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Reviewed by:
Paul Jay. Global Matters: The Transnational Turn in Literary Studies. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010. xi + 231 pp.

As literary studies veers toward the transnational, readers and critics are encountering a set of generative but also potentially confusing conceptual markers: multiculturalism, postcolonialism, cosmopolitanism, globalization, world systems, border studies. What are the relationships among these terms, and how do they intersect with economic and cultural imperatives in which all routes seemingly lead to a universal marketplace? In this cogent book, Paul Jay undertakes a critical road map of this complex intellectual terrain by first clarifying the insights of major theorists in these fields and then looking to see how these insights are mirrored—or, in a few cases, distorted—in exemplary works of contemporary Anglophone fiction from Europe, Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. Since the transnational, in its twists and turns, is for Jay primarily about diasporas and other flows, it is perhaps not overly helpful to say that a novel is from any one location. Global Matters likewise refuses any single position that would simplify these vectors, on the one hand, by equating globalization with Westernization or, on the other, reading the particularity of minority expression as somehow triumphantly resistant to the homogenizing pull of a worldwide cultural marketplace.

Instead, this is a book about multiple positions, such as those staked out in theory and criticism by Arjun Appadurai, Ania Loomba, Masao Miyoshi, and Edward Said. And it is also about the work of writers such as Junot Díaz, Mohsin Hamid, Zakes Mda, and Zadie Smith. Global Matters balances these twin aims with a two-part structure. Part one is titled "Globalization and the Study of Literature" and examines what critics of globalization have described and theorized. Part two is titled "Globalization in Contemporary Literature" and explores how fiction writers have imagined and reflected upon the bodies, customs, traditions, and identities set in motion by global forces.

In Jay's view, balance is needed because within literary and cultural studies the turn toward the transnational has often been so sharp and sudden that a critical middle ground has been left in the [End Page 792] dust. Thus some commentators—Jay is thinking of Simon Gikandi and Harry Harootunian—describe globalization as primarily a cultural phenomenon, while others have overemphasized its economic determinations. Jay refuses to banish considerations of either cultural or economic factors: "Culture is a set of material practices linked to economies, and economic and material relations are always mediated by cultural factors and forms" (45). Indeed, without such a measured defense of culture, which would have to include cultural objects like the novels that Jay reads in part two of the book, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand globalization as something other than economic agglomeration. At the same time, however, critics, especially those from the humanities, need to remember the "reality of economic globalization" lest they "too glibly" generate claims about culture's "liberatory" potential (46).

The speed of the new economy, according to internet guru Kevin Kelly, is unprecedented, much as the pace of what Manuel Castells calls "the network society" always seems to be accelerating. Although Global Matters is not concerned, as these writers are, with infrastructures that keep globalization humming at a lively pace, Jay acknowledges that while globalization has been evolving since the sixteenth century, its speed under late capitalism has meant that cultural difference has come to the attention of scholars that much more quickly. In this sense, then, Global Matters represents an effort to slow down not the transnational turn itself, but the rate at which writers and critics generate overarching or even final assessment of new economic and cultural configurations. Jay wants to pause to sort out competing critical positions, and to take stock of theoretical developments even as the aligned forces of economic globalization and cultural migration continue surging ahead. Novels are ideal for this task. They are slow objects, which, to steal a line from bluesman Willie Dixon, are "built for comfort" and "ain't built for speed." Even as books like Mda's The Heart of Redness or Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss register and are themselves products of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 792-794
Launched on MUSE
2011-12-17
Open Access
No
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