A matter of time? Temporality, agency and the cosmopolitan in the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro and Timothy Mo

  • Gordon Andrew Spark

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The emergence of novelists such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Timothy Mo in the final decades of the twentieth century has often been taken as evidence of an increasing multiculturalism both in Britain and the wider world, as well as in British literature itself. With their dual British-Asian heritage and their interrogation of notions of history, identity and agency, these authors are often celebrated as proponents of the cosmopolitan novel, a genre which rejects binary notions of East and West or national interest in favour of a transnational mode of cooperation and cohabitation. Reading against the grain of such celebratory notions of the cosmopolitan, this thesis suggests that if the novels of Ishiguro and Mo are concerned with the exigencies of the cosmopolitan world, then they portray that world as one which remains split and haunted by divisions between East and West, past and present, self and ‘other’. That is, they present a cosmopolitan world in which the process of negotiation and contact is difficult, confrontational and often violent.

    Drawing upon Fredric Jameson’s notion of the ‘political unconscious’, I suggest that these novels in fact reveal the origins of the rather deeper divisions which have emerged in the first decade of the twenty first century, analysing the ways in which they reveal a degree of cultural incommensurability, frustrated cosmopolitan agency and the enduring power and appeal of the nation state. I also suggest that the contemporary critical obsession with the spatial – whereby cosmopolitanism’s work is carried out in ‘Third Spaces’, interstitial sites, and border zones – fails to recognize the importance of temporal concerns to the experience of cosmopolitan living. My analysis of the novels of Ishiguro and Mo is thus concerned with the way in which the temporal is a key concern of these works at both a narratological and thematic level. In particular, I identify a curious ‘double-time’ of cosmopolitanism, whereby the busyness which we might expect of the period is counterpointed by a simultaneous sense of stasis and inactivity. I argue that it is within this unsettling contemporary ‘double-time’ that the cracks and fissures in the narrative of cosmopolitanism begin to emerge.
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorGail Low (Supervisor)


    • Ishiguro
    • Mo
    • Time
    • Temporality
    • Agency
    • Cosmopolitan
    • Literature

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