The Slow versus the Spectacular:

Environment, Violence and Representation in China Miéville’s “Polynia” and “Covehithe”


  • Khanh Nguyen Graduate Student, Department of English, Aarhus University, Denmark



slow violence, the spectacle, ecocriticism, weird fiction


“Polynia” and “Covehithe” are two short stories from China Miéville’s 2015
collection Three Moments of an Explosion. Present in both is an “ecosystem” of
spectacular violence that the author builds through, first, the graphic description
of violence, second, the encapsulation of eye-witnessed violence in visual objects
that resemble what the Marxist philosopher Guy Debord terms “spectacles” and,
third, the manipulation of textual spectatorship. To construct a chilling and eerie
atmosphere for his narratives, Miéville can be said to have drawn heavily on HP
Lovecraft’s weird tales. Nonetheless, behind the spectacles of violence represented
in “Polynia” and “Covehithe” is not the cosmic horror typical of Lovecraft but
a different kind of horror, heavily anchored in our reality, possessing new and
increasing urgency: the horror of global warming and environmental degradation,
or, as in the words of Rob Nixon, of “slow violence.” Consequently, there happens
in “Polynia” and “Covehithe” what is similar to an act of translation, of the slow
into the spectacular. I argue that this translation provides a potential answer to
Nixon’s pressing question about how to surmount the representational challenges
created by slow violence in order to render it more urgent and engaging. This
argument is furthermore related to broader discussions about the relationship
between literature and the media, fiction’s engagement with the environmental
crisis, as well as the differences between Old Weird and New Weird.




How to Cite

Nguyen, K. . (2020). The Slow versus the Spectacular:: Environment, Violence and Representation in China Miéville’s “Polynia” and “Covehithe”. Crossings: A Journal of English Studies, 11(1), 67–81.