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  • Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation
  • Gayle Rogers
Rebecca Walkowitz. Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. xiii + 231 pp.

In this creative and engaging study, Rebecca L. Walkowitz argues persuasively for a new understanding of the relationship between the ethics and aesthetics of cosmopolitanism and the literary practices of British modernism. At its core, Cosmopolitan Style is a refreshing treatment of three familiar British modernists—Conrad, Joyce, and Woolf—alongside three contemporary (post-1980s) writers—Ishiguro, Rushdie, and Sebald. These cosmopolitan writers are linked by more than sensibilities, postures, travels, or states of exile, Walkowitz argues; for each of them, she identifies a unique, affective style of critique, which she coins Conrad's "naturalness," Joyce's "triviality," Woolf's "evasion," Ishiguro's "treason," Rushdie's "mix-up," and Sebald's "vertigo." Through these literary-critical devices, she demonstrates, the six novelists "develop and examine new attitudes of cosmopolitanism" (4) with a "suspicion of epistemological privilege" (2) and a "new distrust of civilizing processes, and of the role of art in these processes" (4). Walkowitz characterizes these interventions as instances of critical cosmopolitanism that seek both to redress (through innovative narrative forms) the past abuses of cosmopolitanism (its complicity with imperialism or its irresponsible decadence) and to take an irreverent metacritical approach to imperatives of clarity and utility, whether in critical theory or in political discourse (2). Informed by Adorno and de Certeau, Walkowitz thus grounds her readings of modernism and cosmopolitanism in her conception of these authors' signature techniques as model strategies of institutional, normative, and cultural critique. She elucidates the tensions and contradictions they encountered when negotiating art and politics, the local and the global, and projects of democratic individualism and social collectivism in a manner that allows salient literary and historical questions to animate her study in rewarding ways.

Walkowitz joins the wide-ranging and lively conversation on cosmopolitanism that James Clifford, Bruce Robbins, Pheng Cheah, [End Page 863] Walter Mignolo, Amanda Anderson, Carol Breckenridge, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, and many others have sustained in past two decades. Her key contribution is to reclaim literary affect—specifically, "style," a term she enriches to frame the means by which modernists employ confusion, abstraction, misdirection, perversity, inertia, hyperfocus, and more to make subtle yet profound political commentaries. Here, Walkowitz powerfully contends that critical cosmopolitanism would not exist without modernist practices. Walkowitz finds historical roots for this claim in the debt that modernists—especially Conrad and Joyce—owe to the politics of Wilde's anti-utilitarian aestheticism, dandyism, and detached flânerie. In Part I, "Cosmopolitan Modernism," Walkowitz focuses on Conrad's spy novel The Secret Agent through the author's personal and literary cosmopolitanisms, which he intertwines to reveal the constructedness of "natural" British identity. Drawing on the archive of the novel's reception, she sees that Conrad's reputation as a foreigner writing in English "comes to shape his history" such that "what is often called his 'impressionism' . . . should be understood both as a philosophical critique of social categories and as an urbane practice of ethnographic self-fashioning" (36). Her scrupulous attention to the multiple layers of manners, behaviors, euphemisms, performances, and linguistic codes embedded in Conrad's defamiliarizing narrative style demonstrates that "what is most foreign in [his] novel is a strangeness invented at home, which is strange above all to those for whom things English are most familiar" (49).

Walkowitz next explores Joyce's "triviality—his emphasis on ordinary objects, everyday experiences, transient pleasures, and the tricks of language," primarily through his short story "Two Gallants," key scenes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the "Cyclops" chapter of Ulysses (56). She lays out Joyce's dual aesthetic agendas of anti-imperialism and anti-nativism, and she analyzes the debates among Joyce's early critics over whether Ulysses was fundamentally a European or Irish novel. Joyce, she shows, avoids identifying fully with any movement or culture by eschewing the norms of decorum associated with each of them. Instead, he immerses his narrative in the quotidian and draws from its superficial banality competing visions of communality. Woolf—alone among the six authors in not having emigrated...


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