Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Far Away, So Close -Translocation as Storytelling Principle in Hari Kunzru's Transmission

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Far Away, So Close -Translocation as Storytelling Principle in Hari Kunzru's Transmission

Article excerpt

IN recent YEARsa growing number of novels have addressed and metafictionally reflected on the ideological, economic, political, and cultural dimensions of the growing interconnectedness in the current age of globalization. This production trend,1 which we might tentatively term the 'globalization novel', includes books such as Kiran Desai's Booker prizewinning The Inheritance of Loss, the celebration of grassroots political activism that is The Fountain at the Center of the World (2003) by the comedian and activist Robert Newman, as well as the subject of this essay, Hari Kunzru's Transmission (2004). After outlining my understanding of the concepts of 'translocation' as a process and of 'translocality' as a condition, I would like to propose a reading of Kunzru's novel here that emphasizes the ambivalence of his depiction of translocation and translocality and interprets this ambivalence as a self-reflexive comment on the topic of the universality of storytelling.

Transmission is full of examples of processes of translocation simultaneously resulting from and perpetuating the increasingly interconnected nature of today's world. While Kunzru places the transfer of people, signs, and texts in the globalized world at the centre of his novel and emphasizes the mechanisms by which they are interlinked, he also insists on the ambivalence of global interconnectedness through his treatment of the metaphor of (noise in) transmission and by providing his characters with a profound sense of isolation, dislocation, and /or alienation. The disjunct cultural flows depicted in Transmission thus lead to manifold losses of or inabilities to establish contact: both with oneself and with other people, as well as with both local and translocal culture.

This depiction of translocation on the story level as a simultaneous drawing together and pulling apart is mirrored on the discourse-level by Kunzru's narrative technique. Transmission therefore also contains an implicit metafictional reflection on its own status as a cultural product created for a potentially global and transcultural readership.

1. Flows and Nets: Images of Translocation and Translocality

G? order to conceptualize globalization processes, theorists of globalization as well as non-specialist language-use have tended to recur to a group of verbal images which may also help us theorize the concepts of 'translocation' and 'translocality'. Apart from images of boundaries and borders, the most prevalent of these metaphors have been those of flows and of networks or webs. Appadurai, for example, has famously theorized the new world order in terms of disjunct global flows of people, media, technologies, capital, and political images, which he designates as 'ethnoscapes', 'mediascapes', 'technoscapes', 'financescapes', and 'ideoscapes'.2 In his magisterial work on The Network Society, Manuel Castells employs the same image to describe the dominant of contemporary life, when he points out that "our society is constructed around flows" of capital, information, technology, organizational interactions, images, sounds, and symbols.3 One example of how pervasive this trope has meanwhile become is Thussu's attempt to present recent manifestations of media globalization as a sequence of dominant media flows that largely emanate from the global North, and so-called 'subaltern flows' originating in the former peripheries of global media industries.4

While Castells employs the metaphor of the flow, the key image underlying his work is, as its title indicates, that of the net, which is also contained in the passage in which David Held et al. introduce the parameters by which they analyse the changes and consequent blurring of the boundaries between domestic matters and global affairs in Global Transformations:

a deepening enmeshment of the local and the global such that the impact of distant events is magnified while even the most local developments may come to have enormous global consequences. …

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