- Metageographies & Modernist Fiction
As the field of modernist studies has become more global, transnational, and cosmopolitan during the past decade, modernism has begun to look very different than it did for earlier generations of scholars. No longer a strictly Euro-American nexus of artistic activity defined primarily by its formal experimentation and its conflicted relation to early twentieth-century models of modernity, modernism has expanded to include heretofore ignored spaces, temporalities, and modes of artistic practice. Among the most significant of these changes is the recognition that there are not only different modernisms but also different forms of modernity against which these variously positioned modernisms defined themselves, a point made particularly evident by the growing interest among modernist scholars in postcolonial literature and theory. By focusing on the uneven development that took place across imperial borders and the intersections between temporally and geographically different sites of cultural activity, a new generation of scholars has uncovered crucial affinities and structural ties between writers previously assumed to have little in common with one another.
Jon Hegglund's World Views: Metageographies of Modernist Fiction is a welcome and exciting addition to this recent scholarly trend. Drawing inspiration from the work of Laura Doyle, Laura Winkiel, Susan Stanford Friedman, and other scholars of the new global modernist studies, the volume brings under a single critical lens such diverse Anglophone writers as Joseph Conrad, Jamaica Kincaid, E. M. Forster, Jean Rhys, James Joyce, Amitav Ghosh, Graham Greene, and Jawaharlal Nehru. It is Hegglund's contention that all of these authors explore in their writings the tension between a "realist" mode of narration that privileges local knowledge and fragmented particularity and a more "abstract, geographical" mode of representation that aspires towards totalizing universality. Arguing that modernism and the "new geography"—an intellectual movement that sought to unite physical geography and human geography into a single academic discipline—arose simultaneously in the late-nineteenth century as responses not simply to globalization but more specifically to the emergence of territorial nationalism as the normative form of political sovereignty in the world, Hegglund claims that modernists, like their new geographer counterparts, sought to mediate in their writings between an abstract, geopolitical view of the world as composed of formally equivalent [End Page 411] nation-states and modes of spatial and cultural identity that existed apart from, or in opposition to, global territorial nationalism.
In uncovering this alternative modernist history, Hegglund is keen to emphasize that neither metropolitan nor postcolonial modernists were easily able to ignore geography or the influence of territorial nationalism in the crafting of their fiction. With the carving up of Africa by European nations at the Berlin Conference of 1885-1886, the rise of geopolitics as a "science" emphasizing surveying, mapping, and precise demarcation, and the establishment of modern European state boundaries through the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, metropolitan cultures, Hegglund argues, became "saturated with the awareness of an emergent cartographic realism: a 'real world' determined not by the thick description and shared knowledge of place, but by the increasingly formal abstractions of geographical space, most visibly through the widespread production of maps." A similar dynamic took place among postcolonial cultures during the post-World War II era of decolonization. Because of the hegemony of the nation-state model, any anti-colonial discourses that emerged during this period, Hegglund explains, had to "engage with the problem of geography not only by reclaiming place and social practice locally, but also by working within the mapped and administered territorializations that authorize[d] sovereignty in the worldwide political sphere."
As might be expected, metropolitan and postcolonial modernists who attempted to depict and reflect critically upon this new global geographical paradigm confronted similar challenges and often employed similar literary strategies to express their frustration with the paradigm's limitations. Issues of perspective and place, as Hegglund astutely notes, became more complicated for novelists to manage fictionally as the world became increasingly mobile, interconnected, and subject to constant and seemingly arbitrary spatial transformations. No longer able to conceive that geographical space, in all its diversity, could provide a stable, naturalistic setting...