Home Political science Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction
Neither cosmopolitanization nor the cosmopolitan outlook can be understood [... ] in terms of the present and its recent past [... ] Rather the historical sociology of cosmopolitanism is connected with long-terms trends in religion, Empire, trade, and mobility (Holton: 2009: 77).
The opening (and consequently closing) chapter, ‘The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing’, suggests how cosmopolitan dispositions can be established as a reaction to oppressive cultural practices of imperial power - strengthening cosmopolitanism’s ties to pre-existing postcolonial paradigms. Holton acknowledges that the construction of an empire ‘amounts to cosmopoli- tanization’ because ‘[i]mperial inter-connections and inter-dependencies define the conditions of existence for those within it’, while paradoxically generating ‘forms of cosmopolitan outlook’ through reactionary ‘anti-colonial forms of cosmopolitanism’ (2009: 81). The nineteenth-century environment, the time period of Ewing's journal, sets the stage for the predominance of Western imperial authority through the installation of missionary projects on the Chatham Island of the Pacific, which are merely a front for the dark practices of colonisation. Chatham Island (the main island ofthe Chatham Islands) is situated in one ofthe most isolated regions of the world, yet even here the destructive effects of Western infringement are evident: ‘[i]f there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, ‘tis not down on any map I ever saw’ (Mitchell 2004: 3). The cultural practices of imperialism on the island, populated by an indigenous race named the Moriori, serve as a form of anticipatory globalisation (evident in later chapters) by culturally homogenising and silencing the voice of the oppressed. Adam Ewing, an American lawyer, arrives on the island to conduct business with Reverend Horrox, a Christian missionary. The civilising mission, that trademark of imperialism and spectre of postcolonial fiction, haunts Ewing’s narrative, juxtaposing claims for cosmopolitan connection with a form of subaltern domination. As a result, the chapter forces an acknowledgement of how Western nations falsely employed the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism in order to further their ‘civilising’ missions.
Prior to the appearance of Western nations on their shores, the Moriori formed a close-knit community founded on inclusive values: ‘their language lacks a word for “Race” & “Moriori” means, simply, “People”’ (11). The tribe's unwritten code of ethics, declaring that ‘whosoever spilt a man's blood killed [... ] his soul’, enables ‘[t]wo thousand savages’ to ‘enshrine Thou Shalt Not Kill [... ] & frame an oral “Magna Carta” to create a harmony unknown elsewhere’, and ensures that the Moriori’s ‘savage’ community ‘lay closer to More's Utopia than our States of Progress governed by war-hungry princelings in [... ] Washington & Westminster’ (12). Meanwhile, under the imperial framework of the Chatham Islands, the Moriori become assimilated into a homogenous mass, devoid of individuality, and cultural homogeneity acts as an oppositional counter to cosmopolitan hybridity and diversity. Adam perceives that by enforcing religion on their tribe, Horrox is simply forming a white capitalist patriarchy, disrupting established communal ties on the island. Cosmopolitan ideals therefore function as an excuse for the civilising mission itself, utilising theories of universalism to achieve cultural hegemony - colonialism in cosmopolitanism’s clothing. Horrox perceives the subjugation of the Moriori to be reflective of a natural racial hierarchy of eugenics, determined by his own self-styled ‘Ladder of Civilization’: ‘[i]t is Progress that leads Humanity up the ladder towards the God-head [... ] Highest of all the races on this ladder stands the Anglo-Saxon. The Latins are a rung or two below. Lower still are Asiatics - a hardworking race, none can deny, yet lacking our Aryan bravery [... ] Lower down, we have the Negro’ (508, 506-7).
