Global Literary Study, Postcolonial Study, and Their (Missing) Interrelations: A Materialist Literary Critique

Sabine Milz

As stated in the call for papers to the "Politics of Postcoloniality" Conference, a major criticism directed at postcolonial studies as they are currently conducted in Europe and North America is their "almost exclusive and narcissistic focus on exilic, diasporic, and hybrid perspectives" that are "at least partially remote from the material realities of everyday oppression."[1] While this critical focus has in many ways countered the homogenizing and totalizing implications of the term globalization,[2] it has also run the risk of excluding the material realities of globalization from its inventory of study objects and materialist analyses of the intersections of the literary and the global from its critical methodology. Indeed, postcolonial critical discourse has been "remarkably autocritical" (Moore 113) in its approach to globalization. Essays such as Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks' "At the Margin of Postcolonial Studies," Simon Gikandi's "Globalization and the Claims of Postcoloniality," A. K. Appiah's "Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?," and Simon During's "Postcolonialism and Globalization: Towards a Historicization of Their Inter-relation" attest to this autocritical referentiality. These essays variously observe that although the critical practice of postcolonialism has become key in transcending Eurocentric narratives of a world made of binary divisions and essential identities, the field of postcolonial studies in the West has failed to recognize the influence of the global circulation of capital power and modernist ideology on its critical and institutional practice. They contend that while globalization and postcoloniality have become two major paradigms for expounding the global spread of capitalist culture, the relationship between the two has remained unclear and ineffectual, mostly because of first world postcolonial study's postmodernist penchants. Moreover, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri point out in Empire, this postmodernist stream of postcolonial study has failed to recognize that the logics and structures of contemporary global power have changed and cannot be grasped and challenged by studying and challenging solely the legacies of European colonialism and the workings of American neo-imperialism.

This essay inquires into why this disputation of the "global" in postcolonial critical discourse has remained largely unnoticed in the debate on "global literary study" initiated by one of North America's most influential literary journals, the Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (PMLA), in its special issue "Globalizing Literary Studies." The latter's call for papers encouraged the examination of the connections between globalization and postcoloniality, but situated it in the context of postmodern images and strategies: the "connections it [globalization] has to such notions as hybridity, the carnivalesque, diaspora, hegemony, itinerancy, postcoloniality, and the postmodern" (call for papers). I will scrutinize what this lack of attention in the PMLA debate says about the relationship between English literary studies in North America and postcolonial literary studies, between the (neo)liberal Western narrative of global modernity and the recent project of global literary study. This involves questions such as the following, posed by Edward Said in his contribution to the MLA forum on global literary study, which led to the special PMLA issue under scrutiny here: Why have the humanities, and English literary studies more specifically, been "incapable, unwilling, to offer ... domestic resistance" to the often "exterminatory, life-wasting" oppressions and injustices of global capitalism ("Globalizing Literary Study" 67)? I will also investigate, with the help of Ian Baucom's contribution to the PMLA issue, why Said's vital question remained untackled in the PMLA call for papers and what it implies to tackle this question by means of global literary study — an issue that has been recently addressed by critics such as Waïl Hassan (in the context of comparative literature) and Susie O'Brien and Imre Szeman (in the context of Anglophone literature). As these critics intimate, postcolonial critical discourse — and here I mean postcolonial critical discourse not limited to English, English departments, and the AngloAmerican university — offers crucial perspectives that are lacking in the recent North American debate on "global literary analysis."

As mentioned above, in January 2001, the PMLA published the special issue "Globalizing Literary Studies." The call for papers for the issue announced that

[a]mong the many factors that have changed the practice of literary study over the last several decades, one of the more consequential is the realization, now gaining ever-wider recognition throughout the discipline, that the object of knowledge in literary studies is situated within a vastly broadened network of intertextual relations that is potentially transnational and cross-cultural and that requires for its interpretation and assessment methods that are often mixed, if not interdisciplinary. Contributions are invited for a special issue of PMLA that will examine and evaluate the globalization of literary studies as it affects our understanding of literary cultures in the past and in the present. Contributors may want to consider when historically the globalization of literary studies began; how global perspectives have influenced the remapping of particular periods in literary studies from the Middle Ages to the present;[3] ... what connections it has to such notions as hybridity, the carnivalesque, diaspora, hegemony, itinerancy, postcoloniality, and the postmodern; and what effect it has had on reading, writing, and teaching.

