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New poetics of postcolonial relations: global genetic kinship in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome
  1. Paul Hamann-Rose
  1. English Studies Department, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Mr Paul Hamann-Rose, English Studies Department, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen, Germany; hamann-rose{at}


Conceptions of genetic kinship have recently emerged as a powerful new discourse through which to trace and imagine connections between individuals and communities around the globe. This article argues that, as a new way to think and represent such connections, genetic discourses of relatedness constitute a new poetics of kinship. Discussing two exemplary contemporary novels, Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome (1995) and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000), this article argues further that literary fiction, and postcolonial literary fiction in particular, is uniquely positioned to critically engage this new biomedical discourse of global and interpersonal relations. Ghosh’s and Smith’s novels illuminate and amplify the concept of a cultural poetics of genetic kinship by aesthetically transcending the limits of genetic science to construct additional genetic connections between the West and the Global South on the level of metaphor and analogy. As both novels oscillate spatially between the West and a postcolonial Indian subcontinent, the texts’ representations of literal and figurative genetic relations become a vehicle through which the novels test and reconfigure postcolonial and diasporic identities, as well as confront Western genetic science with alternative forms of knowledge. The emerging genetic imaginary highlights—evoking recent sociological and anthropological work—that meaningful kinship relations rely on biological as much as on cultural discourses and interpretations, especially in postcolonial and migrant contexts where genetic markers become charged with conflicting notions of connection and otherness.

  • literature
  • genetics
  • medical humanities
  • anthropology
  • literature and medicine

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  • Contributors PH-R is the sole contributor to this article.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, conduct, reporting or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data sharing is not applicable as no datasets were generated and/or analysed for this study. There are no data in this work.

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