This essay challenges recent theories of world literature that argue that the global anglophone novel, in particular, instantiates empathic, ethical connection across and beyond nation-states. Taking cues from Teju Cole's Open City, it understands the urge to connect as a psychological logic of compensation that operates in cosmopolitan readers to keep less pleasant feelings such as guilt, depression, futility, or isolation at bay. Cole's work interrogates the imperative to always connect, intimating all the while certain possibilities for distance as a mode of relationality. The role Cole accords storytelling lies less in its power to forge international contact zones or imagined communities than in its caution against a facile instrumentalism equating knowing with social transformation. Instead, Open City juxtaposes the urge for harmonious cross-cultural connection with a conscious critique of that very desire.

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