Cosmo-Kitsch vs. Cosmopoetics

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Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,999 words

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[(essay date 2012) In the following essay, Schoene praises the cosmopolitanism of Kunzru’s novels, contrasting them with what he calls the “cosmo-kitsch” of other authors.]

Critics continue to appraise the British novel for its capacity to imagine the nation. Patrick Parrinder concludes Nation and Novel with the assertion that ‘twenty-first-century novelists will continue to participate in the making and remaking of English identity,’1 while Bruce King seems to be contradicting the title of his book The Internationalization of English Literature when he suggests that what we are currently witnessing is the writing of ‘a new national literature.’2 My own interest is in disclosing trends in contemporary British literary practice that explore twenty-first-century life outside such nationalist paradigms and go beyond imagining the world in terms of an irresolvable vying for predominance between globalising centres and globalised peripheries, which appears to be informing both imperialist and post-colonial writing. My basic contention is that twenty-first-century globalisation has resulted in paradigm-shifting change not only for the life of the nation, but also for its representation. As I will show, at its clumsiest, least convincing yet also most popular, the new cosmopolitan writing is not really cosmopolitan at all, but consigns our fractured, closely interconnected life-world to the same hierarchies that have governed peoples’ lives for centuries while paying lip service to the world’s potential as a global village in continual convivial flux. At its best, by contrast, the new cosmopolitan novel deconstructs the extant hegemonies by engaging in a cosmopoetic recasting of our ever-increasingly globalised condition. In other words, the very form and texture of the realist novel undergo significant transformation as its generic aesthetics must rise to the challenge of imagining humanity in its planetary entirety.

As Brian Finney points out, British fiction is now being produced in response to ‘a world which is so thoroughly interconnected that it is no longer possible to treat any part of it as unaffected by everything else.’3 Indeed increasing globalisation has seen the rise of a new kind of middlebrow fiction, which mobilises the wretchedness of illegal immigrants, asylum-seekers, and victims of human trafficking ostensibly for the purpose of popular consciousness-raising. Yet its true motivation is exonerative; it is primarily designed to exorcise British middle-class guilt accrued by leading irresponsible, unsustainable lives and giving in to varying degrees of world-political fatigue and disengagement. It is this new genre that I designate as ‘cosmo-kitsch.’ Orbiting the West’s ethical failure, cosmo-kitsch novels diligently research the viewpoint and voice of the often severely traumatised other so that the would-be cosmopolitan writer can tell his subject’s tale and speak on her behalf, confident that his impeccable intentions will outweigh any charges of exploitative appropriation. Cosmo-kitsch novels frequently culminate in grand reconciliatory visions of transnational human fellowship engineered to demonstrate that the other’s exposure and helplessness, if perhaps not her bare-life precarity, are in fact shared by us all. This is, then, not cosmopolitan literature at all; rather than written about, or to, the world, these...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123821