This essay illustrates a “negative cosmopolitanism” in V. S. Naipaul’s work. Both defenders and critics of cosmopolitanism readily identify the concept with the European philosophical tradition. Arguing that European thinkers do not have a patent on cosmopolitanism, I contend that the anomalies, dissonances, and ruptures that define colonial modernity can open up a “negative cosmopolitanism,” which locates the potential for ethical engagement in what seems like the waste products of history. For Naipaul, cosmopolitanism designates not a volitional, character-strengthening endeavor but, rather, a painful process of self-negation. Traversing a world profoundly shaped by colonialism, the writer and his characters are at a loss to make sense of their historical lineage and their place in a rapidly changing landscape. Through a reading of The Loss of El Dorado (1969) and A Bend in the River (1979), I demonstrate that it is finally the failure of connection or solidarity that motivates Naipaul’s attentiveness to the other.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| June 01 2020
Negative Cosmopolitanism: The Case of V. S. Naipaul
Philip Tsang is assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, specializing in twentieth-century British and Anglophone literature. His current book manuscript, titled “The Obsolete Empire: Untimely Belonging in Twentieth-Century British Literature,” traces an aesthetics of frustrated attachment in the work of Henry James, James Joyce, Doris Lessing, and V. S. Naipaul.
Search for other works by this author on:
Twentieth-Century Literature (2020) 66 (2): 163–184.
Philip Tsang; Negative Cosmopolitanism: The Case of V. S. Naipaul. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 June 2020; 66 (2): 163–184. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8536143
Download citation file:
Don't already have an account? Register
You could not be signed in. Please check your email address / username and password and try again.
Could not validate captcha. Please try again.
Sign in via your InstitutionSign In
Citing articles via
Mademoiselle from Malibu: Eighteenth-Century Pastoral Romance, H-Bombs, and the Collaborative, Intertextual Gidget
Kafka on the Gulf: Male Identity, Space, and Globalization in Dave Eggers's A Hologram for the King and Arnon Grunberg's The Man without Illness