11 April 2005
Topics to Consider:
The "Governess Novel"
The voice of the Victorian Narrator (omniscient, benevolent; epistolatory assistance; adventure and fantasy "annexes"The Utopian Novel
Stephenson’s immensely creative novel offers a story about the disequilibrium between space and time, about reconstituting subjectivity in a world where geography has conquered history, and about the importance of narrative in the creation of subject positions. In this chapter, we argue that geography’s conquest of history defines the struggles over culture, identity, subjectivity, and power that drive the events in The Diamond Age. There’s an intriguing parallel between the future Stephenson imagines and the direction of current intellectual debates over culture, identity politics, and the subject in postmodern society. We doubt Stephenson himself is particularly concerned with these debates; indeed, we hope he’s not. But The Diamond Age can be read as a cautionary tale, revealing the excesses of postmodern culturalism, and the dangers of denying history its role in shaping revolutionary and liberating subjectivities in the face of a global techno-power that has marshaled geography in its conquest of history. The chapter proceeds with a brief discussion of the ‘spatial turn’ in social and cultural theory, before turning to a more detailed recounting of the novel itself. Engaging the text, we hope to show the problematic aspects of Stephenson’s hyper-spatialized world—both in terms of individual subjectivity and social relations—and the events in the novel whereby struggles with power, and struggles over subjectivity, lead to ruptures in the spatial logic that secures the control of technology, opening the way for a freedom-seeking subject.