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'Looking down time's telescope at myself': reincarnation and global futures in David Mitchell's fictional worlds

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This essay explores the trope of reincarnation across the works of British author David Mitchell (b.1969) as an alternative approach to linear temporality, whose spiralling cyclicality warns of the dangers of seeing past actions as separate from future consequences, and whose focus on human interconnection demonstrates the importance of collective, intergenerational action in the face of ecological crises. Drawing on the Buddhist philosophy of samsara, or the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, this paper identifies links between the author’s interest in reincarnation and its secular manifestation in the treatment of time in his fictions. These works draw on reincarnation in their structures and characterisation as part of an ethical approach to the Anthropocene, using the temporal model of ‘reincarnation time’ as a narrative strategy to demonstrate that a greater understanding of generational interdependence is urgently needed in order to challenge the linear ‘end of history’ narrative of global capitalism.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-181
Number of pages19
JournalKronoScope: The Journal for the Study of Time
Issue number2
StatePublished - 8 Sep 2017
EventThe 16th Triennial Conference of the International Society for the Study of Time (ISST) - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 20162 Jul 2016

    Research areas

  • David Mitchell, Reincarnation, Time, Buddhism, Literature, Literature and capitalism, Literature and criticism, Contemporary fiction, The Bone Clocks, Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas, Slade House, Number9dream, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Marinus, Bodhisattva, Anthropocene, Nietzsche, contemporary literature, Speculative fiction, Philosophy, Philosophy of time, Fiction, British literature, English literature, Samsara, Capitalism, Literary theory, Critical theory

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ID: 249164239