most Americans’ daily experience, these literary works explored questions of politics by interrogating the nature of our connections, and the power and affordances of social networks. Social networks, the term I will use here for any form of connection and communication among a social group, increasingly became instantiated digitally through the new forms of social media, sites like Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter that grew in popularity during this decade. Insights from the sociological method known as social network analysis - such as the strength of weak ties, the small world effect, and the rapid or “viral” spread of information through social networks - became more visible aspects of everyday life for many Americans. At the same time, theories of media and politics grappled with what kinds of transformative effects contemporary social and technological networks would have in the new millennium. Narrative fiction in the 2000-2010 decade, including serial television, novels, and films, addressed this new prominence of network forms in both thematic and formal aspects. This chapter takes up a few examples of such work, addressing two related aspects of this literature’s claim to cognitive mapping. First, I consider how novelists such as Jennifer Egan ask historical and periodizing questions about social networks and social media. Rather than changing politics altogether, Egan’s novel suggests that the contemporary prevalence of social media make the network a more readily apparent means of understanding the world around us.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Arts and Humanities