Friday, October 13, 2023

Kate Marshall's "Novels by Aliens"

Kate Marshall is associate dean of Research and Strategic Initiatives, director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction.

Marshall applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Novels by Aliens: Weird Tales and the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Novels by Aliens falls at the exact midpoint between the book’s six chapters, on the last page of the third, “Cosmic Realism.” In this chapter, I have used a genre term coined by the novelist Marilynne Robinson to explore the nonhuman longings of contemporary realist narrative.

Half of this page is taken up by what may be the book’s longest block quote – a long passage from the end of Teju Cole’s Open City where the narrator, Julius, looks up at the stars. He realizes that he sees light from stars long dead, and darkness where a future will emerge, and wishes he “could meet that unseen starlight halfway, starlight that was unreachable because my entire being was caught up in a blind spot.” I argue that this image is the formal fantasy of the novel, tying it to others from the period. Instead of the panpsychic sentience favored by novelists like Robinson, who seek ways of locating consciousness everywhere, Cole’s narrator shows the other side of that materialist impulse: a desire to eliminate the human perspective or consciousness.

This final page of the chapter is a marvelous waystation for the book – it mentioned the three key generic impulses I track throughout: the weird, cosmic realism, and science and pseudoscience fiction. I see this in its engagement with the cosmic as well as a kind of catastrophic science, and also in the final sentence, which argues that cosmic realism “reveals how bound our simultaneously increasing desires for more and weirder definitions of realist novels have been to our desires for more and weirder definitions of objects.”
Learn more about Novels by Aliens at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue