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Tour du monde: David Mitchell's Ghostwritten and the cosmopolitan imagination.

David Mitchell's Ghostwritten (1999) pioneers a new narrative modus operandi for twenty-first-century British fiction. Using Mitchell's novel as a case study, the article revives Benedict Anderson's influential oppositioning of tour d'horizon, which is the realm of both the nation and the novel, and tour du monde, which remains outside either's vision and, as the article demonstrates, constitutes the representational realm of the cosmopolitan novel. The cosmopolitan novel's evolution out of its nationally bounded predecessor is charted analogically to Arjun Appadurai's distinction between old and new systems of political organization as "vertebrate" (signifying fixed traditions of strictly inter/nationalist thinking) and "cellular" (signifying the new unpredictable mutability of global/transnational flows). Following Nancy Armstrong's How Novels Think (2006), the article also explores the possible impact of cosmopolitan representation on the formation of new global subjectivities.


In Imagined Communities Benedict Anderson defines the nation as an act of the communal imagination. "The members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them," he writes, "yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion" (2006, 6). Anderson singles out the novel and the newspaper as the two most widely circulating and hence readily available "means for 'representing' the kind of imagined community that is the nation" (25) and for "creating that remarkable confidence of community in anonymity" (36). In his analysis of a handful of novels from different parts of the world Anderson insists that the genre remains confined to imagining a panoramic tour d'horizon, tracing and reinscribing the content, shape and boundaries of the nation rather than proliferating beyond it into an all-encompassing and essentially open-ended tour du monde (30). In "The National Longing for Form," Timothy Brennan's influential essay on nation and narration, one finds Anderson's perspective reiterated in essentially unaltered form. Brennan asserts that "it was the novel that historically accompanied the rise of nations ... by mimicking the structure of the nation ... its manner of presentation allowed people to imagine the special community that was the nation" (1990, 49-50).

My own leading question in the following is whether, in our increasingly globalized world, the novel might now be beginning to adapt and renew itself by imagining the world instead of the nation? If so, how exactly would the novel go about "mimicking the structure of the [world]," and what might be the impact of this representational mimicry on the novel's "manner of presentation"? Using David Mitchell's Ghostwritten (1999) as a case study and the philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy as a theoretical reference point, my enquiry into contemporary British fiction aims to be more radically paradigm-shifting than Patrick Parrinder's in Nation and Novel, which concludes "that twenty-first-century novelists will continue to participate in the making and remaking of English identity" (2006, 414), or Bruce King's in The Internationlization of English Literature, which suggests that what we are currently witnessing is the writing of "a new national literature" (2004, 324). It is the contemporary British novel as tour du monde--that is, as a practice of communal world-narration, of which Anderson declares it quite categorically incapable--that stands at the centre of my investigation. Nothing less, in fact, than the world as a whole will do as the imaginative reference point, catchment area, and addressee of what I am designating here as the cosmopolitan novel.

There is really nothing that ought to prevent us imagining the world as one community or capturing it inside the vision of a single narrative. As Anderson concedes, in the eighteenth century, when the novel first began to take shape, the nation itself must have appeared as equally unmanageable in its scope and unwieldy diversity. In Matthew Rofe's view, it is indeed Anderson's theorizing itself that enables us to make the world-creative leap from the national to the cosmopolitan in the first place. "Acknowledging community as a form of 'collective imagining' enhances the ability to conceptualise the existence of communities beyond the constraints of territory" (2003, 2518). At the same time as this formation of transterritorial communities exceeds all spatialities in equal measure, be they global or local, it also strengthens and renews our sense of rootedness and belonging by requiring us to define who we are, or strive to be, within an ever-broadening spectrum of contexts. Already Roland Robertson, in many respects the founder of contemporary globalization studies, linked the development of a global consciousness to an increase in the perception and representation of "the world as an 'imagined community"' (1992, 183). More recently, K. Anthony Appiah has argued that "a world in which communities are neatly hived off from one another seems no longer a serious option, if it ever was" (2006, xx). In this light, then, any contemporary novel that continues to be tied to a narrowly nationalist agenda must look like an inept, possibly even fraudulent anachronism. But precisely what implications might imagining the world instead of the nation have for the form of the novel? Is the shift in perspective and scope likely to remould the very morphology of the genre? And what exactly is the structure of the world to be mimicked in the cosmopolitan novel?

