restricted access Cosmodernism: American Narrative, Late Globalization, and the New Cultural Imaginary (review)
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Reviewed by
Christian Moraru. Cosmodernism: American Narrative, Late Globalization, and the New Cultural Imaginary. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2011. xii + 428 pp.

In Cosmodernism, Christian Moraru launches an ambitious new critical concept aimed at certain ethically charged territories of the post-Cold War cultural topos. Moraru nimbly builds on a weighty corpus of internationalist scholarship, largely from the last forty years, in articulating his vision of a post-Cold War "cultural imaginary" (2). The cosmodern is, simply put, a compassionate understanding of the other and the self based on difference, and on relations that bridge and yet affirm that difference. In his words, "cosmodern logic is fundamentally, systematically, and pointedly relational, turning as it does on self and other's foundational corelationality with respect to one another" (17).

Moraru divides the book into five parts. In his introductory first part, he critiques those existing strains of literary scholarship that have thus far reckoned with globalization, that is, cosmopolitanism, global American studies, and comparative fields such as transnationalism and hemispheric studies. The shortcoming of these particular critical movements, according to Moraru, is that they lack a truly dialectical premise. Global American studies, for example, tends to focus on Americans abroad, and as he writes in the prologue, "we cannot 'rely' solely on ourselves to comprehend and achieve our American selves" (4). Moraru's theoretical fluency and the ease with which he moves between texts in articulating the cosmodern is nothing short of virtuosic, if also occasionally overwhelming. He focuses on thinkers like Derrida, Levinas, and Jean-Luc Nancy, or those who have wrestled with the ethics of selfhood, as cosmodernism is in large measure an "ethical imperative" (5). Moraru persuasively argues the importance of establishing relations with the other to build a community of difference, in contrast to the competing late-global phenomenon of relations built on consumerist homogeny.

He organizes the remainder of the book around four modes of cosmodern relation: language, naming, translation, and embodiment, and supports each of these modalities with an illuminating set of readings. Moraru begins with the "linguistic imaginary" and identifies cosmodern texts in which a heteroglossic English language resolves conflicts of American identity. In a notable reading of Chang-Rae Lee's Native Speaker, Moraru finds it is only through the nonnative other's adaptations of language that one is able to situate oneself in one's community. Moraru returns to Lee in his second chapter, where he investigates the onomastic for signs of cultural exchange and gives his most assured reading: that of Lee's A Gesture Life. In that novel [End Page 159] the Japanese immigrant Franklin Hata must construct himself in the space between a name he has left to his traumatic past and the anglicized ur-American name he has taken in his adopted home.

In parts three and four, Moraru turns to translation and reading. He calls translation an act that can be deeply cosmodern, for in cosmodernism, the point "is contrast itself, more exactly the unwonted with-ness it bears, its relational undertow." Though inevitably burdened with shortcomings, translation is a foundation of relations across cultures: "Since relationality is the keystone of the cosmodern and translation is a relational form, translation scenes and, with them, an entire translational way of seeing the world take up a central position in the cultural projections of cosmodernism." Moraru reads Nicole Mones and Suki Kim, paying particular attention for the "cosmodern shift in the history of translation" (158). The focus on the reasoning behind the use of 1989 as a historical pivot is welcomed, given that such reasoning is somewhat overlooked in the first few chapters. In these texts, concludes Moraru, the translator is herself translated, remade, renegotiated. While late globalization yields flattening and seamlessness, the translator discovers that which remains different and particular. Something similar happens to the reader of the cosmodern novel: though faced with fewer obstacles than the translator, the reader gains an intimacy with foreign peoples and places, an experience that lets the reader construct his or her own epistemic frames: "Other-reading reaches beyond the informative; it is formative" (204-5). Like naming, translation, and speaking, reading requires self-reflection, in that one...