Networking Novels and Form
Networking novels such as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome disrupt the norm of realistic novel boundaries through a networking system. These networking novels introduce readers to a world that has the potential to be full of chaos because of society’s interconnectivity. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms discusses realistic novels as:
“A type of novel that depicts characters, settings, and events in accordance with reality or, at least, in accordance with reality as most readers perceive it. Realistic novelists seek to write fictional narratives that present a plausible world. To achieve this goal, they typically include a variety of concrete details meant to ground their story lines in human experience… They typically present well-developed, rounded characters whose experiences and interactions with other characters could occur in real life and situate these characters in a specific cultural group, locale, and historical era.” (Murfin 399)
A realistic novel’s form may have a beginning, rise of plot, climax and resolution framing one main protagonist in first person narrative. This first point of view is also known as the Cartesian Self. Instead of sticking to tradition and the Cartesian Self in western thought, post-modern networking novels eliminate individualism in deterritorializing the self by melting many personas together. This creates a more fluid narrative between many points of views thus creating a larger picture. By exploring fluid scenes from Tropic of Orange and The Calcutta Chromosome, the networking novel will be appreciated as a post-modern text that reflects the whole of collective personas.
Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange introduces a novel from varying points of view. At first, this appears very cryptic and hard to follow, but as each character is broken down they can be appreciated as products of a networking society. Characters such as Bobby introduce the idea of mixing cultures together such as: Chinese-American, Thai-American, Japanese American, Afro.-American, etc. Because he’s Chinese from Singapore with a Vietnam name who speaks Spanish, he has more capacity of freedom without sacrificing the idea of sticking to one culture.
Yamashita also presents L.A. as a disjointed, yet unified location. Throughout the city there are many varying social groups that make up a larger metropolis. It’s also a city buzzing so fast that nobody notices their surroundings until traffic flow is stopped and everyone’s forced to view their surroundings. Here, each persona is no longer disjointed in their own personal agenda and is forced to embrace the layers of culture surrounding them. Each social group becomes blended as citizens are allowed to walk across the freeway and mingle with each other tearing down the personal borders and proximity and creating a more unified atmosphere.
The idea of deterritorialization is further explored when the character Arcangle relocates the Tropic of Cancer and merges the Mexican border into L.A. This creates a complexity of layers as each generation and culture is stacked on top of one another. This globalized event creates chaos compared to the realist novel because there is a loss of authentic identity. The “I” is now replaced by an influence of many cultures interacting in a non-plausible world.
Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome takes another fluid approach between different character viewpoints. Characters such as Antar are able to access information mainframes through the female A.I. named Ava. Ava gathers information on relatively anything creating layer on top of layer of knowledge. Through Ava’s vast knowledge, Antar is able to learn that the identity of the mysterious ID-Card is Murugan – a character who is literally networked into everyone’s life. In meeting with Murugan, Antar learns of a more omnipresent cult that has possible control over elite scientists such as early research on malaria.
Murugan draws connections between malaria research and various characters that he believed influenced it. He recognizes that the cult has stegonographic characteristics leaving various clues in different locales to be pieced together. He is in and out of the novel interacting with characters to unravel the mystery behind whom and why malaria research was influenced and not discovered. Another fluid character, such as Farley, travels to eastern labs for research, but instead stumbles across ritualistic medicine practices such as Mangala beheading a pigeon. This reveals the melting of two practices, empirical and ritualistic, as Farley takes the sacrificed pigeon’s blood for further study. This acts as the deterritorialization of two sciences melting together.
Another act of deterritorialization is the chromosomes acting as vessels to reincarnate and deterritorialize the body. There is no more authentic Cartesian Self because a soul could be layered on top of an already existing layer removing the authentic self. This is a direct reflection back to Ava because she is an immortal, ever evolving, A.I. mainframe who crosses boundaries at will to gather infinite amounts of information. She is constantly building herself upon a complexity of networking layers.
The networking narrative of the post-modern novel clashes with the realist theme because it builds layers upon layers to cipher through. This is what it means to “sift through the dirt” (Ghosh 7) because there is no such thing as one point of view. The networking point of view is fluid and viewed through a collective amount of viewpoints to see a larger whole. One story is just a piece of the larger puzzle that has been influenced by the rest. The networking novel may disrupt the realist novel, but it does so in style. It encourages readers to strip away any egocentricity and travel the fluid network witnessing the evolution of our post-modern society into the future.
Ghosh, Amitav. The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery. First Perennial Edition, New York, 2001. Pg 7
Murfin, Ross. Ray, Supryia M. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Second Edition, Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2003. Pg 299
Yamashita, Karen Tei. Tropic of Orange. Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 1997.