Macquarie University
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From elitist to plebeian: cosmopolitanism in V.S. Naipaul's fiction

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posted on 2022-03-29, 00:26 authored by Weiwei Xu
This thesis examines how V. S. Naipaul alters his elitist stance and consciously reorients his understanding of cosmopolitanism toward a plebeian direction represented in his fiction. It relies on new theories, critiques and empirical analyses of cosmopolitanism that have emerged and developed in cultural studies, sociology and anthropology in the past fifteen years or so. The most prominent feature of the new cosmopolitanism is its response to diversity in the increasingly hybridised global context in a counter-elitist trend. This thesis argues that the contemporary re-conceptualisation of cosmopolitanism in the cultural dimension necessitates a rereading of Naipaul's works. It seeks to challenge the simplistic generalisation of Naipaul's cosmopolitanism as an elitist mode of being and his advocacy of a homogenising drive toward universality, and rejects both those readings of his fiction that adopt a universalist cosmopolitan lens and those that look at them from a purely postcolonial perspective. It divides Naipaul's fiction writing into four phases, and eight of his novels--Miguel Street, Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, The Mimic Men, In a Free State, A Bend in the River, The Enigma of Arrival, Half a Life and Magic Seeds--are examined in the chronological order. In doing so, this thesis shows how Naipaul's textualisation of cosmopolitanism has evolved from the elitist to plebeian slant in changing historical conditions. By exploring the plebeian transnational's homelessness or rootlessness as a consequence of the (post)colonial experience, Naipaul questions the feasibility of elitist cosmopolitanism, and finally embraces plebeian cosmopolitanism. The continual, long process of his conscious correction responsive to contemporary cultural, economic, political and social changes exemplifies a kind of new cosmopolitanism. This thesis highlights that Naipaul's incorporation of the tension between particularism and universalism existing in the real world into his thought and outlook extends the theoretical premises of cosmopolitan discourses.


Table of Contents

I. Unhealthy hysteria: the yearning for elitist cosmopolitanism in Miguel Street -- II. The colonial fantasy shattered: the fraudulence of elitist cosmopolitanism in Mr Stone and the Knights Companion and The Mimic Men -- III. A self-reflexive reorientation: the fall of elitist cosmopolitanism and the rise of plebeian cosmopolitanism in In a Free State and A Bend in the River -- IV. "Not being at home anywhere, but looking at home": the embrace of plebeian cosmopolitanism in The Enigma of Arrival, Half a Life and Magic Seeds.


Bibliography: pages 255-271

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Rosemary Colmer


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Weiwei Xu 2013.




1 online resource (ii, 271 pages)

Former Identifiers

mq:30714 2116614