This paper traces how Amitav Ghosh's novel The circle of reason (1986) inscribes what might be termed a ‘magical real’ sensibility of quotidian extreme, wild coincidence and tangential, picaresque epic against bounded ideas of language, history and genre. The perception of a linear shift from the British Empire into a postcolonial world of discrete nations is challenged by Ghosh's portrayal of a teeming world of transverse histories. This diffusion of ‘big history’ into the long movements and strange moments of diaspora is most crucially drawn out through Ghosh's heightened, sometimes perplexed and at other times enchanted, exploration of what might be described—using the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari—as the ‘polylingualism’ of language. Ghosh portrays a world in which the smaller terms of community belie the ideologies of nation impressed by the ‘traditional’ realist novel form—and the apparently organic, rooted terms of ‘community’ are themselves collapsed into a recognition that all people can be traced back to histories of displacement and migration.
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