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.