This essay sets out to think the novel in the time of catastrophe (which is always, necessarily, to think after catastrophe; which is to say, finally, that I want to think in the chronotope of mass death). I couch this in the Bakhtinian concept of the chronotope—so integral to his theory of novelistic discourse—because catastrophe is, in what follows, a figure of time, a figure of eventfulness that always and ineluctably worries while it structures the broader protocols of meaning. In particular, my essay returns to Daniel Defoe and his strange preoccupation with disastrous events—shipwrecks, earthquakes, plagues, massacres, hurricanes—as a way to imagine the emergent novel's rapprochement with a multitude exposed to time. What is the relationship between the novel's prescriptive everydayness and intense concern with singular experiences, and the mass historicity of disaster that clearly fascinated Defoe? How might novelistic emplotment, and specifically the always lingering question of providence in Defoe, register the gradual disenchantment of nature and history? The essay ends with a consideration of three works that Defoe composed immediately after the 1703 hurricane that slammed into England and Europe; taken together, these “storm” texts begin to imagine the novel genre and its dread remainder.
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Scott J. Juengel; The Early Novel and Catastrophe. Novel 1 November 2009; 42 (3): 443–450. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-040
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