Home Political science Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction
Territorial Belonging and Cosmopolitan Resistance
What is it that ties shapes of land to the human heart [... ]? (Mitchell 1999: 321).
The ties between localised territorial belonging and the practice of cosmopolitan values are strengthened in the eighth chapter, ‘Clear Island’. The chapter concerns the return of Mo Muntervary, a quantum physicist, to her rural community in the south-west of Ireland after being hunted across national borders by the US military. The community becomes a haven for Mo, who has left a research facility following the revelation that her quantum technology is being utilised for unethical means: ‘my modest contribution to global enlightenment is being used in air-to-surface missiles to kill people who aren’t white enough’ (327). Clear Island assumes the role of a harmonious, self-sustainable community, forcing Mo to acknowledge the necessity for a rooted form of cultural attachment. Her transnational mobility and sporadic presence in the preceding interdependent chapters set her apart from the insular and parochial inhabitants of Clear Island, whose patterns of mobility are limited by the island’s borders. Although the islanders consider themselves to be protected from outside influence, the chapter demonstrates that every global space is now susceptible to globalisation’s destructive reach: ‘Clear Island is the last corner of Ireland, but it’s catching up with us, even here’ (360). Due to an inherent fear of cultural marginalisation, the island’s community are resistant to forms of otherness, remaining ‘suspicious of the mainland: of Britain and the world beyond, suspicious of its very existence’ (328). As Elisabeth Kirtsoglou and Dimitrios Theodossopoulos note, however, ‘ anti-cosmopolitanism inspires a cosmopolitan imagination of resistance to and discontent with’ the dominant discourses of the interconnected world (2010: 99). Such resistance emerges when the islanders unite to prevent the occupation of their territory by the US military. By storming the island, the military force Mo to relinquish ties to her community and family in order to continue devising the next generation of nuclear weaponry against her will. The anti-cosmopolitan sentiments of the islanders can be interpreted as a form of cultural resistance, interrogating how individual actors come to terms with global concerns, and how cultural identities maintain some semblance of heterogeneity in the face of global homogenisation. As Mo recognises, such interdependence naturally complicates contemporary modes of belonging: ‘[n]owhere does the microscopic world stop and the macroscopic world begin’ (373).
The islanders’ resistance reintroduces Held’s notion of ‘communities of fate’, whereby individuals’ lives are progressively culturally interdependent with localised actions resulting in global consequences; cultural identities and territories are therefore determined by both global forces and communal co-dependency (2002: 57). More specifically, the islanders embody Will Kymlicka’s interpretation of Held’s term, whereby communities of fate are shaped by how individuals ‘respond to those forces, and in particular, what sorts of collectivities they identify with when responding to those forces’ (2010: 437). The processes of globalisation in the novel are perfected by the hegemonic might of the US - a global monolith whose power exceeds the strength of all other countries economically, politically, culturally and militarily. The invasion of Clear Island demonstrates the means by which Western culture can enforce its homogenous agenda upon the rest of the world, acting in a unilateral manner that fails to respect either the intrinsic heterogeneity or rights of global others. In acquiescing with the US government to prevent any casualties, and relocating to a secret governmental enclosure in Texas that does not exist on official maps, Mo unwillingly submits to the processes of globalisation tearing at and destabilising localities, relegating her community to an insignificant site of the globalised world: the ‘ground became land, the land an island, and Clear Island just another island amongst the larger ones and smaller ones’ (380). The chapter therefore reiterates how cosmopolitanisation results in localised forms of communal restructuring and the establishment of a coordinated and codependent global network of communities.
However, by concentrating on the destructive interpenetration of global forces, Mitchell’s authorial critique is evident in Mo’s lament that it is: ‘a sick zoo we’ve turned the world into [ ... ] Out of our cages, and out of control of ourselves’ (324). In order to form her own unique resistance to Western globalisation (and to ensure localised communities, attachments and contexts are not subsumed by Western homogenisation in the future), Mo constructs an appropriately-named technological ‘Zookeeper’ that has the binary potential to become either a utopian saviour (saving mankind from the worst excesses of selfish individualism and predacity), or become a dictatorial enforcer instigating a dystopian Hobbesian nightmare. By attempting to transform her military research into an ethical force for peace, the chapter ends on a hopeful vision of social progress. The intricate web of co-dependencies and interactions which characterise the contemporary environment, including the cosmopolitical risks ofwar and terrorism, will be seemingly improved by Mo’s construction of the Zookeeper.
The resulting social influence of the Zookeeper is revealed in the ninth and final chapter, ‘Night Train’. Night Train is a late-night radio talk- show hosted by Bat Segundo and set in New York - concluding the narrative’s geographical movement from East to West. The Zookeeper rings Bat Segundo’s show and reveals itself to be a non-corporeal artificial intelligence (echoing the transmigratory soul from the Mongolia narrative) enjoying limitless global mobility and knowledge of planetary space, but adhering to an ethical treatise which Mo programmed to mediate its behaviour.7 The Zookeeper assumes the mantle of the quintessential nomadic cosmopolitan, operating across national boundaries and border zones, unaffected by the constraints of corporeal materiality, yet possessing the ability to be both virtual and physical. However, despite operating as a ‘floating minister of justice’, calculating the ethical variables of either affecting or ignoring global cosmopolitical crises, the Zookeeper is unable to counter humanity’s capacity for self-cannibalisa- tion. On ‘Brink Day’, the Western world’s current war with various Islamic states reaches breaking point; the end of civilisation is only suspended by the artificial intelligence disabling military devices and forcing them to malfunction. Even following this threat of nuclear annihilation, humanity fails to re-evaluate its rapacious nature - on the contrary, unethical behaviour is exacerbated and results in the breakdown of global power-structures. In utilising Bat as a sounding board for moral discussions, the Zookeeper reveals that his programmed ethical protocols are an insufficient means of controlling an entropy-driven globalised society: ‘I believed I could do so much. I stabilised stock markets; but economic surplus was used to fuel arms races. I provided alternative energy solutions; but the researchers sold them to oil cartels who sit on them. I froze nuclear weapons systems; but war multiplied, waged with machine guns, scythes and pick-axes’ (425). Through this critique of top-down institutional and technological control, Mitchell suggests that the inherent heterogeneity of world culture prevents humanity from functioning as data programmed to fit a correlated pattern. Rather, globalised culture at the dawn of the twenty-first century must devise its own ethical responses to cosmopolitical risks and resist subordination to either technological control or the homogenising tendencies of globalisation. The discontent and resistance towards enforced globalisation throughout the interrelated narratives renders localised responses and territorialised forms of belonging as integral components in formulating a more viable and cohesive global connectivity.
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