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  • This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form by Debjani Ganguly
  • Beth Miller
Debjani Ganguly, This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, 300 pp.

Debjani Ganguly's new book This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form beautifully connects the sentimental novels of the eighteenth century to their contemporary equivalent, the humanitarianism of the post-1989 global novel. In her analysis, these texts have a unique desire and responsibility to bring together global networks of world, war, and witness. Ganguly demonstrates how the sentimental works from the Romantic period, unconvincing in the following centuries, reenter the world stage with the change in zeitgeist following the end of the Cold War through a specific focus on ekphrasis. Her argument details how the hypervisual and multimedia culture rising to prominence alongside a new era of global warfare has intensified an iteration of the Romantic imagination (137). Ganguly's primary argument uses ekphrasis to explore the role of witness and witnessing in the contemporary novel, especially with the outbreak of global war and terror networks.

Ganguly divides her text into three sections: World, War, and Witness. In "World," through the image of the collage, she critically reimagines the global novel as "a formal and semantic construct through which the human imagination as well as the humanitarian imagination seeks to make sense of and sensitize our reading publics to the worlds of wars and violence that have become pervasive in our era" (85). Ganguly's analysis commences with David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, a novel spanning the globe and demonstrating the intricate ripples felt personally, corporately or communally, and nationally from individual's decisions in our increasingly interconnected present. The power of witnessing on a global scale, specifically the inescapability of graphic violence, comes into sharper clarity in Ganguly's analysis of Salman Rushdie after 1989. Her close reading of Shalimar the Clown individualizes as well as worlds Rushdie's transition from a postcolonial to a global author in his shift to a "world perspective" of history's relationship to the present, "reckon[ing] with planetary convergence" as opposed to the postcolonial focus on "disjunctive temporalities," in other words, "a contemporality that is global" (122).

Her second section, "War," builds on the scholarly foundation of the quotidian [End Page 385] experience of war to focus on humanitarian responses to the concentration of images in our global culture intensified by the Web. Adding to her existing literary timeline, Ganguly details the transformation in humanitarian thought between the end of WWII and human rights movements of the 1960s to the "age of witnessing" and "hypermediated humanitarianism" in the early twenty-first century especially (140). Romantic-era photography, specifically of the Napoleonic wars, brought war into the home for the first time. This intimacy transformed the relational perception between war and the nation, making future literary movements dependent on reactions to warfare; in the same vein, "the global wars since the end of the cold war and the iconic mediatization of 9/11 overwhelmingly constitute the horizon of literary theorizations in our global era" (152). Her analysis of this image-saturated environment focalizes around Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers and Don DeLillo's Falling Man, both of which strive to make sense of the iconography of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Ganguly's third section, "Witness," flips conceptions of the "cultural chasm" between postcolonial and Western worlds; she argues instead that "the saturations and reinflections of witnessing violence across multiple media … need to be read explicitly as products of both postcolonial planetary reconfigurations and the concomitant effects of hypermediation in our information era" (178). Analyses of Anil's Ghost and Orpheus Lost form the argument of her final section. Anil's Ghost "makes legible" the witnessing process, complicated by connecting the personal feeling of loss to the historical fact of atrocity by following Anil as she discovers "the necessity and impossibility of finding the truth about extreme human violence" in the extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka between 1988–90 (193). Ganguly engages in global mapping in her analysis as well, connecting Ondaatje and Sri Lanka to Spiegel...


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pp. 385-387
Launched on MUSE
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