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  • On Oneworldedness:Or Paranoia as a World System
  • Emily Apter (bio)

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1. Oneworldedness as World System

Immanuel Wallerstein's world-systems theory, which focuses on markets in the early phases of global capitalism, assumes enhanced relevance in the post-9/11 era, in which the militarization of border patrol, information, and intelligence further compounds economic definitions of oneworldedness.1 Wallerstein's central idea of the world as one but unequal is easily extended to a paradigm of planetary paranoia marked by cyber-surveillance, cartographies of cartels, and webs of international relationality within and outside the nation, and on the edges of legality. In its curvilinear unboundedness, the contemporary world system resembles a one-size, supranational entity that recognizes the dominance of superstates, while training its eye on the hidden relationalism among corporate conglomerates, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), underground economies, and clandestine insurgent groups. Oneworldedness is distinct from planetarity, cast by Wai Chee Dimock as a transchronological continuum of poesis that takes "the entire planet as a unit of analysis" (175) and by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in Death of a Discipline (2003) as a precapitalist territorial commons respectful of alterity. It is also different from transnationalism, assigned by Etienne Balibar to new forms of world citizenship that engender open rather than closed social polities. In Balibar's work on transnational citizenship, including We the People of Europe?: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship (2004), borders become transitional objects rather than cordons sanitaires of exclusion. World diaspora is affirmed within and not just outside national borders (Balibar draws here on Jürgen Habermas's notion of Weltinnenpolitk). The hackneyed [End Page 365] expression "Citizen of the World" is granted new life when he refers to Netizens and antiglobalist, altiermondiste activists. And translation—treated as a lingua franca of political mediation—revokes nationalist essentialism. Building on Balibar, in The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2005), I have also ascribed transnationalism to a "trans to trans" comparatism that bypasses the metropole while privileging translation between "minor" or micro-minority languages and literatures. Oneworldedness, in contradistinction to these paradigms of world systems, planetarity, and transnationalism, envisages the planet as an extension of paranoid subjectivity vulnerable to persecutory fantasy, catastrophism, and monomania. Like globalization, oneworldedness traduces territorial sovereignty and often masks its identity as another name for "America." But where globalization is an amorphous term applied to economic neo-imperialism; to projections of the world as an ideologically bicameral, yet fatally integrated single community; to the centrifugal pressure of dominant world languages and literatures (English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic); to the homogeneity of culture produced under capitalism; and to an essentially noncomparative model of comparative literature, oneworldedness, as I am defining it, refers more narrowly to a delirious aesthetics of systematicity; to the match between cognition and globalism that is held in place by the paranoid premise that "everything is connected."

American culture obviously holds no exclusive patent on oneworldedness. Jia Zhangke's 2004 film The World, Okakura Tenshin's political construct of "Asia as One," the recent coinage of "Chindia" to distinguish an emergent giant of global finance capital (China plus India), or Lydia Liu's suggestion that the proper name "China" could arguably be translated as One-world or Empire are reminders that China's claim to oneworldedness, historically and at present, is surely as great if not greater as America's.2 One could even venture that "Asia" and "the West," in their rivalry for the title to oneworldedness, are obverse sides of the same coin, compounding the one-world effect by virtue of their competition for cultural hegemony.

While American literature is far from being the only national literature to privilege paranoid psychosis—think of Gogol's The Nose, Kafka's The Trial, and more recently, the novel Links (2004) by Somalian author Nuruddin Farah, and the novel Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (2001) by Czech novelist Patrik Ouredník, which compresses every historical factoid, cliché, and idée reçue into a single globular chronotype—paranoia consistently emerges as a preeminent topos in major works of the post-World War II American canon. Taken together, Thomas Pynchon's V...


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