- Profit over History
There is no denying the deep, complex, and changing symbolism of the Berlin Wall. For me, the life of the Berlin Wall provides a remarkable, perhaps even disquieting metaphor for the evolution of the contemporary world, in terms both of international political economy and of our relational (individual and social) identities.
Erected in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic, the Berlin Wall marked the repression of peoples living in the Eastern Bloc while its subsequent fall in 1989 signified the opposite: personal freedom. The fall of the wall wasn’t simply personal, though, but profitable too. The failure of the communist agenda that the wall stood for aided the global dominance of capitalism, the rise of free market economy, and the changing topography of commerce, culture, and ideology. This new topography was international or even supranational. It was not limited by borders, but governed a world stage. Surviving fragments of the wall have been shipped all across the world: from its home in Germany to England, Poland, South Africa, Bangladesh, Canada, and across the U.S. In these contexts, it has been globally standardised as a commercial piece of living history in museums, universities, hotels, corporation lobbies, casinos, court houses, and government buildings.
In March of this year, 2013, the Berlin Wall was torn down. Again. This time, its destruction was not the material upshot of human liberty but property development. And one met by fierce protests. There was public outrage that profit was being prioritized over history, and a sense that this monument was intimately entwined with the personal and national identity of its supporters.
It is this sense of a contemporary recommitment to national belonging that Philip Leonard unearths in Literature After Globalization (2013). In doing so, Leonard engages with debates in contemporary theory (from thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Paul Virilio, and McKenzie Wark) as a lens through which to consider the ways in which fictional offerings from the 1990s and early twentieth century reflect upon the conditions of unprecedented technological advancement in parallel to the decline of the nation-state in the global world. Ultimately, the fictional works Leonard critiques point, in his words, to
a movement away from early narratives of global culture—that is, after the global conceived as the collapse of national cultures in the face of synthetic transborder movements—these fictions explore recent efforts to reinvent and reassert national sovereignty against technology’s transnational effects.
In his opening chapter, “The Ends of Man,” Leonard sets up the critical parameters of his five case studies. This rests on a critical consensus in globalization studies that the world is becoming increasingly borderless: people, information, and capital travel across national boundaries with ease to the point that such “limits” are “administrative, cartographic and cognitive conveniences” more than they are indices of territorial regions of political, economic, or social power. Leonard’s contention is that whilst a number of earlier texts of contemporary globalization embrace the seeming nomadic fluidity of a technologically connected world, other recent texts resist the exultant myth of a deterritorialized network of human belonging.
Each of the five texts at the heart of Literature After Globalization engage with a different problematic of technology’s impact on global culture. Chapter two focuses on Indra Sinha’s The Cybergypsies (1999), a memoir about a developing obsession with online communities. While virtual worlds are often seen to open up boundless social communities, through recourse to French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s theories of individuation and collectivity Leonard suggests that Sinha’s book ultimately works to deny global community in favor of the individual. In the third chapter, Leonard’s focus shifts from a battle between belonging in real or virtual realms to battles in space and the place of the human body amidst science-fiction technology. Heavily influenced by Paul Virilio’s thoughts on the relationship between technology and warfare, Leonard reads the movie Starship Troopers (1997), as directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on the novel of the same name by...