This essay explores how John Lanchester’s Capital adapts classical realism to represent the contemporary global city; it pays particular attention to how London’s position in the world-system disrupts Lukácsian totality. Because the novel attends to the complexity and extensiveness of the world-system, it depicts the city not as a representative totality but as embedded in the global circuits of capital, shaped by the influences of inward migration and global finance. In this the novel has affinities with many fictions of the global periphery, for instance portraying the city as at once socially fragmented and structurally connected. Furthermore, the novel departs from classical realism in its closure; though the 2008 financial crisis is omitted from the novel, it overshadows the entire plot, and its absence emphasizes the lack of finality in the story of this phase of capitalism itself. In demonstrating the temporal and spatial unknowability of contemporary capital, Lanchester’s novel both affirms the capacity of realism to trace deep systemic connections and reveals the fragility of its construction of a social totality, positing a realism attendant to its own perspectival limits within the world-system.

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