restricted access Irish Cosmopolitanism: Location and Dislocation in James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, and Samuel Beckett by Nels Pearson (review)
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Reviewed by
Nels Pearson. Irish Cosmopolitanism: Location and Dislocation in James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, and Samuel Beckett. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2015. 192 pp.

Nels Pearson’s Irish Cosmopolitanism: Location and Dislocation in James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, and Samuel Beckett starts out by addressing directly the paradox in its title, asking “if a ‘cosmopolitan’ is one who pledges allegiance to humanity at large, rather than to a specific national or ethnic collective, then what is the need, or rationale, for designating an ‘Irish Cosmopolitanism’?” (1). The impetus behind Irish Cosmopolitanism is thus to unravel the contours of this paradoxical conceptual construction in order to demonstrate how despite the phenomenon of Ireland’s arguably greatest twentieth-century novelists living and working in such international capitals as Trieste (Joyce), London (Bowen), and Paris (Beckett), there persists in their writings traces and memories, residues and echoes, of Ireland’s unresolved political and historical struggles against colonial violence and pressures. The concept of an Irish cosmopolitanism does not, in other words, simply reflect a process whereby writers like Joyce, Bowen, and Beckett substitute Irish with cosmopolitan identities. They do not become cosmopolitan writers by jettisoning their Irishness; rather, they become cosmopolitan writers because of their ambivalent commitments to a distinctly Irish experience, paradoxically, of national nonidentity. Ireland stands for each of these writers, Pearson aptly explains, as “an origin-in-process that one can neither unselfconsciously inhabit nor triumphantly depart,” and what Pearson goes on persuasively to demonstrate is the idea that reading either Joyce, Bowen, or Beckett as somehow postnational, post-Irish writers (cosmopolitan in the traditional, Kantian sense of the term) is to fundamentally misunderstand the stubbornly incommensurable relation they maintained with the unfinished (because uncommenced) project of Irish national identity (10).

Pearson’s readings of Joyce, Bowen, and Beckett are structured as allegorical case studies in the conceptual construction of Irish Cosmopolitanism, of what Pearson also refers to as “Irish expatriate modernism” (8). Irish Cosmopolitanism begins in earnest with its reading of Joyce’s Ulysses and, given the logical parameters around which Pearson constructs the concept of Irish Cosmopolitanism, it is hardly surprising (though no less intriguing) that what “pinpoints the generative locus of Irish expatriate modernism” is for Pearson the figure of “the border itself, the vexed and protracted threshold of colonial departure” (8). Focusing on the significance of the seaside (the Sandymount strand and the Kingstown pier) in Ulysses enables [End Page 550] Pearson to situate Joyce’s writing on both the literal and figural threshold between the Irish homeland (metropolitan Dublin) and the foreign Anglo European coastline (a more recognizable cosmopolitan subjectivity) for which Joyce (like Bowen and Beckett after him) eventually set sail. The question with which Joyce wrestles in the writing of Ulysses is one that relates to the uncertainty overshadowing Ireland’s insertion in an international geopolitical context of national recognition and trade (economic as much as cultural), an uncertainty not entirely dissimilar to the paradox diagnosed most incisively by Franz Fanon “of how the emerging postcolony, which has focused on constructing or reconstructing a distinct national consciousness, is to conceptualize its role in an international system” (24). If Joyce is to be regarded as a postcolonial writer, as so many contemporary literary and postcolonial critics have begun insisting that he should, then it is less as a writer of straightforward anticolonial resistance and more as one who is attuned to the problematic of existing between national and international consciousness. Although Pearson leaves out of account Joyce’s complex negotiation with Jewishness in Ulysses, which in many ways is equally as important as Irishness to Joyce’s particular vision of the cosmopolitanism that Pearson is advocating, nevertheless Pearson does a quite admirable job of jumpstarting the discussion of Joyce’s contemporary relevance in key debates in postcolonial political and literary discourse, which have matured over the last few years by going beyond questions of merely subverting or sabotaging imperial constructs of identity and culture. Pearson reads Joyce as not only registering unavoidable desires for participating in clearly demarcated national communities in postcolonial contexts but also the strategic necessity of transcending nationalist subjectivity and embracing cosmopolitan networks of cultural and historical exchange.

Pearson’s...


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