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 Planetary Subjects after the Death of Geography J E N N A T I I T S M A N I. Ankur Jaiswal, a Bangalore call-center employee whose phone name is ‘‘Mike,’’ regularly claims that he lives in America when questioned by suspicious U.S. callers. ‘‘They ask, ‘Where in America?’ I tell them I cannot disclose my location. But they are still suspicious and start asking about the weather.’’1 Like most of his colleagues in South Asia, ‘‘Mike’’ is able to respond with the weather report, recent sports scores, and tidbits of American popular culture that are displayed on a large television screen posted in many call centers to aid employees feign a U.S. location. Why worry about location when the transatlantic call from the United States to India is a ‘‘local’’ one? Why does distance matter when the globe itself has been proclaimed a village? We live in an age that has proclaimed the death of geography. The world is said to be united into a singular universal community that lives in the abstraction of cyberspace. Real location no longer matters; so promise the internet, digital cable, and satellites. In fact, on its very first transatlantic exchange, even the telegraph was hailed as ‘‘an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world.’’2 Then, as now, communications technology was celebrated as the means to realize the promise of a singular global people united by the ideals of Protestantism, capitalism, and democracy . If our postmodern era does not accommodate the blatant religious missionizing of the ambitious Christian call of President Buchanan, the aspiration to unity in a nonmaterial realm still bleeds from Protestant history into contemporary American renditions of the power of communications PAGE 149 ................. 17764$ $CH9 10-28-10 12:07:19 PS 150 兩 j e nn a t ii t s ma n technology to unite the globe and bury geography. However, in the frantic make-believe of South Asian call-center employees, one can hear the reminder that geography has not been successfully interred. The imaginary of the disembodied globe is still haunted by geographies that refuse to be absorbed into the ether and by the histories of colonialism, missionizing, and modern capitalism that these geographies reveal. Buried beneath such universalism is the persistent matter of local particularity. The way we live in the world is bound to what we imagine the world to be. The imaginary of a universal, immaterial sphere in which we are intimately connected in common God-given humanity emerges in the West from a confluence of events—the Protestant Reformation, the rise of capitalism , the advent of modern science, and colonialism—that mark the beginning of the modern era. As colonial explorers and missionaries crossed oceans, the illusion of universal sameness, derived from Christianity and divorced from materiality and geography, promised to override local differences . However, the illusion of universal, disembodied sameness thrived only when geography and difference were adamantly ignored and simultaneously exploited. For example, the ‘‘natives’’ of South Asia shared a common religious origin with Europe, according to the European religious thinkers of the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries, but required firm rule from the advanced northern continent to guide them toward developed civilization.3 This universalizing imaginary did not die with the move toward postmodernism in the Jamesonian sense, that is, as the cultural logic of late capitalism; it was merely transposed onto the disembodied, fluid plane of cyberspace.4 Today, the assurance that communications technology has overridden geography and difference in an immaterial sphere to which everyone has equal access fuels notions that globalization will eradicate poverty and that the internet will spread democracy while, at the same time, multinational corporations fatten the wallets of their executives and Euro-American governments coerce regime changes in the Middle East and Africa. At the beginning of modernity religion became the structure for universal homogeneity; today the structure is cyberspace. In both forms, this imaginary of a global village is an insidious and dangerous illusion. The geography such an illusion disavows and on which such an illusion relies tells a different story, one in which alterity is not coerced into assimilation nor forged as a foil for the dominant subject. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak offers two imaginaries of the earth: globalization —the disembodied everywhere of information networks in which everything is accessible, simultaneous, and subsumed into an imagined same PAGE 150 ................. 17764$ $CH9 10-28-10 12:07:19 PS p...


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