Swallowing a World


Swallowing a World

Globalization and the Maximalist Novel

Benjamin Bergholtz

Frontiers of Narrative Series

252 pages


October 2024


$55.00 Pre-order

About the Book

Swallowing a World offers a new theorization of the maximalist novel. Though it’s typically cast as a (white, male) genre of U.S. fiction, maximalism, Benjamin Bergholtz argues, is an aesthetic response to globalization and a global phenomenon in its own right.

Bergholtz considers a selection of massive and meandering novels that crisscross from London and Lusaka to Kingston, Kabul, and Kashmir and that represent, formally reproduce, and ultimately invite reflection on the effects of globalization. Each chapter takes up a maximalist novel that simultaneously maps and formally mimics a cornerstone of globalization, such as the postcolonial culture industry (Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children), the rebirth of fundamentalism (Zadie Smith’s White Teeth), the transnational commodification of violence (Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings), the obstruction of knowledge by narrative (Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know), and globalization’s gendered, asymmetrical growth (Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift).

By reframing analysis of maximalism around globalization, Swallowing a World not only reimagines one of the most perplexing genres of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries but also sheds light on some of the most perplexing political problems of our precarious present.

Author Bio

Benjamin Bergholtz is an assistant professor of English at Louisiana Tech University.


Swallowing a World offers a brilliant and refreshing account of the contemporary global novel as a maximalist form that both captures the capacious diversity of globalization and transforms erstwhile encyclopedic genres. Familiar works by Salmon Rushdie and Zadie Smith appear in sparklingly new garb, and first-time novels like The Old Drift trouble a distinguished, and mostly male, maximalist lineage that includes the epic, the encyclopedia, and Menippean satire.”—Debjani Ganguly, author of This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form

“Bergholtz makes a powerful and elegant case for the significance and urgency of his subject, addressing compellingly the maximalist novel genre’s particular relevance to and engagement with our time—the era of late globalization. Swallowing a World strikes me as the best book published in this area in the post–Cold War years. . . . His work is eminently readable.”—Christian Moraru, author of Flat Aesthetics: Twenty-First-Century American Fiction and the Making of the Contemporary

“Overwhelmed as we are by the impacts of globalization, climate change, and disinformation campaigns, why would we want to read exceedingly long novels? Bergholtz’s answer: ‘maximalist’ fiction offers our exhausted imaginations a reading process that can sustain and inspire us.”—Elena Machado Sáez, author of Market Aesthetics and coauthor of The Latino/a Canon

“Benjamin Bergholtz’s sharp and compelling Swallowing a World will long stand as a landmark in the fast-growing field of maximalist novel studies.”—Stefano Ercolino, author of The Maximalist Novel: From Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” to Roberto Bolaño’s “2666”

Table of Contents


Introduction: Mapping the Maximalist Novel
1. See the Whole World, Come See Everything! Midnight’s Children and the Postcolonial Culture Industry
2. Certainty in Its Purest Form: Globalization, Fundamentalism, and Narrative in White Teeth
3. It Shouldn’t Produce No Pretty Sentence, Ever: Violence and Aesthetics in A Brief History of Seven Killings
4. The Pursuit of Knowledge: The Paradoxes of Postcolonial Encyclopedism in In the Light of What We Know
5. Two Dumb Inertias: The Uneven Drift of Globalization in The Old Drift
Conclusion: The Future of Maximalist Fiction


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