‘A Multitude of Drops’: The Global Imaginaries of David Mitchell

The novel might now be beginning to adapt and renew itself by imagining the world instead of the nation.

Schoene 2010a: 43

The fiction of the new century has been involved in the shaping of what might be thought of as a new kind of global consciousness.

Boxall 2013: 168

In an interview for the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2011, David Mitchell acknowledged that the contemporary moment was characterised by an emergent interconnectedness, noting how global interdependencies permeate his own fiction: ‘the world is a web’ where islands become ‘fewer and fewer’ and ‘links become more apparent [... ] A button can be pushed in Hong Kong and a factory gets closed in Sydney’ (2011: n. pag.). In Ghostwritten: A Novel in Nine Parts, Mitchell envisions a world culture living under the effects of millennial globalisation, and examines how these processes forge new global forms of belonging, interconnection and cultural awareness. Cloud Atlas, by comparison, imagines a temporally fluid global network in which cosmopolitan values grapple and contend with an innate human rapaciousness.1 Mitchell emphasises that this cultural contestation operates at multiple scales of global society: ‘tribes on tribes, countries upon smaller states, individuals on weaker individuals’ (2011: n. pag.). Cloud Atlas dissects the fragility and conflict at the heart of contemporary society, projecting both mercenary pasts as well as utopian and dystopian post-apocalyptic futures, to speculate on the entropic trajectory and cyclicality of predatory human nature. In this sense, the novel reflects © The Author(s) 2017

K. Shaw, Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-52524-2_2

Katherine Stanton’s assessment that cosmopolitan fiction concerns itself with ‘forward-looking and future-oriented impulses’ (2013: 81). By interrogating the intersection of the local and the global in Ghostwritten (as well as the balance between micro- and macro-level processes), the first half of this chapter will question whether globalising processes undermine and threaten traditional cultures and ways of life, or whether a glocal environment is formed, reflecting the communal and ethical possibilities of a cosmopolitan borderless world. The second half of the chapter will then argue that the cosmopolitical crises of Ghostwritten are given a sense of historical continuity in Cloud Atlas, examining whether cultural homogenisation obstructs progressive forms of cultural connectivity.

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