The Slow versus the Spectacular: Environment, Violence and Representation in China Miéville’s “Polynia” and “Covehithe”
Abstract: “Polynia” and “Covehithe” are two short stories from China Miéville’s 2015 collection Three Moments of an Explosion. Present in both is an “ecosystem” of spectacular violence that the author builds through, first, the graphic description of violence, second, the encapsulation of eye-witnessed violence in visual objects that resemble what the Marxist philosopher Guy Debord terms “spectacles” and, third, the manipulation of textual spectatorship. To construct a chilling and eerie atmosphere for his narratives, Miéville can be said to have drawn heavily on HP Lovecraft’s weird tales. Nonetheless, behind the spectacles of violence represented in “Polynia” and “Covehithe” is not the cosmic horror typical of Lovecraft but a different kind of horror, heavily anchored in our reality, possessing new and increasing urgency: the horror of global warming and environmental degradation, or, as in the words of Rob Nixon, of “slow violence.” Consequently, there happens in “Polynia” and “Covehithe” what is similar to an act of translation, of the slow into the spectacular. I argue that this translation provides a potential answer to Nixon’s pressing question about how to surmount the representational challenges created by slow violence in order to render it more urgent and engaging. This argument is furthermore related to broader discussions about the relationship between literature and the media, fiction’s engagement with the environmental crisis, as well as the differences between Old Weird and New Weird.
Keywords: slow violence, the spectacle, ecocriticism, weird fiction
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Published in March 2020