Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) is the central locus of ideological conflict in the Ibis trilogy, but its role has received no sustained scholarly attention. Amitav Ghosh writes against the doctrine of free trade as envisaged by colonialists, but not against trade itself. This essay argues that the Ibis trilogy offers a critique not of Smith’s ideas, which the author may even share, but of their colonial distortions through a transcultural, humanist expansion of their scope. In a neat epistemological reversal, Ghosh’s fiction recovers the original Smith to counter the misappropriated Smith of the colonial fictions that reduce his political economy to the invisible hand.
In his most notable work, Against Method (1975), Paul Feyerabend postulates the logical necessity of a “theoretical anarchism,” rising from his conviction that a method which encourages a variety of opinion is also the only method compatible with a humanitarian outlook. This essay suggests that The Calcutta Chromosome (1995) perfectly embodies in a literary form the idea of theoretical scientific anarchism. In particular, the idea that other forms of human cultural expression and unconventional knowledge have equal if not better chances to get to revolutionary discoveries, and that a proliferation of theories and points of view is ultimately beneficial to, and arguably the one powerful engine of, scientific discoveries. This opinion, apparently upheld by the novel, chimes in perfectly with Feyerabend’s perspective. Through the novel, among other aspects, Amitav Ghosh aims at deconstructing the certainties of the historiography of science, and within this framework, the Austrian philosopher’s theory proves to be an interesting tool to interpret this peculiar novel.