After witnessing the whipping of a male Moriori slave, to Adam’s surprise the slave appears as a stowaway in his cabin, perceiving in Adam a form of compassion and openness constructive to the development of an emancipatory cosmopolitan connection.10 In helping Autua to escape from slavery (and thus Horrox’s racial hierarchy), Adam prevents the passive Western gaze from amounting to little more than superficial engagement with the other. Instead, Adam’s sensitivity to, and paradigm-shift regarding, the brutal nature of imperial practices engenders what can be termed a cosmopolitan gaze, involving an empathetic identification with cultural otherness. The ethical agency of Adam Ewing is countered by the shadowy presence of Dr Henry Goose, the personification of anti-cosmopolitanism and human predacity in the novel. Goose subscribes to the Hobbesian notion that the natural human condition is one of rapacity and conflict, positing a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest philosophy: ‘[t]he Weak are Meat the Strong do Eat’ (508). While ostensibly treating Adam for a parasitic worm, Goose secretly poisons him in order to steal his possessions. Adam is only saved from certain death by Autua, strengthening their relationship, and embodying the narrative’s moral message that cultural connectivity and ethical agency can quell the tide of global predacity. Adam and Autua’s relationship demonstrates an ethical sensibility, reflective of the cosmopolitan condition, which overcomes the dividing force of cultural difference. Before he was enslaved, Autua enjoyed a life of freedom and cultural mobility, traversing the globe on a French whaling ship, witnessing the racial violence that governed cultural relations, and longing to retrieve a sense of global belonging over imperial servitude. The focali- sation of Autua’s narrative from within Adam’s chapter gives voice to the marginalised communities torn apart by the spread of colonialism. Notably, Autua’s new-found agency rejects Terry Eagleton’s claim that a ‘colonial territory was a land where [... ] you reacted to the narrative of your rulers rather than created one of your own’ (1987: 104). By shifting the focus from the centre to the margins (transferring power to the indigenous peoples on the peripheries of Western culture), Autua’s narrative becomes a form ofoppositional resistance and a reclamation ofself-identity for his massacred tribe as a whole, which successive periods of colonial governance have submerged.
However, the narrative functions as more than a postcolonial allegory that revolves around the traditional roles of oppressor and oppressed. Mitchell’s rerouting of the politics of postcoloniality ensures Adam’s cosmopolitan engagement is not mistaken for merely a paradigmatic colonial encounter, but articulates alternate futures through his reformed subjectivity, effecting the cancellation of a colonial destiny. As Braidotti recognises, ethical agency must be ‘generated affirmatively and creatively by efforts geared to creating possible futures’ and be directly actualised ‘in daily practices of interconnection with others’ (2013: 23). Adam emerges from the cultural encounter with an increased sensitivity to his own complicity in supporting and sustaining the destructive force of imperial structures, which foster disconnection and oppression rather than progressive forms of cultural interaction. An ethical global citizen, then, equipped with humanist values. Adam’s own ideals begin to drift closer to Kant’s formulation of cosmopolitanism, involving a desire to achieve a ‘rightful condition’ for the ‘multitude of peoples’ across the globe.11 By deciding to partake in the burgeoning abolitionist movement as a form of resistance against the planned establishment of a new slave trade between the Pacific islands and California, he satisfies Douzinas’s requirement that ‘cosmopolitan’ citizens need to be ‘promoters of global social processes, institutions and world citizenship and [... ] critics of hegemonic and imperial designs’ (2007: 134). Adam’s single act of individual agency is the first in a series of interventionist policies in the novel to direct humanity away from entropy towards a more ethical future:
[w]hatprecipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts [... ] one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself [... ] for the human species, selfishness is extinction. Is this the entropy written within our nature? Ifwe believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, ifwe believe diverse races & creeds can share this world [... ] such a world will come to pass (528).
Adam’s identification of ‘vicious acts and virtuous acts’ polarises the two ideological extremes in the narrative: the individualistic, predatory will to power, and the desire for a world of cosmopolitan communication, cultural connectivity and human progress.
That being said, the transformation from an imperial mindset to a cosmopolitan outlook is not shared by Adam’s fellow Westerners; the white community on the island remain representative of the typical Western elite, devoid of cultural sympathies and wishing to ignore the plight of indigenous peoples. Accordingly, Adam acknowledges that his efforts to subvert slavery shall be ‘no more than one drop in a limitless ocean’, yet this insistence on individual agency indicates a pragmatic approach to the ways in which global issues require collective solutions: ‘what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?’ (529). Adam’s opening and closing chapters function as a microcosm for the ethical struggles played out on a grander scale throughout the novel. Despite the perpetual reign of predacity and cultural fragmentation haunting the larger narrative, there remains a desire for a better world in which cosmopolitan values are brought back into alignment with human and social progression. Ewing’s concluding narrative thereby suggests a fork-in-the-road away from the perpetuation of historical entropic cyclicality and a movement towards more cosmopolitan futures that reinforce the potentiality for revision and transformation.
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