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  • Faulkner and the Third World:The Contemporary Politics of Perspective
  • Hosam M. Aboul-Ela (bio)

An impressive body of scholarship over the past decade has linked the sensibilities and the art of William Faulkner with writers from the Third World, especially Latin America and the Caribbean (Cohn 1999; Glissant 1999; Handley 2000; Kutzinski 2001; Matthews 2004; and Smith and Cohn 2004).1 Still, this direction in comparative Faulkner studies would seem not to have exhausted itself yet, for as international movement of capital, deterritorialization, and the global flow of information have all accelerated exponentially since the end of the Cold War, such linkages can only demand more attention, even as trendy literary schools come and go. In this context, certainly one point of contact between the world of Faulkner/Southern studies and the Global South calls for further consideration. As the world has globalized, the points of view that manifest themselves in metropolitan culture seem to be growing even more distinct from those of citizens from the Global South, and it is in the Faulkner novel that this idea of the exacerbated politics of [End Page 89] distinctive perspectives—metropolitan and Southern—is given one of its earliest and most complicated presentations.

What follows is a series of moments from 2008 and early 2009 that have had global consequences, but that have been viewed from acutely contrastive lenses by citizens and consumers of media in the metropolis on the one hand, and the Global South on the other.

In the early months of 2009, a debate in American newspapers carried forward heated discussions from the previous year regarding a major news story: the collapse of many of the largest private financial institutions in the United States. By early 2009, the public discussion of state spending had gone far enough that some prominent economists in the public sphere were even advocating the nationalization of large private banks (Krugman 2009). Although agreement never coalesced around this proposal, the mere fact of the discussion was telling. It could only have occurred in the aftermath of a previous solid consensus in favor of large-scale government investment in the private sector. This consensus was best illustrated in Congressional action to extend federal insurance to the semiprivate mortgage brokers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and in the Troubled Assets Relief Program's (TARP) passage into law in October 2008, giving the U.S. Treasury the authority to spend $700 billion in public money to prop up private financial institutions. Also, a similar supplementary bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was passed in the early days of the Obama administration. Finally, the federal government became the primary stakeholder in the U.S.-based, multinational auto giant General Motors in the summer of 2009 shortly before GM was steered smoothly through bankruptcy proceedings.

Such wide-spread agreement around the need to commit public investment to the private sector at a time of crisis could only be viewed with grim hilarity by any Third World economist who had observed the obsession on the part of the so-called Washington consensus institutions with forcing poor countries with very small economies to privatize their way out of every crisis. Nobel Laureate in economics and former World Bank official Joseph Stiglitz has explained the problem as follows: "Unfortunately, the [End Page 90] IMF and the World Bank have approached the issues [around privatization] from a narrow ideological perspective—privatization was to be pursued rapidly. . . . As a result, privatization often did not bring the benefits that were promised. The problems that arose from these failures have created antipathy to the very idea of privatization" (2002 54). The contrast here is clear: when metropolitan economists work with Third World economies, they consistently counsel privatization, even—perhaps especially—at a time of economic crisis, whereas when such economists and politicians look at their own society, public spending on private institutions in a time of crisis seems like a "no-brainer."

Other major stories of calendar year 2008 similarly manifest the idiosyncrasy of the perspectives most widely held by mainstream American news media and policy makers. For example, when an Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, exploded in anger and threw both his shoes...


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