This article examines visions of cosmopolitanism that emerge in the most recent novels by Michelle Cliff: Free Enterprise (1993) and Into the Interior (2010). While Cliff’s earlier works are preoccupied with questions of national political consciousness, her later novels are concerned with probing the possibility of forming transnational affiliations, in particular for members of postcolonial diaspora. Cliff’s later work is traversed by a preoccupation with worldly consciousness and the internal conflicts that arise for the diasporic individual when local and global affiliations are at stake. The questions that this body of work explores are part of the ongoing inquiry into the specific nature of postcolonial cosmopolitanism.
In Free Enterprise and Into the Interior, Cliff examines the affective conditions necessary for cosmopolitan affiliations not just to emerge but also to last. The figure that emerges in these novels is that of a reluctant cosmopolitan: that is, a subject who acknowledges the limitations of political commitment to a distant political cause that is based on the feeling of sympathy—commonly evoked in cosmopolitan thought—and its cognates: empathy, compassion, and pity. What Cliff suggestively posits, instead, is a form of political enthusiasm that is mediated in two ways: through aesthetic practice and through identification with an international history of resistance. Most notably, Into the Interior raises an important issue that extends beyond her work: namely, whether a particularly volatile affect such as enthusiasm can in fact be a basis for cosmopolitan political affiliations.