Home Political science Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction
It is important to ask what critical perspectives might nurture the ability and the desire to live with difference on an increasingly divided but also convergent planet ?
Gilroy 2004: 3
We now have to be responsible for fellow citizens both ofour country and fellow citizens of the world.
Appiah 2009: 88
According to Peter Boxall, there has been ‘an ethical turn in the fiction of the new century’ reflective of the ‘contemporary global condition’ (2013: 141). Undoubtedly, the twenty-first century has been marked by an intensification in transnational mobility, globalisation and unprecedented technological change. This study of contemporary fiction will argue that the concept of cosmopolitanism provides a direct response to ways of living in relation to others and answers urgent fears surrounding cultural convergence. As Bill Ashcroft notes, ‘cosmopolitanism is being reinvented as the latest Grand-Theory-of-Global-Cultural-Diversity’ (2010: 77). The various models of cosmopolitanism evident in the selected novels in this study are particularly relevant in responding to the contemporary environment, and inform our thinking about how we may confront the interconnectedness and interdependence of global citizens and spaces. Literature is a late arrival to the critical study of cosmopolitanism, and yet the term is uniquely suited to literary analysis. Kwame Anthony Appiah recognises that the novel form functions ‘as a testing ground for [... ] cosmopolitanism, with its emphasis on dialogue among differences’; the novel itself being ‘a message in a bottle © The Author(s) 2017
K. Shaw, Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-52524-2_1
from some other position’ (2001: 207, 223). Literary studies as a discipline often employs cosmopolitanism as a synonym for the terms globalisation and transnationalism. Accurate definitions of the concept differ from these two interrelated terms by emphasising an ethical dimension, operating at the level of the individual. Indeed, cosmopolitanism is a highly malleable and multidimensional concept, leaving its specificities open to interpretation. For this reason, there is much debate on how the term continues to defy a simple definition. By clarifying the concept and its usage in literary studies, it is possible to enhance its analytical value in reflecting the cultural processes of globalised life. Although the concept has predominantly remained the domain of philosophy and the social sciences, this study will suggest the emergence of a growing cosmopolitan consciousness within literature as a direct result of post-millennial cultural conflict and fragility - indeed, global crises can be perceived as catalysts for a tentative and critical cosmopolitanism. The following chapters build upon this approach to demonstrate how British and American fiction is beginning to imagine new configurations of cultural identity, community and socio-political interdependence to respond to accelerated changes in world society.
Despite their diverse subject matter, the selected fictions in this study all engage with contemporary concerns facing the globalised world, from the rise in transnational mobilities, to radical technological change, to the threat of ecological disaster. Chapter 2 examines the global fiction of David Mitchell. Both Ghostwritten: A Novel in Nine Parts (1999) and Cloud Atlas (2004) are a mixture of differing cultures, literary styles and genres that reflect the cultural relationality and complex globality of the contemporary moment. Through a detailed analysis of these novels, the chapter will argue that Mitchell acknowledges a rise in the interrelation of global and local flows. Developing this idea, the next two chapters will concentrate on how cosmopolitanism specifically relates to local communities and landscapes. Chapter 3 concentrates on the urban suburbs of London in Zadie Smith’s NW (2012). It will be argued that Smith’s limited geographical focus on north-west London (an area in which she was born and continues to reside) intimates that the social constructs of the family and local community are more conducive to developing ethical values and meaningful social relations. Chapter 4 provides a transatlantic comparison to Smith’s fiction by exploring the urban cityscapes of New York in Teju Cole’s Open City (2011). By paying attention to the non-elite mobilities of African migrants, Cole’s text reveals a critical cosmopolitanism that questions the very nature of cultural empathy. Chapter 5 shifts the focus of the study by addressing the role of digital communicative technologies in facilitating cross-cultural dialogue in Dave Eggers’s The Circle (2013) and Hari Kunzru’s Transmission (2004). However, these fictions also complement Cole’s focus on non-elite mobilities by interrogating the capitalist exploitation intrinsic to digital migrant labour, and the enforcement of Western cultural values on non-Western societies. In discussing these works, this study will therefore attempt to identify a trend in contemporary fiction to engage with the cosmopolitan.
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