In Globalization and Culture John Tomlinson approaches the subject by problematizing the world's new "complex connectivity" and "increasing global-spatial proximity," which are prone to confound our experiential sense of the "undeniable, stubbornly enduring physical distance between places and people in the world" (1999, 1-4).The globe appears to be shrinking, yet to the majority of people this is little more than a baffling trompe-l' oeil of somebody else's projection. As Tomlinson explains, "the paradigmatic experience of global modernity for most people ... is that of staying in one place but experiencing the 'dis-placement' that global modernity brings to them" (9). Consequently, possibly the greatest challenge confronting cosmopolitan representation lies in bridging the rift between the world of globalized business, western mobility and world-political decision-making, on the one hand, and its countless sub-worlds of powerless, disenfranchised daily living and socio-economic migrancy, on the other. Human lives are lived quite literally at different levels: an elevated sphere travelled by the privileged is upheld by innumerable lower levels whose apparent solidity depends on their inhabitants' social immobility and hopeless economic entrapment. Whereas the privileged have a clear view of the whole world but can easily avert their gaze, the wretched are doomed to watch as "distant events and powers penetrate [their] local experience" (9), frequently at random and without much prior warning. Cosmopolitan representation must convey this synchronicity of the incongruous, multifarious and seemingly disconnected at the same time as it does its best to capture the streaming flow of a newly emergent contemporaneity. Its manner of presentation will most certainly include juxtaposition, as in Anderson's example of newspaper reporting, and it is indeed very likely to cast up similar ruminations:
  Why are these events so juxtaposed? What connects them to each other?
  Not sheer caprice. Yet obviously most of them happen independently,
  without the actors being aware of each other or of what the others
  are up to. The arbitrariness of their inclusion and
  juxtaposition ... shows that the linkage between them is imagined.
  (Anderson 2006, 33)

Yielding to fruitful interpermeation only intermittently, and precariously held together by the author's vision and reader's imagination, at its best this kind of juxtaposition results in the cosmopolitan novel's compositeness, which, as remains to be demonstrated, is not at all the same as fragmentation.

Compositeness forges narrative assemblage out of a seemingly desultory dispersion of plot and characterisation. Significantly, cosmopolitan representation often resorts to the montage techniques of contemporary cinema effecting rapid shifts in focus and perspective with the aim of cramming as many story lines and clashing imageries as possible into one and the same mise en scene. A good example of such cosmopolitan film-making is Babel (2006) by the Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, in which stories from California, Japan, Mexico and Morocco coalesce to create one traumatized world. However, none of the individual locations and sets of characters in Babel ever relinquish their edgy boxed-in solipsism, and the gaping wound of their encounter remains unstaunched as ultimately the picture refuses to heal remedially into one. Juxtaposing modern five-star tourism with economic migration and the plight of eking out a quasi-medieval existence in the African desert, the one-world imagery of Babel is blighted by global inequality and crushed into a highly volatile, accident-prone mosaic of misfitting segments that push and press one on the other, yet remain worlds apart. The film employs the image of a gun--originally used by a tourist on safari, then passed on as a gift, and finally fired off by children at play seriously wounding another tourist--as a poignant image of what currently binds our planet into one. What is so remarkable about Babel is how well it captures the self-encapsulated isolation of each individual life-world, how communal enclaves reach deeply into each other yet, protectively gloved, fail to sense the heartbeat of each other's hopes, dreams and anxieties, how the world lies shattered into stories bound into differently paced and oriented trajectories while all the time, undisavowably, the common truth of humanity s planetary vulnerability and mutual interdependence prevails.

To fulfil the representational challenges of the contemporary world, novelistic representation as we know it must change and adopt what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck has called a "cosmopolitan outlook." The contemporary cosmopolitan novel must aim "to break out of the self-centred narcissism of the national outlook and the dull incomprehension with which it infects thought and action, and thereby enlighten human beings concerning the real, internal cosmopolitanization of their lifeworlds and institutions" (2006, 2). It must do its best to demonstrate that "in a world of global crises and dangers produced by civilization, the old differentiations between internal and external, national and international, us and them, lose their validity and a new cosmopolitan realism becomes essential to survival" (14). Such a radical refocusing of the literary imagination from the national to the global will bring about truly paradigm-shifting change, heralding the beginning of a new era in both critical and creative thought. As Don Kalb and Marco van der Land explain, "in the birthact of the social sciences, as well as in historiography and literature, a view was inscribed of a global mosaic of human cultures" resulting in scholars more or less exclusively "describing and explaining what went on, and what had to be going on, within any single part of the mosaic, that is within the boundaries" (2000, 273-74). In the twenty-first century the task is to venture beyond our nationally demarcated horizons into the world at large and understand the domestic and the global as weaving one mutually pervasive pattern of contemporary human circumstance and experience.

