Home Political science Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction
The Global Disenfranchised
A world in which communities are neatly hived off from one another seems no longer a serious option (Appiah 2006: xviii).
The fourth chapter, ‘The Holy Mountain’, is focalised through the perspective of an elderly tea-shack owner who has witnessed the recurrence of repressive regimes in the turbulent era of contemporary China, from the brutal implementation of Chairman Mao’s communist modernisation, to the feudal wars of regional warlords, to the advancement of
Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms.4 Xiaoping notably introduced socioeconomic policies that opened China’s borders to the world in 1978, desiring his nation to benefit from global economic interdependence, yet such integration exposes China’s susceptibility to economic recession. The implementation of modernisation programmes designed to benefit the party-state instead merely produces a destabilised citizenry and the exacerbation of cultural power differentials. By remaining ignorant of and detached from outside influence, the old woman of the Holy Mountain (who, tellingly, remains unnamed) is a passive victim in the socio-political cosmopolitanisation of her locality. Although the old woman perceives her mountain to be the whole world, even claiming a foreigner owns a ‘broken map’, the penetration of capitalist, neoliberal forces into her localised experience forces an acknowledgement of global interdependence and the necessity for transnational engagement: ‘somebody called Russia, somebody else called Europe [... ] What world had these men come from?’ (135, 115). The presence of a radio on the mountain, a signifier of the communicative power of globalisation, penetrating the geographically-secluded locality, compounds the old woman’s sense of disorientation and emits disembodied voices of cultural others from the limited remit of her isolated locale. The Holy Mountain, isolated at the periphery of globalised culture, functions as a site of cultural immobility in an accelerating world of global mobilities. After all, as John Tomlinson notes, ‘the paradigmatic experience of global modernity for most people [... ] is that of staying in one place but experiencing the “displacement” that global modernity brings to them1 (1999: 9). The old woman’s chapter echoes the cultural fears of the terrorist Keisuke, identifying and questioning non-Western discontent with globalisation through an exploration of the destruction and displacement of local identities, values and customs. The economic urbanisation of the mountain and its outlying areas ensures local communities are consistently undermined and devoid of social connection - a specific instance of globalisation’s innate capacity to dehumanise individuals and communities both economically and culturally, depriving citizens of locally relational ties and forms of cultural belonging.
Repeated acts of deterritorialisation result in the Holy Mountain’s transformation as a complex glocal space of cultural contestation.5 Over the course of her life, the tea shack is attacked, raided and destroyed by cultural others, only for the old woman to retain pride in her locality and practice forgiveness to the perpetrators, rebuilding the shack herself: Yet despite such hospitality to tourists and locals alike throughout the late- twentieth century, the old woman remains wary and increasingly incredulous at the relationships fostered by transnationalism: ‘[h]ow could a real person possibly be friends with a foreign devil?’ (135). This reticence echoes Beck and Sznaider’s identification that global concerns are ‘becoming part of people’s moral life-worlds, no matter whether they are for or against cosmopolitanism. The cosmopolitan horizon becomes institutionalized in our own subjective lives’ (2010: 391). Fearing her death is approaching, the old woman climbs to the top of the Holy Mountain to visit the Buddhist Temple for the first time, striving to achieve some spiritual materiality and escape the superficial concerns of globalisation. On approaching the summit, however, she discovers that the commodification of her mountain is complete: workmen mistreat sacred statues as goalposts for football matches, while local residents flog cheap items to naive tourists, endangering natural habitats in the process. Likewise, the old woman’s legacy is itself degraded; local reporters perceive her crossgenerational cosmopolitan hospitality to be disingenuous, and celebrate the tea-shack owner as a pioneer of selfish entrepreneurial and opportunistic prowess. In the novel’s global spaces, cosmopolitanisation has either transformed the local landscape, is in the process of transforming the landscape, or reveals sites which are, as of yet, untouched by external influence. The Holy Mountain is a prime example of a site in a state of flux; globalising processes progressively destabilise local experience, while local citizens strive to maintain deep-rooted historical and cultural traditions specific to the locality. The homogenous force of Western cultural practices and capitalist ideology function as the new manifestations of imperialism, reshaping localised experiences. The chapter rejects the positive ramifications of an interconnected and progressive global culture, instead exposing the deterritorialisation of heterogeneous communities, in which culture itself is detached from locally relational environments.
According to Philip Griffiths, ‘it is the old woman’s subjective point of view that utterly dominates the narrative’ as a whole, the chapter serving as a microcosm for the world histories played out across the other chapters (2004: 81). This reading, however, not only disregards the old woman’s namelessness to be indicative of her inconsequential position in the global hierarchy, but more importantly misinterprets the structural interrelation of the novel itself. The heterogeneous perspectives of global actors only gain power from their relation to one another - no single chapter assumes dominance and no character holds a privileged position. The old woman’s personal history is not unique, but remains mediated and shaped by the lives of global others; the narrative is accordingly non-discriminatory from a territorial perspective. By mapping the old woman’s personal history on the mountain, contrasting this history with the shifting global flows that attempt to destabilise her sense of belonging in this landscape, the chapter merely imbues the locality with a culturally-specific meaning and positions locally relational experience as an oppositional force to globalisation’s progressive homogenisation.
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