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  • Is Modernism Really Transnational?Ulysses, New Cosmopolitanism, and the Celtic Tiger
  • Michael Spiegel (bio)

Writing in 2007, Richard Begam concluded that “in imagining a Hellas of the north, Joyce might well have envisioned a country not unlike the Irish Republic of today: liberal, prosperous, cosmopolitan, modern—a country that has achieved a distinct cultural identity, while assuming its rightful place within the community of nations” (203). By locating in Joyce’s vision the reconciliation of local particularity and global integration, Begam challenges a dominant tendency in Joyce scholarship and modernist studies that stretches from Ezra Pound to Hugh Kenner to Emer Nolan. Whether figured as parochialism versus modernism, nationalism versus internationalism, or nationalism versus metropolitanism, Joycean and modernist critics have traditionally held the local and the global in opposition. Begam’s challenge to this opposition illustrates a fundamental similarity between the recent cosmopolitan turn in Joyce studies and the transnational turn in modernist studies: rather than rely on mutually exclusive conceptions of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, both approach their subject matter through a conception of cosmopolitanism that is consistent with and even constitutive of nationalism.

Such arguments represent the influence of new cosmopolitan theory on literary studies, particularly James Clifford’s theory of “discrepant cosmopolitanism.” In his seminal essay “Traveling Cultures,” Clifford argues that the tendency to view the local and the global as mutually exclusive stems from an understanding of culture as rooted and static. In its place, Clifford offers “discrepant cosmopolitanism”—an alternative conception of culture as dynamic and mobile and of cultural identity as rooted in “specific, often violent, histories of economic, political, and cultural interaction” as well as “routed” in the displacement and transplantation that bring cultures into contact (1997a, 36). Like [End Page 88] other theories of new cosmopolitanism, Clifford’s discrepant form avoids both the “excessive localism” evident in nativist nationalisms as well as the “global vision of a capitalist or technocratic monoculture” (1997a, 36).

Clifford’s theory of “discrepant cosmopolitanism” has proven particularly attractive to transnational modernist studies that seek to challenge the temporal and geographical borders of modernism because Clifford’s theory establishes a basis for a comparative cultural studies; while the specific cultures produced might be unique, the process of negotiation, the different forms of encounter, and the development of multiple affiliations that produce such cultures can be located and compared (1998, 365).1 The ideas behind Clifford’s “discrepant cosmopolitanism” have also led Joyce scholars to offer a corrective to the postcolonial paradigm that has altered the field so drastically. While granting the validity of postcolonial critiques, so-called “cosmopolitan Joyceans” focus on the way the local and the global inflect each other in Joyce’s works. That Joyce did not view locality and globality as mutually exclusive has helped explain his attention to triviality (Walkowitz), his international conception of nationalism (Pearson), the political contradictions of his early work and critical writings (Valente), and the nationalist ethos and universalist epiphany at the ending of “The Dead” (Robbins), to name just a few.2

However, as critics like Timothy Brennan have argued, Clifford’s conception of “discrepant cosmopolitanism” and other new cosmopolitan theories rests on the assumption that local particularities and global integration not only can be reconciled but should be reconciled. The problem with this assumption can be illustrated in the above quotation from Richard Begam. Thanks to a number of prescient critics and, well, to the dramatic collapse of the Irish economy in 2008, we now know that the “distinct cultural identity” Begam alludes to—the liberal, prosperous, cosmopolitan, and modern Celtic Tiger—was not actually distinct from but rather the price of admission into “the community of nations.” We now know that this cultural identity was constructed, in part, to lure foreign direct investment and that it concealed fundamental structural weaknesses in Ireland’s economic foundations—weaknesses attributable to an overreliance on foreign direct investment. We know that the image of the Celtic Tiger obscured the persistence of poverty amid the climbing GDP as well as rapidly increasing economic [End Page 89] and social inequalities. We know that this “distinct cultural identity” involved strategic forgetting as corporations like Jameson, Ballygowan, and the foreign-owned Guinness traded in on images...


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