This Thing Called the World

The Contemporary Novel as Global Form

This Thing Called the World

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 5 illustrations Published: August 2016

Author: Debjani Ganguly

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In This Thing Called the World Debjani Ganguly theorizes the contemporary global novel and the social and historical conditions that shaped it. Ganguly contends that global literature coalesced into its current form in 1989, an event marked by the convergence of three major trends: the consolidation of the information age, the arrival of a perpetual state of global war, and the expanding focus on humanitarianism. Ganguly analyzes a trove of novels from authors including Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, and Art Spiegelman, who address wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, the Palestinian and Kashmiri crises, the Rwandan genocide, and post9/11 terrorism. These novels exist in a context in which suffering's presence in everyday life is mediated through digital images and where authors integrate visual forms into their storytelling. In showing how the evolution of the contemporary global novel is analogous to the European novel’s emergence in the eighteenth century, when society and the development of capitalism faced similar monumental ruptures, Ganguly provides both a theory of the contemporary moment and a reminder of the novel's power.


"A dense, learned, and important study of the emergence of “this thing called the world” as its inhabitants pass from spectatorship to witnessing of trauma under the prevailing conditions of intensified mediation, remediation, and hypermediation. . . . A rich resource that will be mined by many. . . . Highly recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty."
  — K. Tölölyan, Choice

"This is a brave book, a valiant and valuable book, that seeks to characterize post-1989 fiction as ekphrastically humanitarian." — Eugene Eoyang, World Literature Today

"This Thing Called the World both models and theorizes a grounded approach to modern world literature, urging its critics, despite our habit to look beyond the horizon, not to forget the dirt beneath our own feet." — Christopher McVey, Studies in the Novel

"Against the grain of much contemporary criticism, which has jettisoned the notion of imaginative sympathy from literary discourse, Ganguly seizes on exactly this as critical to the post-1989 experience: 'the information technology revolution has radically transformed our threshold of responsibility to our distant others and has perforce brought worlds of untold suffering into our intimate spaces.'" — Michael LaPointe, TLS

"Ganguly’s disentangling of the terms 'postcolonial,' 'global,' and 'world' in the introduction is much needed and persuasive. . . . A brave and important book." — Claire Chambers, Modern Fiction Studies

"Beautifully connects the sentimental novels of the eighteenth century to their contemporary equivalent . . . Ganguly remains true to the real-world voices of the novelists throughout her work, marrying aesthetics and ethics. . . . She also maintains a refreshing level of detail within the texts themselves, sweeping readers into the heart-wrenching and critical foci of the novels’ collectivity while maintaining a thorough, accessible argument outlining specific interventions into our global understanding." — Beth Miller, Comparatist

"A timely intervention in this rich field of critical inquiry. . . . This Thing Called the World deserves praise as a salutary effort to transcend the pieties and apolitical tendencies sometimes discernible in recent debates aboutworld literature. . . ." — Ali Behdad, Novel

"The strength of this monograph is undoubtedly the rich, largely unpretentious description of so many contemporary works, which many would aspire to read and few actually do. . . . The book is a truly remarkable first attempt at capturing the complexity of our times through novels. . . . Those readers interested in both the form and content of the contemporary novel, especially colleagues in English and Comparative Literature, will find much to think about as they pore over Ganguly’s book." — Evan Torner, Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature

"In this compelling study, Debjani Ganguly makes a powerful case for novelistic witnessing as a countervailing force in today’s 'mediated deathscapes' of terrorism and state violence. Situated at the intersection of postcolonial theory, world literature, and media studies, This Thing Called the World will interest anyone who wants to think freshly about the function of literature, and of criticism, at the present time."
  — David Damrosch, Harvard University

"This Thing Called the World makes a superb contribution to the study of the contemporary novel and to the energetic debates on world literature. Debjani Ganguly's work is informed throughout by her deep and subtle understanding of the scholarship on the history of the novel and a broad range of literary, media, and political theory. Her close readings of the wellchosen and impressively extensive primary texts are invariably fine and are often stunning in their nuance and insight. An extremely important and significant book."
  — Ian Baucom, author of Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Debjani Ganguly is Professor of English and Director of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Caste and Dalit Lifeworlds: Postcolonial Perspectives.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

1. Real Virtualities and the Undead Genre  39

Part I. World

2. World-Making and Possible Worlds  69

3. Spectral Worlds, Networked Novel  87

4. From Midnight's Child to Clown Assassin  110

Part II. War

5. Visualizing Wartime: A Literary Genealogy  135

6. The Sky Is Falling: The Narrative Screen of Terror  157

Part III. Witness

7. This I Saw: Graphic Suffering  175

8. Forensic Witnessing: The (Non)Evidence of Bones  192

9. Affective Witnessing: Orphic Netherworlds  219

Coda  249

Notes  261

Bibliography  279

Index  293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6156-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6137-4
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