This article describes how the novelist David Mitchell employs the “topos of the cult,” a set of conventions that describe a mental state of unfreedom, in the novels Ghostwritten (1999) and Cloud Atlas (2004). This figuration of an unfree form of society—characterized by a group's specialized language, closed social spaces, and charismatic leadership—has its origins in antitotalitarian political science, fiction, sociology, and psychology. Mitchell and Haruki Murakami (discussed briefly) both question how this Cold War legacy has shaped our understandings of individual agency, and both novelists employ the conventions in characters who understand the world as a simple, single totality. For both writers, the cult serves to draw a contrast with the novels' own self-consciously complex cognitive maps of the contemporary world system.

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