Unlike other national literatures very little should stand in the way of contemporary British writing evolving into this kind of "world literature" of cosmopolitan human experience, if it has not in fact already made the transition. This is chiefly to do with its anglophone disposition combined with "the ability of 'English literature' to stand for literature in English as well as literature by the English," which means it has never fully complied in the first place with the exclusivist normative standards of what a national literature ought ideally to be (Connell 2004, 81). English is the worlds new lingua franca and, as the medium of literary self-expression for an ever-increasing number of non-native and/or bilingual writers, it absorbs a whole world of national differences while finding its own original distinctiveness profoundly hybridized by continual re-appropriation. And yet, as Simon Gikandi demonstrates, although English literature constitutes "one of the most universal cultural phenomena, a pantheon that can be traced all the way from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland to Suva in Fiji, [it remains] constantly associated with very provincial geographies and concerns" (2001, 650). Despite its diversity and apparent worldliness English literature still fundamentally serves a "mosaic" of nations. The simple fact that so many different national perspectives converge within its imaginative realm renders English literature international, but not necessarily also cosmopolitan. Global circulation and popularity do not guarantee a cosmopolitan outlook; neither does an author's choice of the world as their central topic, or their targeting of a world readership. What matters in the end is a particular stance towards the world, which must come to be shared by author and reader, but whose manifestation and effect obviously rely primarily on the author. As Jon Binnie and his co-editors suggest in Cosmopolitan Urbanism, ideally cosmopolitanism should meld "a philosophy of world citizenship which simultaneously transcends the boundaries of the nation-state and descends to the scale of individual rights and responsibilities [with] a particular set of skills and attitude towards diversity and difference" (2006,13). Applied to the work of the cosmopolitan novelist, it is crucial that these cosmopolitan skills not be confused with calculated manipulative control. Rather, they must be understood as integral to the author's capability to open up and yield to the structuring of the world as s/he finds it, however bewildering, turbulent, inoperative or self-contradictory.

A first inkling of a new sub-genre stirring within the tradition of the English novel crystallizes in Steven Connors The English Novel in History (1996), even though his enquiry continues largely to be faithful to the novel/nation paradigm. Commenting on works by Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro, Connor detects "a skeptical dissatisfaction with the inherited forms in which the condition of England has been represented ... combined with a continuing faith in the capacities of narrative to effect kinds of collective symbolic transformation and solidary connections." By interrogating "the essential integrity of the nation" Rushdie and Ishiguro are seen to "add to that picture of harmonious interdependence some awkwardly unassimilable facts and experiences" while pioneering "the possibility of forms of mutual belonging which do not depend upon such a smooth annulment of conflict and difference" (89). It is Connor's reflection on the renegotiation and reconstitution of national community in the works of literary "outsiders" such as Rushdie and Ishiguro--that is, how in their works solidarity and dissent, identification and difference, tend to converge rather than prove incommensurable--that potentially points to the rise of the cosmopolitan novel. Practicing an imagining of community that is dedicated, even loyal, to the idea of the nation, yet at the same time refutes the nationalist myths of essence, homogeneity and integrity, in Rushdie's and Ishiguro's writing the nation is surrendered to the unruly heterogeneity of individual experience and cosmopolitan modes of belonging that resist uniform incorporation.

As already noted, Binnie and his co-editors define cosmopolitan practice by drawing up "a set of skills which are applied in the encounter with difference" involving in particular "the ability to map one's own socio-cultural position vis-a-vis the diversity encountered." Following this promising opening their outline becomes problematic, especially in its specification of the purposes and benefits of cosmopolitan practice. Or how else are we to interpret statements seemingly resurrecting the Orientalist self/other imagery of a metropolitan observer competently organizing the object of his enquiry? Whatever risks of exposure the observer takes on "are overcome by [his] ability and willingness ... to make sense of and move through different societies, gathering not only knowledge of the particular culture in question but also enhancing a disposition and attitude that reduces the shock of the new or the different in other circumstances. "The agent of cosmopolitanism envisaged in Cosmopolitan Urbanism looks like an intrepid explorer bravely contributing to our culture's accumulation of knowledge by "navigating and negotiating difference," all the while wearing cosmopolitanism like some kind of protective shock-proof overcoat (Binnie 2006, 8). In contrast, the skills of cosmopolitan novelists must be of an entirely different order as their aim is to reveal the anachronism of these hegemonic distinctions between self and other. Faced with a contemporary global-human condition that exposes all indigenous positions in equal measure, subsuming them in the vertiginous order of globalization's all-pervasive regime, which strictly inhibits the crystallization of a clear-cut centre or margins, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discriminate categorically between victims and perpetrators, or explorers and explored, since ultimately no one controls globalization or could be said to be exempt from its systemic subjection. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri explain in Empire, globalization "manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command. The distinct national colors of the imperialist map of the world have merged and blended in the imperialist global rainbow" (2000, xxii-xxiii).

Cosmopolitan narration assembles as many as possible of the countless segments of global living into a momentarily composite picture of the world--quite like a child's kaleidoscope held still for only a second before collapsing into new, equally wondrous, yet perfectly plausible constellations. Cosmopolitan narration proceeds without erasing the essential incongruous-ness or singularity of these individual segments, which are left intact, even though they remain subject to continual re-assortment. Most significantly, the cosmopolitan novel has abandoned the vertebrate structures of the traditional novel's tour d'horizon and begun instead to experiment with what are more cellular modes of representation. The specific terminology of "vertebrate" and "cellular" used in this context is derived from Arjun Appadurai's distinction in Fear of Small Numbers between different systems of political rule and agency, in which "vertebrate" refers to the old fixed traditions of internationalist statehood whereas "cellular" stands for the contingency of contemporary global and transnational flows (2006,21-31). Compelled to mimic this shift in the "texture" of global politics, the envisioning of the world as instigated by the vertebrate novel (the novel that imagines the nation) gives way to the techniques and strategies of the cosmopolitan novel (the novel that imagines the world).

