How do novels come to terms with the social and economic structures engendered by big data and surveillance capitalism? This question weighs heavily on J. M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year (2007) and Tom McCarthy's Satin Island (2015), two novels whose intellectual protagonists struggle against systems of data capture and control. Both novels suggest that the ubiquity of computational systems has generated new problems for the form and function of literary thinking in the twenty‐first century. The first problem is both practical and aesthetic: how to narrate or describe a world that already diagrams and archives itself in dizzying detail via computational media. The second is theoretical and political: how to conceive of an effective mode of opposition to the political economy of surveillance capitalism. This essay takes account of the formal strategies by which Diary and Satin Island dramatize these aesthetic and political dilemmas. The readings account for these novels’ peculiar endings, both of which suggest a longing to escape the seemingly “closed world” of cybernetic control. The narrators of Diary and Satin Island reach an impasse when they discover that the cybernetic universe has obviated their critical methods, including the ethics of “evasion,” on the one hand, and the humanism of “literalist criticism,” on the other. What if the genre of the novel is no longer capable of generating a critical anthesis to the alienated world of informatic control?

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