John Clement Ball. Imagining London: Postcolonial Fiction and the Transnational Metropolis -

John Clement Ball. Imagining London: Postcolonial Fiction and the Transnational Metropolis

Justin D. Edwards
John Clement Ball. Imagining London: Postcolonial Fiction and the Transnational Metropolis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. 295. $45.00

1 Recent work on postcolonialism and urban space has identified the city as part of a place-based struggle to express a sense of self. This self, of course, is tied to the desire for a space that constitutes a unique "home" (be it the local neighborhood or the national home, an indigenous home or one recently adopted). This development in postcolonial studies reminds us that the politics produced by places in the process of being articulated as "home" is also tied to a politics of identity in which ideas of nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, class, and community are formed. Indeed, the politics of identity and place are not simply built around structures of power internal to the local place or even to the globally linked processes of power and homogenization. For a "sense of self" is always a politics that is concerned with the nation; a politics constituted by a national history and geography that has composed narratives of self and home into the dominant discourses of belonging within a nation.

2 A range of cultural processes have contributed to this sense of belonging. These include, among other things, the social constructs of natural and urban spaces, which, as binary oppositions, have provided the fundamental building blocks for an imagined citizenry in settler nations such as Canada and Australia. These processes mark out the very categories of difference that have come to be the positively or negatively ascribed spaces of national identity and the dominant structures of power. But the very making and remaking of identity occurs through representational and discursive spheres, both official and literary, material and ideological. And it is on this terrain that John Clement Ball's Imagining London: Postcolonial Fiction and the Transnational Metropolis offers us a significant signpost pointing to the nuances and complexities of reading London in the context of postcolonialism and questions of identity.

3 Ball's book is comparative in scope and theoretically sophisticated, bypassing conventional readings by challenging our ideas about cohesive national literatures. Indeed, Ball's movements from Mordecai Richler's St. Urbain's Horseman to George Lamming's The Emigrants to Kamala Markandaya's Possession to Hanif Kureishi's Buddha of Suburbia are as breathtaking as they are stimulating. For the diversity of Ball's corpus is decidedly urbane, and he consistently directs the reader to transnational intersections and cosmopolitan roundabouts. The result is a series of textual analyses that focus on London as literary center, and Ball illustrates how this center has generated cross-pollinations and cross-fertilizations in postcolonial fiction. In fact, the four chapters following the introduction move from a discussion of Canadian texts about London to a consideration of Caribbean writing on the metropolis to Indian fiction set in the city to Black British writing about the capital. Each of these chapters begins with an excellent contextual and theoretical consideration of the specific national or regional literatures and their relationships to the (post)imperial center.

4 What is so crucial to Ball's book is that it illustrates how London cannot be categorically placed "outside" the discourses that work to contract postcolonial identities; nor can London define itself outside of a postcolonial context. For, as Ball suggests in his chapter "Black British Writing," the postcolonial moment has engendered a radical disruption of the spatial ordering of London, a reterritorialization of the city along heterogeneous racial, ethnic, and national lines. The incorporation of the city and the postcolonial, then, eradicates the mythic domain and the cultural logic of London, unsettling the ordered zoning of discrete spaces seen on the transparent mapping of "Britishness." Ball's readings, then, propose a new cognitive map that highlights the disordered geographies of London's multicultural urban present. As a result, his approach is unique and inspiring, and he offers us new stories of London. Not just the stories of a homogeneous colonial center, but the stories of London as a complex and diverse postcolonial space that moves from the local to the global, the authentic to the inauthentic, and from cultural specificity to cosmopolitanism.