Both the compositeness and the cellularity of the cosmopolitan novel deserve to be taken seriously. Sadik Al-Azm realizes this very well in his appraisal of what is without doubt the single most important prototype of the contemporary cosmopolitan novel: Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), hailed by Al-Azm as "the multicultural, multinational world-novel par excellence" (2000, 48). Led by the novel's arrangement as a multiplicity of differently located narratives telescoped one into the other, Al-Azm infers that in Rushdie's text:
  India, England, Islam, Europe, Iran, the West, the Arabs - as a
  settled past, as a live present and as an anticipated future - do
  not simply coexist and impact each other at the periphery ... nor
  are they merely contemporaneous with and adjacent to each other,
  but mesh and interpenetrate at all conceivable levels: economic,
  commercial, scientific, colonial, anti-colonial, political,
  ideological, religious, cultural, artistic, personal, sexual,
  etc ... [They] become, by force of global circumstance, seriously
  constitutive of each other in an unprecedented manner and in
  unheard-of ways. (Al-Azm 2000, 49)

By contrast, in deciding in her own reading of the novel to "engage only the main narrative ... set primarily in London, with interludes in Bombay" (2002, 44 n1), Gillian Gane fails to apprehend the cosmopolitan design and outlook of Rushdie s work. Gane believes The Satanic Verses falls into main-and sub-narrative strands that can be read discretely. As a result, Rushdie's project of assigning far-fetched and half-forgotten local narratives the same significance and pride of place as noisily attention-seeking metropolitan narratives eludes her, as does his conviction that ultimately there is only one narrative to narrate, and that is the world's in its entirety. The rationale behind the cosmopolitan novel's apparent predilection for constituting as a seemingly unfinished quilt of petits recits, more often than not outside any safely con-textualizing frame, can be explained via Tim Gauthier's proposition that "since we no longer possess a system whereby meaning might be immediately conferred upon an event, the creation of the 'little narratives' becomes our only source for such signification" (2006,5). Importantly, however, in the cosmopolitan novel this turn to the small is no second-best compromise, but the actually preferred mode of representation, strategically necessitated by apprehending globalization as a powerfully meaning-enforcing system whose impact can be allayed only by mobilizing the entire microcosmic "nitty-gritty" of global multiplicity.

Connor opens The English Novel in History by characterizing the novel "not just as passively marked with the imprint of history, but also as one of the ways in which history is made, and remade." Importantly he then adds that "the processes we associate with the making and substantiation of fictional worlds are [also] to be seen at work within the making of the real, historical world" (1996,1-2). In Connor's view, then, literature is equipped with powerful world-creative capabilities that emulate, intimately correlate with, or simply share reality's. And yet, even a text as explosively paradigm-shifting as Rushdie's Satanic Verses in his eyes only confirms what is typical of the novel as "the form which in its name has always promised news or novelty"; accordingly, even the most innovative or experimental novel is never really quite new because, looked at more closely, it only fulfils what is definitive of the genre. Therefore, although Connor does recognize that the contemporary novel is caught up in some "process of refashioning" (127), this recognition has no immediate impact on his own critical outlook which, in continuing to grasp the fate of the novel as inextricably tied to the nation's, remains inured to emergent paradigm shifts in creative perspective. Connor imagines the nation as endowed with integrity and autonomy, whose preservation is threatened by the self-interest of other nations as well as more general processes of globalization and increasing multiculturalism. The novel he describes thus turns out to be not imagining the world at all; instead, it imagines exclusively one nation. Symptomatically he speaks of Britain's post-1945 "eviction from historical self-possession" exacerbated by "an increasingly hostile 'outside' press[ing] in upon Englishness, in the ever more aggressive relations of military superpowers and the ever more rampant and uncontrollable dynamisms of a capitalism organised in multinational forms." Not a word here of Britain's embededment within Europe or the world; instead, Britishness hardens and contracts into Englishness, eclipsing the nation's multicultural make-up and global openness, which Connor dares express only quite negatively as "the multiplication of alternative forms of belonging and self-definition [that cause] the very idea of what Englishness meant ... to come apart on the inside" (3). The nation's story, which is also the novel's, is portrayed consistently as one of disintegration and decline, leaving little room for the more productive cosmopolitan envisioning of a trajectory of deconstructive diversification and renewal.

