Cosmopolitan Love: The One and the World in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission

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Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 9,839 words

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[(essay date 2012) In the following essay, Shelden explores Kunzru’s critique of cosmopolitanism and “universal” concepts of love in Transmission.]

Most critics will agree that the adjective cosmopolitan describes not just a way of organizing the world or a type of subject position but also a stance that pertains, in particular, to the ethical relation to the other. Few critics, however, in their explorations of the ethics of cosmopolitanism, inquire into what one might call the fundamental analytical category of ethics: love. This stands out as a curious omission insofar as the discourse of loving one’s neighbor stages, first and foremost, a debate about the status of ethics itself, suggesting that “love” and “ethics” are terms that cannot be thought about without reference to each other. In this essay, I examine the concepts of cosmopolitanism and love, the latter of which seems inseparable from the former, if we consider “cosmopolitan” to register a particular sort of ethical relation. Hari Kunzru’s Transmission (2004) explores the idea of a specifically “cosmopolitan love,” which does necessarily partake of a conventional ethical relation to the other. I argue that Kunzru takes up a truism about love—that it is a “universal” emotion—in order to offer a critique not only of this conception of love, not only of the homogenizing force of this idea, but also of the idea of cosmopolitanism itself. For Kunzru, cosmopolitanism might well promise to produce a global ethics that allows for the admission of difference without demanding the assimilation of these differences to universal sameness. The work of the philosopher Alain Badiou, particularly his theories of the “truth procedure” of love and universality, helps to expand my interpretation of Transmission by complicating this notion of global ethics. Kunzru importantly suggests that the ethics of cosmopolitanism—indeed, cosmopolitan love—can manifest as a corrosive and divisive stance toward the otherness of the other.

Transmission centers on three characters, who ostensibly have no relation to one another: Arjun Mehta, a young computer engineer from New Delhi, who travels for work to America; Guy Swift, an English businessman, desperately trying to save his fading company, Tomorrow*; and Leela Zahir, an Indian film star, who happens also to be Mehta’s favorite Bollywood actress. Eventually, Mehta, Swift, and Zahir come into close relation with each other by way of the computer virus that Mehta creates seemingly in order to keep his job at the American computer company that hired him, Virugenix. The virus—which comes to be known as “Leela,” because it appears at first as an innocuous clip of Leela Zahir from one of her films—multiplies and morphs in such a way that it cannot be contained and spreads quickly across the globe. Despite the fact that Mehta has no connection to Swift or Zahir, separated as they are not only by geography but also class (Mehta futilely aspires to achieve wealth and status like Swift’s and Zahir’s), the corrosive force of the virus ultimately affects them all, just as it affects everyone in the world of the novel....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123820