Cosmopolitan Style

Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation

Rebecca L. Walkowitz
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Cosmopolitan Style
    Book Description:

    In this broad-ranging and ambitious intervention in the debates over the politics, ethics, and aesthetics of cosmopolitanism, Rebecca L. Walkowitz argues that modernist literary style has been crucial to new ways of thinking and acting beyond the nation. While she focuses on modernist narrative, Walkowitz suggests that style conceived expansively as attitude, stance, posture, and consciousness helps to explain many other, nonliterary formations of cosmopolitanism in history, anthropology, sociology, transcultural studies, and media studies.

    Walkowitz shows that James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, and W. G. Sebald use the salient features of literary modernism in their novels to explore different versions of transnational thought, question moral and political norms, and renovate the meanings of national culture and international attachment. By deploying literary tactics of naturalness, triviality, evasion, mix-up, treason, and vertigo, these six authors promote ideas of democratic individualism on the one hand and collective projects of antifascism or anti-imperialism on the other. Joyce, Conrad, and Woolf made their most significant contribution to this "critical cosmopolitanism" in their reflection on the relationships between narrative and political ideas of progress, aesthetic and social demands for literalism, and sexual and conceptual decorousness. Specifically, Walkowitz considers Joyce's critique of British imperialism and Irish nativism; Conrad's understanding of the classification of foreigners; and Woolf's exploration of how colonizing policies rely on ideas of honor and masculinity.

    Rushdie, Ishiguro, and Sebald have revived efforts to question the definitions and uses of naturalness, argument, utility, attentiveness, reasonableness, and explicitness, but their novels also address a range of "new ethnicities" in late-twentieth-century Britain and the different internationalisms of contemporary life. They use modernist strategies to articulate dynamic conceptions of local and global affiliation, with Rushdie in particular adding playfulness and confusion to the politics of antiracism.

    In this unique and engaging study, Walkowitz shows how Joyce, Conrad, and Woolf developed a repertoire of narrative strategies at the beginning of the twentieth century that were transformed by Rushdie, Ishiguro, and Sebald at the end. Her book brings to the forefront the artful idiosyncrasies and political ambiguities of twentieth-century modernist fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51053-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-32)

    What does it mean, today, to be a British novelist, or even an English writer? At the beginning of the twenty-first century, someone who wins a prize for British fiction may have been born outside Great Britain, may be a citizen of Great Britain who lives elsewhere, or may live in Great Britain while remaining a foreign national;¹ a writer may win a prize for English fiction but English may not have been the language in which the award-winning book was first composed; a writer who wins an English fiction prize may also win, in England, a foreign literature prize...

      (pp. 35-54)

      That one might belong to a culture by choice rather than by nature was commonly vilified, in the early twentieth century, as a principle of cosmopolitan “adaptability.”¹ An insult with a double edge, adaptability implied a lack of positive identity, on the one hand, and a surfeit of abject identity, often Jewishness, on the other. It described, as historian Deborah Cohen has argued, a characteristic of unmarked “invaders,” whose versatility with language and manners helped them to live abroad without detection.² As a skill of individuals, adaptability meant that people could belong to more than one culture, or they could...

      (pp. 55-78)

      Over the past fifteen years, literary critics influenced by postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and the new cosmopolitan theory have sought to emphasize the political aspirations or “political content” of James Joyce’s writing.¹ These critics have aimed to correct or at least to supplement previous studies that focused on Joyce’s reputation as a European writer and aesthetic innovator. The new emphasis on what has been called the “subaltern” or the “semicolonial” Joyce is usually offered as a counterpoint to an old emphasis on Joyce’s modernism, though many scholars now acknowledge that the renovation of Joyce studies has helped to produce...

      (pp. 79-106)

      In his recent work on international feelings, Bruce Robbins looks to contemporary novels about fascism, imperialism, and world war to investigate “the proper tone” of cosmopolitanism. The novel, Robbins proposes, is “a place where such matters of tone are most searchingly experimented and reflected on.”¹ Robbins’s gambit is telling in three important ways. First, it suggests that any philosophy or ethics of cosmopolitanism must have a “tone,” a way of thinking about people whose lives are geographically or culturally unrelated to one’s own and a way of acknowledging, though not only acknowledging, the ethical or affective compromises that go with...

      (pp. 109-130)

      In kazuo ishiguro’s second and third novels, An Artist of the Floating World (1986) and The Remains of the Day (1989), the narrators look back from the middle of the twentieth century on events that took place in the years before the Second World War.¹ While the novels never mention their own time period, the 1980s, their sly humor and dramatic irony depend on the reader’s sense of distance both from the interwar confidence of the early 1930s and from the Cold War hypocrisy of the 1950s. In these works, interwar confidence comes in the form of English racism, German...

      (pp. 131-152)

      Kazuo ishiguro shows that the rhetoric of misunderstanding, often a result of cross-cultural or cross-generational encounters, tends to erase social conflict and political history: his characters find it easier to describe a passive state of confusion than to say that they disagreed in the past or that they no longer agree in the present. By allowing the past to irrupt into the present, Ishiguro suggests that treason—the willingness to test and change allegiances—is a principle of critical cosmopolitanism and political transformation. Salman Rushdie, too, is interested in misunderstandings and mistakes, though he tends to approach them synchronically rather...

      (pp. 153-170)

      W. G. Sebald’s novels gather disparate stories of migration and globalization, but he does not mix up so much as assemble, display, and loosely hold together. While his narratives wander globally, through England and much of continental Europe, Ireland, the United States, China, Peru, the Congo, and Palestine, they concentrate episodically on individual journeys, conversations with friends, small regions such as Suffolk, and the transnational itinerary of commodities such as silk and herring. Sebald’s revival of modernist strategies is most obvious in his emphasis on perception, but it is also present in his emphasis on renaming (think of Joyce) and...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 171-204)
    (pp. 205-220)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 221-232)