David Mitchell's Ghostwritten (1999) pioneers a new cosmopolitan modus operandi for twenty-first-century British fiction. Mitchell's novel not so much breaks with the tradition of the English novel as it subtly deconstructs, unties, and defamiliarises it, with respect to both its treatment of the nation and its conceptualization of individuality. Ghostwritten constitutes an acutely fragmented, yet at the same time smoothly cohesive composition strategically broken up into small-recit mosaics of divergent perspectives that together span and unify the globe. The novel charts human existence both transterritorially and as always determined by locally specific conditions. History appears as an indeterminate, albeit always somewhat predictable recurrence of circumstances that irrevocably mire the emergence and manifestation of individual existence. In Ghostwritten a select number of men and women from all over the world--each and every one of them typically, even universally human--are portrayed as uniquely unprecedented and inimitable in their individual and cultural difference. Mitchell's ambition is to imagine globality by depicting worldwide human living in multifaceted, delicately entwined, serialized snapshots of the human condition, marked by global connectivity and virtual proximity as much as psychogeographical detachment and xenophobic segregation. The aim is not to project a particular destiny for the whole of humanity; rather, he does his best to open his work up to the structure of the world as he finds it, capturing its planetary exposure and existential finitude. Mitchell's fiction turns humanity into a cosmopolitan community, which his readers are invited not only to relate to, but partake of as inhabitants of one and the same world.

To properly implement and convey Mitchell's literary cosmopolitanism a modification of the novel's generic morphology is required or, perhaps rather, a change in the ways in which we perceive and decode certain structural techniques and principles of novelistic narration. For example, the apparent brokenness of Ghostwritten needs to be reviewed as an elaborate compositeness, caught in an ongoing process of self-constitution--of coming together. Opposed to postmodernist fragmentation, this compositeness is designed to preserve the singularity of each segment as an integral building block. Likewise, it is crucial to regard the science-fiction and dystopian components of Mitchell's novel as constitutive of its portrayal of contemporary globality. Mitchell's sense of the future is strongly reminiscent of the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy's in that in his work, too, "'we" are futural, surely, but not in the sense that we project ourselves into the future; rather, the 'we' just is this ability to open ourselves to the spacing of a world, a world that is always 'to-come'." As B. C. Hutchens, one of Nancy's most perspicacious interpreters, continues to explain, Nancy urges us not to anticipate the future in the form of visionary projections but to cultivate instead "an openness without anticipation, a preparedness for surprise that could never eradicate surprise, a world in which incertitude and undecidability are understood to be definitive of the human condition" (2005, 160). It is this bold, open-eyed tentativeness that characterizes Mitchell's cosmopolitan outlook.

In Mitchell's novel what is new and different perpetually coalesces with what is the same and already known, effectively transforming the reader's detachment into a sense of affinity, especially in the chapters set outside the anglophone world. Narration assumes quite literally a life of its own, developing an organic, cellular dynamic that serves to dismantle the neatly vertebrate telos and individualist focus of the traditional English novel. Initially appearing as a narrative quilt composed of a selection of self-contained small recits, or a loose assortment of stories snugly telescoped one into the other, Ghostwritten quickly reveals itself as driven by a far more fluid dynamic. The novel resembles an intricate perpetuum mobilium of interconnected vessels overflowing into each other, or filling up simultaneously like cells in a hive--ceaselessly pouring, jostling and jarring, stiffening into shape only momentarily before rejoining the flow, leaving behind only the trace of a ripple. In number9dream, Mitchell's second novel, this dynamic is described in terms of the life force itself, which makes the world a place where "circles are born, while circles born a second ago live. Circles live, while circles living a second ago die. Circles die, while new circles are born" (2001, 287). As Mitchell's writing demonstrates, these circles need not be neatly concentric, immediately tangential, or even perfectly round; what matters is that they originate from the same impulse, exist within the same medium, and are bound by the same sets of laws.

Ghostwritten categorically decenters individual human experience, which is by no means the same as demoting or devaluing it. Paradoxically, the opposite is the case, as stripped of their center-stage position in the novel individuals emerge as the carriers of the creative and destructive flows that together constitute the world. Unlike in the traditional novel, individuals are discovered as always already tied into a larger whole, which most certainly is not the nation but the human life-world in its global transterritoriality. In this sense, then, individuals are not initiated into global circulation; they are in fact what constitutes, propels and perpetuates this circulation. Everybody's life relates to everybody else's, even that of perfect strangers whom they will never meet. All individuality amounts to is the production of different variations on one and the same theme of contemporary human existence. Philip Griffiths errs when with reference to the protagonist of the "Holy Mountain" section of Ghostwritten he asserts that "it is the old woman's subjective point of view that utterly dominates the narrative and consequently forces the supremacy of world history into a subservient position" (2004, 81). Mitchell's characters are never so powerful; in fact, they become protagonists only insofar as they also always shoulder the parts of supernumerary extras, corralled by circumstance into strictly demarcated psychogeographies. The Holy Mountain dweller's hermit-like existence gains significance only in that it touches on the lives of others--for example, the guests at her inn who enjoy her hospitality, incur her wrath, or evoke her resistance--or in that her granddaughter might be the Chinese maid Neal Brose has an affair with in the "Hong Kong" section of the novel. The old woman's life signifies only insofar as its presence percolates into the rest of this huge global network of a novel--its manifold "continua of identification" (Bhabha 1996, 203), even though this percolation occurs without her knowledge or intention.

