Long before the eight‐stranded weave of ecocritical plot in Richard Powers's Pulitzer Prize–winning The Overstory (2018) and, since then, the interlace between inset astrobiological bedtime stories and the environmentalist passions of family psychodrama in his Booker‐nominated Bewilderment (2021), an important turn‐of‐the‐millennium work by this MacArthur‐lauded novelist, Plowing the Dark (2000), remains his most strenuous venture in what this article calls the open‐circuit structure of his typical multi‐plot narratives. Scenes of secretly funded VR aesthetics in the high‐tech America of “research and development” are pitted against the contrasting affect, emphatically detached in space and time, of savage sensory deprivation suffered by an Arab American US citizen as jihadist prisoner in Beirut. Only at the eleventh hour of plot time is this man's plight revealed, by proximate cause, to render him, in retrospect, the indirect victim (spoiler alert) of electronic sophistication in American's “wired wars.” Until then, reading swerves between alternate and seemingly unrelated spaces of cyber‐optic volatility and cognitive evacuation, virtual over against vitiated—with an all‐too‐real network of violence hard‐wiring them imperceptibly to each other. Beyond the latent dialectic of these disjunct prose episodes, the novel critiques a world “formed” on quite different principles, whose geopolitical systems it confronts on fiction's own resistant verbal terms. To argue the contrary—that literary and societal forms are different from each other only in degree or scale—is, in an especially leveling sense, to rescind crucial differences between the force of depiction and world of force, which every lucid nuance of Powers's unique narrative style would resist.

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