It is a somewhat surreal experience to be putting the finishing touches on this review the morning after an unanticipated “leave” vote has made Brexit a reality. Each of these noteworthy recent books marks out clearly the dangers of nationalism and exclusionary politics—as well as the very real persistence of such forces—making these works even timelier today than their authors may have hoped. At the same time, both Bridget T. Chalk and Janice Ho make purposeful interventions into current debates about modernism and nation in the age of global studies.
While Chalk and Ho share many of the same concerns about changing ideas of national identity in the early twentieth century (and beyond), their respective titles give a clear indication as to where their studies diverge. Chalk’s Modernism and Mobility: The Passport and Cosmopolitan Experience examines the geographical limitations placed on early-twentieth-century writers as increased government control of the population led not to the urbane cosmopolitanism they imagined, but to its frustration. Nationality, in Chalk’s account, becomes a matter of great practical importance (because determinative of one’s rights of movement or settlement), but devoid of larger meaning, as it comes to signify no more than this seemingly arbitrary government designation. In contrast Ho’s title, Nation and Citizenship in the Twentieth-Century British Novel, announces a domestic focus. Her readings turn to the realities of life within England, showing writers from E. M. Forster to Monica Ali attempting to situate themselves and others within an ever-diversifying population. Like Chalk, Ho looks to national self-identification as a means of understanding twentieth-century English and Anglophone literature. Yet while Chalk’s argument is focused on the negative impact of official determinations of nationality, and the powerlessness of her subjects in the face of such regulations, Ho begins by setting aside longstanding debates about innate “Englishness” as largely unhelpful, due to its (necessarily stymying) racial inflections. She argues instead for a renewed focus on questions of citizenship and the implicit responsibilities such belonging entails. Her work traces the changing narrative of multiculturalism in England from the early twentieth century to the present day, arguing that modernism is less a defining moment than part of a larger trajectory that has brought us to the current moment—in both literary and political terms. [End Page 702]
Ho’s focus on the frictions of citizenship offers a useful counterpoint to Chalk’s dazzling history of the passport. A document that began to acquire widespread authority only with the onset of World War I, the passport signaled an increase in biopolitical control of the population, as state surveillance of individuals heightened. New regulations were very much opposed to the cosmopolitan ideals often associated with modernism, which suggested far greater freedom for writers and artists than existed in reality. The writers Chalk examines—D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, and Christopher Isherwood—faced varying degrees of scrutiny in their attempts to enter and leave England. To a large degree, their efforts to best or bypass bureaucracy failed. Chalk takes this failure as indisputable (and perhaps inevitable); what interests her is why this is the case and what these different forms of failure signify. In other words, if cosmopolitanism can exist only as an ideal or counterfactual, what does this mean?
Modernist literary critics have taken up cosmopolitanism anew in recent decades, building on the attempts of critics such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, Bruce Robbins, and Pheng Cheah to theorize a cosmopolitics that draws upon older Kantian models of universality, but with an awareness of fundamental inequities and of the “rooted” nature of experience. Chalk’s book enters into conversation with literary scholars of cosmopolitanism such as Rebecca Walkowitz, Jessica Berman, and Jed Esty and is informed by their respective accounts of “the cultural agency of modernist writers” and their “emphasis on aesthetic...