"The misplaced familiar": Aesthetic crisis in China Miéville's the City & the City

Justin Prystash*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


China Miéville's novel The City & The City (2009) presents the city as a massively ramified ecosystem that comprises humans, other species, and objects, and is also embedded in larger systems like capitalism and environmental catastrophe. Cities are so deeply textured, and so continually scattered by the circulations of their component parts, that we cannot perceive them as a whole; the borders we use to define them are ultimately arbitrary. I argue that this perceptual disorientation, or aesthetic crisis, embodies the politics of the novel. Miéville depicts the continuous crises of urban existence-chemical spills, refugees seeking asylum, even a weed growing in the wrong place-as so many possibilities for metonymically grasping the larger ontological and political reality. Crisis does not entail a specific political (or artistic) response, however, since it can traumatize into complacency and xenophobia just as easily as expand one's commitments. The same kind of aesthetic crisis is provoked by the novel itself, because it frustrates expectations and eludes a clear genre, and readers can respond in analogous ways: with the urge to impose allegorical meaning and genre borders, or with a more refined perceptual sense. Thus, the form of the novel cleverly reflects its content and, in both cases, we are pushed to renew our sense of wonder at the strange alterity that inheres in the familiar and proximal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-295
Number of pages21
JournalConcentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Sept


  • Accelerationism
  • Aesthetics
  • China Miéville
  • Crisis
  • Genre
  • Hyperobjects
  • Societies of control
  • The City & the City

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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