Immigrant to a Terrorist: On Liquid Fears in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission

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Author: Iwona Filipczak
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,542 words

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[(essay date 2014) In the following essay, Filipczak explores the novel’s commentary on the modern condition of uncertainty amidst the trend of globalism.]

The intensifying and speeding up impact of worldwide interconnectedness is felt all over the globe. Since the 1960s when Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village,” an unprecedented pace and scale of this phenomenon has been observed. The development of technology, communication and transport allows for close connections and frequent interactions between the most remote places on the planet. The significance of global flows cannot be overlooked or belittled because of “the sheer speed, scale and volume” which results in disjunctures that need to be tackled globally (Appadurai 1996: 37). In the world which is increasingly one of the global flows and exchanges, one notices increasing fluidity and instability of life structures which mark the contemporary moment with uncertainties and anxieties about the present and the future.

Hari Kunzru’s second novel Transmission (2004) is a novel deeply preoccupied with various aspects of the interconnected world. It discusses the implications of the globalizing world: opportunities and fears generated by the globalizing processes. In this article I would like to focus on the representation of different forms of fear presented in the narrative, and examine them in the context of Zygmunt Bauman’s theories of liquid modernity. The novel can be interpreted as announcing the triumph of “liquidity,” that is instability and uncertainty. The condition of liquidity is envisioned as a predominant source of fears. The issues of migration, one of the constituent features of global flows, play a significant role in the representation of individual and collective fears. The novel depicts an immigrant as a subject whose position is particularly unstable and uncertain, which is a source of his fears. At the same time an immigrant is regarded as a threatening, destabilizing element that generates fears on the collective level, in a large community, and who can easily be regarded as a threat. Kunzru puts a critical perspective on the question of terrorism, presenting it not as a real danger to the nation’s security but as a tool used by countries to authorize their power in the times when economic and social safety can no longer be guaranteed and the issues of safety are shifted to the personal sphere. Finally, it is argued that the theme of prevailing uncertainty is reflected in the form of the narrative, together with the themes of globalization and interconnectedness.

The fluidity of our times has been well defined by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. His term “liquid modernity” denotes the contemporary times, characterized by others as postmodern or late modern. Bauman uses the adjective “liquid” or light to indicate the contrast to the earlier phase of modernity, which in his words was “solid” and heavy, in other words defined, localised, territorialised. With this metaphor Bauman describes the effects of globalisation, nomadism, new technologies and information systems. What he means by it is the current speed of changes taking place in our everyday reality, linked with...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123826