Mitchell's representation of globality aims at an opening up of the world to itself, which becomes its one and only territory. According to Beck, "if [global] culture is conceived as territorially circumscribed, then the question of plurality leads to a sterile false alternative: either universal sameness ('McDonaldization') or perspectives that resist comparison ('incommensurability')." As Beck insists, "cosmopolitanism, by contrast, means the exact opposite: recognition of difference, beyond the misunderstandings of territoriality and homogenization" (2006, 29-30). Mitchell's view concurs with Beck's in that he too does not so much rebut, or strive to erase, individual, local, even--quite possibly--national specificity. Rather, he seeks to prevent this specificity from rigidifying into a world-creatively obstructive set of forces, composed of individualism, localism, nationalism or, indeed, their equally detrimental counterpart of an inert, featureless universalism. Mitchell's cosmopolitan novel traces the tensions "between the world becoming global (an all or a totality) and the world maintaining its opening as a play of difference, incompletion, and finitude." This is how Krzysztof Ziarek reads the semantic complexity of Nancy's philosophy of "worlding," which conceives of the world as "unfolding into a complex of relations, exchanges, transactions, bonds, and affiliations, which, without constituting a whole or a totality, continuously (re)form themselves as a world" (2004, 150). Quite perplexingly, it appears to be our contemporary world's very trend towards totalization as such that mobilizes local and individual specificity in the first place, and in such a way that--by becoming instrumental in other, hitherto unprecedented processes of world-creation--it cannot but perpetually rupture globalization's drive for sameness and uniformity. Released from her hyperbolic centrality, the individual is not lost in the turbulent nitty-gritty of global multiplicity; rather, she emerges as integrally, even indispensably constitutive of it. The cosmopolitan is of necessity always a subject rather than an individual, but one whose irremediably globalized disposition is also her most effective means of resistance. Her singularity remains indisputable and cannot be erased or contained by globalization. And yet, it is her very state of oppression and dislocation that accentuates her difference and continues to unleash into the world its unruly ubiquity.

The conceptual compositeness of Ghostwritten is signaled by its subtitle, which introduces it as "a novel in nine parts." What this suggests immediately is that we are supposed to read the novel's concluding tenth section as a coda revisiting and complementing the novel as a whole rather than functioning as an independent part in its own right. "Underground" serves to round off the novel and take the reader's journey full circle.

Summoning a cast of characters from Japan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, there can be no doubt that Ghostwritten aims at imagining globality. It boldly exceeds the limits of the traditional novel by envisioning a grand tour du monde that pays little heed to national boundaries. The novel's particular cosmopolitan view is facilitated by opening its chapters fluidly one into the other, each of which constitutes its own tour d'horizon. As a result, national horizons sustain, yet never definitively enclose, human identity. Traditionally humans have known and related to the world through their immediate surroundings, which is also fundamentally, as Jonathan Ree explains, how nationality works: "The national experience is basically a matter of rootedness in local conditions, and of respect and affection for them." However, whereas nationalism tends to assimilate and subsume the local in order to bolster its own totality, Ree quite rightly deems it "fantastic to suppose that [local sentiments] could all extend precisely to the edges of a single nation and there come abruptly to a halt" (1998, 82). So, quite evidently, does Mitchell. Pitching his cosmopolitan novel against globalization as increasing homogenization, Mitchell demonstrates that, rather than emulating the nation in gorging itself on the locally specific, the world always already is its own diversity. Difference is what we have in common, and what summons us into humanity; it is also what creates, or "worlds," the world.

Ghostwritten creates a global community of characters for an equally global community of readers, selecting remote insular places not only to keep the narrative world-politically in suspension, as it were, but also to capture the world as essentially informed and shaped by marginality. Without doubt it is their remarkable community spirit and local distinctiveness that inspired Mitchell to erect his novel on such eclectic geographical pillars as Okinawa--an East China Sea archipelago that became part of Japan in the late nineteenth century, but now has a strong national independence movement--and Clear Island, "the last corner of Ireland" (Mitchell 1999, 360), the Irish republic's southernmost inhabited patch of land. Meticulously designed, Ghostwritten excels at accentuating the random arbitrariness of global human encounter. The novel demonstrates how, often fleetingly and entirely unawares, we become members of multitudinous communities that crystallize against the odds of probability, such as the group of passengers who happen to be accompanying Mowleen Muntervary, the mathematical genius and quantum physicist of the "Clear Island" section of the novel, on her escape flight to Kyrgistan. Using her calculator, which "can do a quintillion decimal places," Mo comes to the conclusion that even this most spontaneous of communal configurations has a certain mathematical logic to it, as she "work[s] out the odds of us three hundred and sixty passengers all being here" (338).

