Murat Sezi

Center, Periphery, Colony: Spaces of Knowledge in China Miéville’s The Scar 

China Miéville is an English author of fantasy and science fiction. He is also an academic who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on Marxism and international law; last year, he published October, a narrativized account of the Russian Revolution. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that his fictional texts are informed by political theory and critically reflect in both form and content the literary and generic traditions they are a part of.

His 2002 novel The Scar follows linguist Bellis Coldwine as she is fleeing the city of New Crobuzon. The ship Coldwine is traveling on is captured by pirates, and she is brought aboard a floating city consisting of ships named Armada, whose leaders are pursuing a mythological whale called the avanc in order to reach a mysterious place that has the eponymous name of the scar.  [1]

There is scarcely an ocean-related issue which the novel does not engage with, most notably piracy, trade and economics, encounters with the Other, colonial exploitation, language and linguistics, and knowledge production. It is this last issue in particular which is to be the focus of the conference paper.

I suggest the following approach: In a first step, I would like to briefly sketch out aspects of world-building insofar as they pertain to oceans. To provide a brief example from the text:

There was no winter in the city, no summer or spring, no seasons at all; there was only weather. For Armada it was a function not of time, but place. […] Armada tramped the oceans of Bas-Lag in patterns dictated by piracy, trade, agriculture, security, and other more opaque dynamics, and took what weather came. (Miéville 108) 

Afterward, I am going explore New Crobuzon, Armada and the colony of the anophelii [2] as spaces of knowledge, utilizing an approach that combines narratological and Postcolonial methodology, the novel’s concern with the spatial dynamics between center, periphery, and colony being a key area where these approaches intersect. I will demonstrate that the maritime setting provides more than a mere backdrop and allows Miéville to showcase concrete historical, cultural and linguistic issues; as Brian Attebery has pointed out, Miéville is an author who is “[…] aware of the forces of history and the limits of knowledge and communication.” (88)

[1] A reference to Moby Dick as well as to the elusive nature of the search itself.
[2] A race of fictional beings that are exploited for their scientific prowess and knowledge.