- Worlds Within: National Narratives and Global Connections in Postcolonial Writing
Vilashini Cooppan’s Worlds Within: National Narratives and Global Connections in Postcolonial Writing offers a timely and expansive study of the construct of the nation that engages theoretical debates at the heart of postcolonial studies and comparative literature. By parsing complex questions about nationalism and its relationship to globalization, Worlds Within sets out to offer a new model for conceptualizing and imagining the nation, a model that is foremost derived from psychoanalytic theory. Emphasizing the nation’s unique inscription within historical time, Cooppan’s interpretive framework is grounded in notions of desire, attachment, and traumatic memory, which lead her to decipher nationalism in terms of the tropes of spectrality, uncanniness, melancholia, and loss. As Cooppan puts it, the book’s project is to conduct “fantasmic cartography—the mapping of national and global territories of belonging through an analysis of the psychic work of longing” (xxii). As it seeks to chart the traces, hauntings, ambivalences, and other “oscillating temporalit[ies]” that animate nationalism (7), Worlds Within richly establishes the yield of psychoanalysis for elucidating the layered, tangled energies that have informed nationalism during both the imperial and postcolonial eras.
Within Cooppan’s psychoanalytic hermeneutic, the nation becomes a prism governed less by territorial demarcations than by structures of longing and identification that exceed and defy the state’s geographical boundaries. In this respect, one of Worlds Within’s key interventions is to collapse the false polarity between the national and the cosmopolitical that has fueled many currents within postcolonial and globalization studies. Cooppan instead explains these categories as “twinned” and “doubled” in their psychic anatomy (4). Cooppan’s analysis thus forcefully and productively challenges core assumptions that have motivated much recent globalization theory. However, the basic import of the book’s arguments depends on the very opposition between the local and the global that Cooppan aspires to destabilize and contest, a tension that risks compromising the book’s impact. Overall, Cooppan recasts the meaning of nationalism to configure it as always already globalized, which is an endeavor she labels an effort “to world the nation” (xviii). Cooppan thereby defends the idea of the “global” against its critics, insofar as the analytic of globality has increasingly come under assault for, among other complaints, [End Page 588] normalizing the hegemonic appetites of capital. At the same time, Cooppan stages a rejoinder to the equally widespread suspicion of the nation-state within postcolonial criticism. Cooppan self-consciously retains the rubric of the national in her attempts to rethink the nation beyond determinants of enclosed physical space and insular collective identity. That said, Cooppan’s insistence on the “externalities” that comprise the nation exhibits its own form of wariness toward the local, a bias that comes close to depoliticizing nationalism as well as minimizing its capacity to operate as a site of resistance to precisely the circuits of globalization that Cooppan often seems to apologize for.
While the first section of the book develops Cooppan’s methodological and other theoretical contributions, the majority of the study investigates a number of seminal literary and theoretical texts in order to lend shape to its arguments. Cooppan concludes the introduction with a discussion of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, demonstrating how a “national remainder” inflects even texts such as Midnight’s Children that have conventionally been read as epitomizing a globalized aesthetic (53). In an analysis of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in chapter 2, Cooppan reveals the centrality of nationalism to Conrad’s fiction while also exploring different postcolonial rewritings of the novella that in their “fetishistic repetitions” of Conrad’s narrative further mark it as a “traumatic kernel” for postcolonial national identifications (70). Chapter 3 turns to W. E. B. Du Bois’s corpus to formulate a conception of national and racial becoming that is, as Cooppan argues, strikingly mobile, nonlinear, and generically heterogeneous. A study of Franz Fanon’s theoretical production as well as its reception subsequently argues that Fanon crafts an understanding of...