As its individual chapters open up one into the other and despite their evident disparity smoothly interpermeate, leaving behind an intricate density of intratextual cross-references, Mitchell's novel creates a communal web of the world that interweaves correspondences and resemblances together with apparent irreconcilabilities into a momentary whole--a whole that remains productively incapable of achieving seamless totality. For example, incongruously mixing first love and murderous ideological delusion, in the first section of the novel the term "quasar"--denoting a celestial entity of unimaginable brightness and energy--serves as the undercover codename for Keisuke, a terrorist responsible for a gas attack on the Tokyo underground, while in the second section it is part of young Satoru's catalogue of terms describing the beauty of Tomoyo, his girlfriend-to-be. The two sections are interlinked further by the fact that Satoru's friend's sister happens to be on a school trip to Okinawa, where Keisuke, the terrorist, has gone into hiding, and when in final desperation Keisuke, deserted by his organization, rings the Fellowship's Secret Service emergency number with a previously agreed encoded message, he is in fact put through to the record shop that employs Satoru, to whom obviously the call cannot mean anything at all.

Satoru and his girlfriend Tomoyo's young love forms the backdrop to Neal Brose's increasing loneliness and professional alienation in the next section, which is set in Hong Kong. Neal's wife has recently divorced him and his career as a promising young banker is about to collapse due to a money-laundering deal he has been coerced into setting up on behalf of a Mr Gregorski from St Petersburg, who plays a significant part in the sixth section of the novel, which is set in the Russian city. Neal is warned of the risks accompanying the deal by Huw Llewellyn, an undercover international police agent, who later turns out also to be a very good personal friend of Mowleen Muntervary, the scientist at the center of the "Clear Island" section. Mo secretly lodges with Huw in Hong Kong while on the run from her corporation, who want to use her latest set of scientific discoveries to develop a new generation of war weaponry. Truanting from work one morning, Neal dies of a fit caused by undiagnosed diabetes while climbing a mountain popular with Buddhist pilgrims, and it is Mo who later tells her husband about seeing him (or someone very much like him) collapse and die there. The setting of Neal's death builds a bridge to the next section, which is set on a "Holy Mountain" somewhere in China. Another link between the chapters is that Neal had started an affair with his Hong Kong maid, who very much resembles the granddaughter of the old woman from whose perspective the "Holy Mountain" section is told, even though not all the details appear quite to match. "My employer died," the young woman explains. "A foreigner, a lawyer with a big company, he was extremely wealthy. He was very generous to me in his will" (Mitchell 1999, 151). It appears that in Mitchell's cosmopolitan universe, in order to establish a link, it appears to suffice that this could, or might just as well, be the story of Neal and Neal's maid. The same air of allusive uncertainty surrounds the first appearance of Caspar, a Danish backpacker, who may or may not be that curious foreigner staying at the old woman's inn, and who--on hearing another guest's nighttime story about "three animals who think about the fate of the world" (143)--suddenly changes his mind about visiting Laos and darts off in the direction of Mongolia instead.

In "Mongolia," the fifth section of the novel, Caspar, who used to sell jewellery in Okinawa, is introduced to his Australian love-interest Sherry, who worked in a Hong Kong pub and who, on their overnight train journey to Ulan Bator, strikes up a casual conversation with "a middle-aged Irish woman who either gazed out of the window or wrote numbers in a black notebook" (Mitchell 1999, 156), who is retrospectively identified as Mowleen. "Mongolia" also introduces Punsalmaagiyn Suhbataar, "a senior agent of the Mongolian KGB with a disdain for vulnerable things" (180), whose violence haunts not only the "Petersburg" section of Ghostwritten, but also the "Reclaimed Land" chapter in Mitchell's otherwise entirely unrelated second novel number9dream. In the "London" section, finally, we are introduced to Marco, who earns a living as a ghostwriter for an elderly gay celebrity, among whose circle of friends we find Jerome, the artist who forges the world-famous paintings at the centre of "Petersburg." "London" also brings us face to face with Katy Forbes, the divorced wife of Neal Brose, whose British ex-pat Hong Kong employer turns out to be the elder brother of Tim Cavendish, Marco's literary agent. Compounding the elaborate design of the novel even further by conflating utterly quotidian coincidence with the most fateful serendipity, Marco happens to be the passerby who saves Mo from being run over by a taxi. This incident might have remained entirely gratuitous in terms of plot development, were it not for Marco lying, quite without apparent motivation, to the men in pursuit of Mo about the London airport where he overheard her instruct the cab-driver to take her. What it also creates, of course, is the sense of a crucial existential connectivity between the lives of perfect strangers, capable of touching and determining the course of each other's life trajectories without ever having properly met or being likely to get to know each other in the future.

