The Novel and Scale | call for papers

I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe. –George Eliot Middlemarch


If a novel is a long, fictional prose narrative, scale seems to point to the way in which the novel’s full bodiedness can accommodate phenomena so different in magnitude (the physiology of a sneeze, the ramifications of gossip, a political climate, a geological condition) as to demand distinct means of description and representation. At least one classical novel theory suggests that the genre’s distinctiveness lies in its capacity to interweave different orders of space and time. Lukács The Historical Novelpoints to Sir Walter Scott’s approach to character as evidence of the novel’s fundamentally organic structure. Scott’s “more or less mediocre, average” heroes, who “give human living embodiment to historical-social types,” are no statistical averages. They are “average” by virtue of their predicaments, which place them in the crossfire of contradictory historical forces and lend them the function of tying together events of extremely different orders of magnitude, including the play of passions and world-historical movements. Thus one way to begin defining scale as a formal quality of novels would be to point to how particular works stage the imaginary unity of things that they insist belong to distinct representational orders.


This panel seeks papers that address the novel as a scalar form. The organizers encourage papers to consider novelistic scale broadly in terms of time, space, and signification. Take as an example the authorial voice of Middlemarch, who invokes multiple senses of scale to define her tale’s narrative economy. If the novel makes its name as a narrative of human events, how might novels nonetheless represent timescales that exceed an individual human life, whether those timescales are historical, genealogical, geological, or otherwise? By what formal means do novels translate instances of one order of phenomena into the terms of another? What literary conventions and what forms of knowledge allow novels to develop something like a metalanguage of scale? How does scale become palpable in novels? Is there a feeling of scale? Our forum also welcomes papers that can help us approach these questions by discussing the way novelistic senses of time and space come to us already inscribed within political, geographic, and cartographic orders, including a neo-colonial order. How might a novel claim a sense of scale to construe its context differently without losing focus of the interconnectedness of world? Finally, if the internet can be understood as a fragmentary representation of space that can be grasped in terms of cartography (the spatial distribution of server farms) and geography (the class politics of the 2010 National Broadband Plan) while defying either science, how do novels compete for space, so to speak, with a form whose scalar capacities rival their own? In responding to this and similar questions, we hope papers will take up scale as a theoretically flexible matter that encompasses processes that are geographic, cartographic, and more.