[(essay date 2015) In the following essay, Schötz explores issues of community as they relate to narrative strategy and the short story as a genre, using Kunzru’s short fiction as an example.]
In their introduction to Theorien der Gemeinschaft, Lars Gertenbach et al. argue that debates about communal identity revive at times of collective crises (2010, 54). In the British context, it was predominantly in reaction to several waves of large-scale immigration from the former British colonies after the end of the Second World War that questions of national community came to the fore. By the late 1970s, the largely African, Caribbean, and South Asian migrants and their descendants had become a visible ‘black British’ presence that forced white Britain to “confront its postcolonial history […] as an indigenous or native narrative internal to its national identity” (Bhabha 2004, 9). That Britain is still struggling to come to terms with its postcolonial legacy became strikingly obvious in PM David Cameron’s controversial observation at the Munich Security Conference 2011 that the policy of multiculturalism has failed in Great Britain.
Black British writers and artists have made a vital contribution to the ongoing discourse on the redefinition of Britishness. Novels like Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000), and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003) are widely celebrated as “herald[s] of hybridity” (Schoene 1998, 117). Appropriate as such assessments may be, the scholarly focus on the black British novel has tended to overshadow the creative achievements in other genres. In discussing select short stories by three contemporary black British writers, namely Hanif Kureishi, Jackie Kay, and Hari Kunzru, I aim to illustrate how the short story form serves these authors as a vehicle not only to imagine “a new way of being British” (Kureishi 2011, 34), but also to challenge exclusionary notions of community.1 Several of their stories experiment with what Mark Stein, following David Hollinger, has called a ‘postethnic’ stance (Stein 2004 and 2000, 108-142; Hollinger 1995). They transcend the confines of a postcolonial context in order to explore questions of community on a more general, even ontological level. This becomes especially apparent when reading these stories against the background of deconstructivist conceptualisations of community, in addition to the customarily applied postcolonial concepts of communal identity like Stuart Hall’s “new ethnicities” (1996a, 236; 1996b and 1997) or Homi K. Bhabha’s “vernacular cosmopolitanism” (2004, xvii; 2000).
In what follows, I shall illustrate that Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of a differential, non-essentialist and dynamic ‘singular plural’ community (1991a; 2000; 2003) is a particularly useful means of investigating the representation of community in the black British short story. After a brief outline of my theoretical framework, I analyse Kureishi’s “Straight,” Kay’s “My Daughter the Fox,” and Kunzru’s “Deus Ex Machina” with a view to the following questions: what kind(s) of community do these narratives represent? Which narrative strategies do they employ to explore issues of communal identity? And, last but not least, what do they imply with regard to the specific...