In the novel's coda, which constitutes not so much an ending as a recommencement, Mitchell rehearses the circumstances of Keisuke's gas attack on the Tokyo underground, sketching out what might have happened before Keisuke arrives in Okinawa in the opening chapter. What makes "Underground" so intriguing is that it shows us the terrorist, ostensibly filled with disgust at the profound loathsomeness of human life, frantically trying to save himself from the doomed train. His panic and sheer desperation signal that there is something about human existence that will forever exceed the unforgiving absolutes of fundamentalist ideological conviction. Equally shrewd in this final section is Mitchell's gathering of all the strands of his novel into one, so that we find practically the whole world packed into this particular Tokyo underground station. The ubiquitous imagery of global advertising plastered all over the underground walls not only conjures a momentary glimpse of Keisuke's Okinawa, but also Mo's island home and Bat Segundo's New York, which provides the setting for the novel's penultimate section. As he claws his way out of the carriage, Keisuke briefly sees "a couple walking their dog down a beach in Okinawa" (1999, 433), and "on the label of Kilmagoon whiskey an island as old as the world" (435), as well as "the Empire State Building, circled by an albino bat, scattering words and stars through the night" (436). We also find snippets from chapters 3 and 6. Recalling Neal's climb up his holy mountain, on the cover of a paperback read by a passenger "Buddha sits, lipped and lidded, silver on a blue hill, and island far from this tromboning den" (434), while a brochure perused by somebody else bears the title Petersburg, City of Masterworks (435). In yet another passenger's hands Keisuke sees "the London Underground on a vinyl shopping bag" (435). One cannot but conclude that Keisuke's terrorist attack is on a world so thoroughly globalized that its specific target could be anywhere on earth. His vertiginous scramble for life, when he has only just condemned humanity to merciless death, opens up the world simultaneously as a deracinated blur and as always unmistakably itself in a limitless range of specific localities. If only Keisuke could connect to this world and read its apparent fragmentation not as an irremediable splintering into meaninglessness, but the tantalizing promise of communal assemblage beyond any definitive unity or ideological totalization. If only he could appreciate human life as what, with reference to Nancy's work, Ian James has described as "a fragmentation that exceeds any figure of totality" (2006, 3).

Ghostwritten pursues a strikingly Nancean political aesthetics in that, like Nancy, Mitchell "addresses the world as finite and contingent, fragmentary, thoroughly resistant to any totalization within a system of goals or ideological forms" (James 2006, 151). This is the vision offered to us in the coda: a vision of human life as it is, mundane, vulnerable, volatile and violent, as well as confused, deluded and needy, yet always indisputably of value and significance, all through and by itself, bar interpretation. Interspersed with fore-shadowings of what according to the novel's chronology is yet to come, the oddly timeless and dislocated coda, designed to strike us as apocalyptic and life-affirming at the same time, not so much disrupts as dissolves the novel's teleological linearity. Not only does it make the narrative come full circle, but it also opens it up to its own tumultuous diversity. Featuring as rebels, mavericks, outsiders and drop-outs, what Mitchell's protagonists share, and what so believably draws them into a community, is their individual difference or singularity, which renders them at once familiar and strange. Their strangeness highlights the fact that, as Nancy puts it in Being Singular Plural, "each singularity is another access to the world" (2000, 14) while their familiarity reminds us that this world is one and the same for all of us.

Traditionally the reception of the novel has been dominated by two classic presuppositions regarding the genre's preoccupation with nationhood and individualism. In The Spectre of Comparisons Benedict Anderson asserts that "the historical appearance of the novel-as-popular-commodity and the rise of nation-ness were intimately related" (1998, 334), while in How Novels Think Nancy Armstrong's core thesis is that "novels think like individuals about the difficulties of fulfilling oneself ... under specific cultural historical conditions" (2005, 10). Only as an afterthought does Anderson express concerns as to whether "the deep original affinity between nation-ness and the novel meant they would always be adequate for one another: that the nation would continue to serve as the natural if unspoken frame of the novel" (334). Similarly, Armstrong concludes on a concession, namely that one day novels might indeed "begin to think of a genuine alternative to the individual, one that does not inspire phobia and yet is grounded in the world we now inhabit." The very likelihood that such a focal paradigm shift might occur, facilitated by the genre's sensitivity to cultural-historical change, prompts Armstrong in the end to reflect that "the novel of course was not made to think beyond the individual, but neither, on the other hand, was it made to reproduce the status quo" (25).

Mitchell's Ghostwritten looks in many ways as if it had been fashioned directly out of Anderson's and Armstrong's second-thought allowances for the genre's possible evolution. Ghostwritten pioneers the novel as opening upon a world-creative tour du monde that imagines humanity beyond the bounds of the nation. This new global community respects yet does not single out the individual; it accommodates the self and to a certain degree assimilates it within a larger whole, yet it never absolutely prioritizes it: neither the individual, nor any of the communities of which it partakes, ever assume a position of totality. Rather, the novel's main interest is in humanity's existential interrelatedness--what Nancy would refer to as the dynamics of our multitudinous "being-in-common." Our global contemporaneity--that is, Armstrong's "world we now inhabit," to which the novel is not only programmed to react, but which, in my view, it also significantly recasts--is beginning to look markedly cosmopolitan.

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Berthold Schoene is professor of English and Director of the English Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is the author of Writing Men (2000) and The Cosmopolitan Novel (2009) and the editor of Posting the Male (2003), The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature (2001) and The Edinburgh Companion to Irvine Welsh (2010)
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Author:Schoene, Berthold
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Date:Sep 22, 2010
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