This book came to me as a surprise. I had felt for some time that a new vision was beginning to unfold in the contemporary British novel, but found myself at a loss as to how to talk about it in critical terms. This changed fundamentally as I discovered the philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy, which I encountered for the first time in Timothy C. Baker’s doctoral thesis, imminently forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press as George Mackay Brown and the Philosophy of Community. Timothy’s application of Nancean ideas was majorly instrumental in setting me on my way.
A trip to Chennai in March 2008, initiated and impeccably organised by Renuka Rajaratnam, brought to life Nancy’s theorising. I remain incredulous at the sheer marvel of Chennai, whose miraculous urban beauty took my breath away, and whose daily bustle came to epitomise to me Nancy’s inoperative community far beyond all preconceived images of chaos or exotic splendour. The people of Chennai are Nancean ‘being singular plural’. No two people I saw in the streets of the city were ever even remotely alike, and yet they all seemed to belong together. There was none of that blind, hectic indifference and uniformity that work to automatise and dishearten life in many western cities (most notably London). Every passer-by I met in the streets of Chennai appeared to seek out my gaze, searching for clues as to who I might be, who I had assumed I was before coming to their city and, most urgently, why I had come. I cannot express enough my gratitude to Renuka for thus opening my eyes to India and the dynamic of its ceaseless cosmopolitan world-creation. Great thanks are due also to Susan Oommen of Stella Maris College, C. T. Indra in the English Department at Madras University, and Shantha Gabriel of the British Council in Chennai, all of whom generously extended their hospitality to me.
The Cosmopolitan Novel could never have reached completion without the support of the English Research Institute at Manchester