Article Text

Download PDFPDF
New poetics of postcolonial relations: global genetic kinship in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome


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

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.