- Introduction:Transnational Literature at a Moment of Nationalist Resurgence
The roundtable on "Rethinking the Transnational Turn in American Literature" at the 2017 MLA Convention in Philadelphia might have been described in immodest terms as our victory lap. Or at least it was supposed to have been. As contributors to The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature, we had come together to describe our essays and reflect on the shape and future of the field. But the 2016 presidential election brought a political turn that few of us—not to mention professional pollsters—had foreseen. What would perception of a seismic shift in the political landscape mean for the transnational turn in literary studies? Although the president-elect would not be inaugurated for another two weeks, the prospect of a Trump White House became a sort of gruesome invitation to revisit our conclusions. While the volume is anything but an uncritical celebration of transnationalism, Donald Trump's promise of a border wall, contempt for international accords, travel bans on Muslims, and the bravura of his "America first" rhetoric would remind us that we were not done with nationalism yet and that any theorization or literary imagining of the transnational would have to reckon with both the renewed force of xenophobic affect and nationalist policy. [End Page 465]
Still, it would be a mistake to think that Trump had singlehandedly shifted the conversation. He is hardly exceptional. It's not just that he has left a string of failed businesses in his wake, as other entrepreneurs before him have. Nor is it that he has been boastful about groping women's bodies, since this bit of braggadocio is all too common. Instead, it is that his political positions are hardly uniquely American. As the successful Brexit campaign reminded us the summer before, a nationalist resurgence is very much a global development with historical as well as geopolitical variants.
In the eight essays that follow, the authors use this forum as an opportunity to extend, intensify, and supplement their original chapters in the Cambridge Companion. The result is an enhanced set of objects and methods, not so much a handbook for surviving the first decades of the twenty-first century as a set of questions that we must continue to ask in the years ahead. In her contribution, Yogita Goyal asks, "what if the United States could actually see itself as a banana republic?" Jessica Berman emphasizes vision as well, asking how we might begin to see literary landscapes through a transnational optic. How might US citizens begin to see themselves as other see them? By considering Latin American and Chinese writers who have engaged classical American writers such as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, Shelley Fisher Fishkin begins to tease out a response to this question. Crystal Parikh's essay examines a very different archive by contemplating how transnational feminism, especially as it is embodied in teenage girl protagonists, provides a new but often ignored perspective on these issues. From a different geopolitical vantage, John Alba Cutler takes a step back to ask if we can even begin to rightly recognize the border that is brought into focus by Trump's promises to "build a great, great wall on our southern border." The border, as Cutler argues, has a global history that stretches from Nicaragua to North Dakota. Such borders may be understood as "translocal" phenomena, according to Timothy Marr in his survey of Somali-North American women's prose and poetry. In light of these necessary adjustments to our vision, my contribution suggests that we might begin exploring where and how the international, often a neglected term, sits astride the nexus of the national and transnational. Finally, however, why have literary critics been talking about transnationalism with such urgency? Johannes Voelz concludes this forum by reflecting on the affective and political investments that have heightened the critical pressure on the transnational in the first place. [End Page 466]