China Miéville, The City and The City

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China Miéville, The City and The City (2009)
Some Questions for Class/Further Study
These questions are not definitive. We won’t be able to cover them all in one class. They are selectively based on my reading of the novel – and some selected criticism. The interpretive nature of literary study ensures there are other angles/perspectives. Use the questions as a platform, from where to leap into your own “City”.
(NB: Page numbers refer to my copy, PanMacMillan 2009)
1) Is “Beszel or Ul Qoma” a similar question to “Anarres or Urras”?
2) Read the opening three paragraphs. What themes/issues can you now discern, having read the novel?
3) Do the same with the scene on p.54-55 (Ch.5). From Back then the region of Ul Qoma…She lowered her voice on Breach.”
3) Do you understand the “grosstopical” system designed to distinguish between the two cities? See, pps: 86; 160-163, 238. How do we interpret it? Is the act of “unseeing” (and other neologisms like “crosshatching”, “topolganger” Protubs”, etc.) credible? Or is it principally allegorical? See examples, on 21, 44, 49, 55, 114, 171-2, 232-34
4) What is “Breach”? See, for example, pps. 79-81. Also scenes with The Old Woman on pps. End Ch1, 38-39; As kids we used to play it.’ (46); Borlú’s “breach”, 286-86. Inside “Breach”: 293, 297, 303.
5) Bowden – what is his representative role in the novel? His book: 108-09; in the liminal space between city and city: 349-50, 353, 354.
6) Genre slippage and the ‘Weird’ – See Miéville’s essay Weird Fiction (in Bould et al) If you were asked to classify this novel, what would you say? (e.g. police procedural? Noir? Is it ‘sf’? ‘fantasy’? See, for example, incidents on pps. 10, 13, 57, 60, 76. The novel seems to have a layer of metacommentary that appears every now and again in the narrative. Pps: 131, 231-2, 237, 263. What is the role of Ashil’s ‘gun’ here? 346, 355. Relate this to the reasons for Mahalia’s death – the idea of the artefact/the belief in the special object.
7) Connected to the previous questions, what is the role of Archaeology in the novel? 51, 75, 1096. Is Orciny ultimately ‘signifiacnt’? 61-2, 251, 295.
8) Is the trajectory of Borlú that of a “hero” in the sense that he uncovers injustice and courageously acts? 90-1; 160, 310, 210-11. He joins Breach: 369-71, final page: “my task is changed…to maintain the skin that keeps the law in place” (372).
Michael Moorcock Guardian Review:
The New Weird:

‘The new world of New Weird”, in The Guardian:


From David Seed: SF: A Very Short Introduction

“One last term should be noted here, one coined in the 1960s by Henri Foucault. The ‘heterotopia’ was used by him to contrast with the ‘no-space’ of utopias, in other words as an in-between, hybrid space which has an ambiguous status, possessing material actuality but also bringing complexity to location. This concept is particularly useful for applying to modern depictions of the city, as in Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren (1975), where locales refuse to cohere, or in China Mieville’s The City and the City (2009), where the reader moves between disparate spheres, sometimes distinct, sometimes overlapping.” (109)

“Genre fluidity and generic reinvention: Science fiction is repeatedly linked with two proximate modes – the Gothic and fantasy. In his history of SF, Brian Aldiss takes Frankenstein as an ur-text, from which the two modes evolved in tandem. Fantasy, on the other hand, has been sharply distinguished from SF by some Marxist critics for consisting of narratives outside history, although critical writing on fantasy has often documented cases where SF shades into fantasy and vice versa within the same text. The British writer China Mieville has questioned this separation of modes within his own fiction and in his criticism, especially the notion that fantasy is anti-rational and dealing in impossibilities. He has argued that much so-called science in SF is ‘point-and-wave’ in that it presents only a semblance of scientific explanation, while fantasy can be responsive to analysis, declaring that ‘the construction of a paranoid, impossible totality is at least potentially a subversive, radical act, in that it celebrates the most unique and human aspect of our consciousness’. (135)

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