This passage from the call for papers encourages a rethinking of the traditional nation-centered (British and American) focus of English literary studies by means of an emphasis on literary texts' "transnational and cross-cultural" relations. It suggests that this process requires literary approaches that engage with postmodern and postcolonial critical concepts and recognize the long history of globalization.

Indeed, Giles Gunn's introduction to the special issue, Paul Jay's "Beyond Discipline? Globalization and the Future of English," and Stephen Greenblatt's "Racial Memories and Literary History" (which are the first three essays of the special issue) focus on this kind of approach in their critiques of English literary study's nation-centered, canonical model. All three essays make a point of showing that the notion of unified and unifying "national literature" has always — and not just recently — been complicated by processes of transnational and transcultural fluidity and hybridization. Tracing back the history of English literature, Greenblatt, for instance, notes that "English literature was always an unsteady amalgam of Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, and other voices of the vanquished, along with voices of the dominant English regions" (52). His analysis concurs with Jay's that what is needed to "effectively reorganize our approach to the study of what we have heretofore treated as national literatures (in our curricula and programs)" (Jay 33), is a globalizing reexamination of literary studies that emphasizes "literature's relation to the historical processes of globalization" (33). Gunn notes that "without fully understanding all the implications of the changing subject matter [i.e. English literature's trans- or post-national character] or being in a position to implement all its requirements, departments of English ... have ... redefined their responsibilities as all the literatures written in English" (18). With the call for papers, the editorial board of the PMLA instigated an investigation whose object it was "to determine as carefully as possible how far such developments have gone and what to make of them" (18).

Baucom's "Globalit, Inc.; or, the Cultural Logic of Global Literary Studies" is the only essay in the PMLA issue that challenges this claim (which has been gaining currency in North American literary studies[4]) that "something called global literary study has altered [or is altering] contemporary literary study" (167). Baucom asks the crucial question of why such a claim is being made now. What are the specific contexts in which this claim is situated? What goal does it pursue, especially when considering that the post- or trans-national argument made by Gunn, Jay, Greenblatt, and the PMLA call for papers has been widespread in English-department-based postcolonial studies for some time? Edward Said, Simon Gikandi, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Sara Suleri, and many other "postcolonial" literary critics have produced extensive and cross-disciplinary theories of the postcolonial experiences of diaspora, transnationality, cultural hybridity, and so on. Their contributions give evidence that it is not the case, as intimated in the PMLA call for papers, that the project of global literary study is altering existing forms of literary study because it provides the necessary critical tools to address the issues of "national literature" and "globalization." Rather, the project of global literary study signals that English departments in North America are finally starting to pay attention to the global dimensions of English-language literature and its study. So why, then, is this claim made now that a new or different historical approach is needed in order to effectively reformulate the traditional, nation-focused approach to literary study, a reformulation the critical movement of postcolonialism allegedly has been unable to achieve?

According to Baucom, giving an answer to this question means admitting and confronting the neo-imperialist undercurrents in contemporary English literary scholarship. The discourse of global literary study — driven by the anxious question "Can English survive the globalization of literary studies, and if so, what will it look like?" (Jay 32) — attempts to reaffirm the intellectual power and privilege of English scholars in America. It does so in curricular and critical terms by incorporating challenges from the subdisciplines of postcolonial and cultural studies, and in institutional terms by struggling against and adapting to increasing market pressures on university systems (i.e. the trend to only fund research that pays in the marketplace of symbolic and material commodities). Baucom notes with reference to the first sentence of the PMLA call for papers (see quotation above) that the global character of English literature and its study, "construed as a broadened network of intertextual, transnational, and cross-cultural relations" (168), is not a realized fact but a means to the successful establishment of the Modern Language Association of America as the central place of world intellectual encounter (169). He sees happening what Jay warns against in his essay: a process in which the globalizing scope of English literary analysis is accompanied by the export of Western critical practices and the subordination of non-Western texts and ideas to dominant Eurocentric formulas. This perpetuation of "the disequilibria of the world trade in ideas" (169) parallels the continued concentration of military, economic, and political power in the West. Seen from the historical perspective purported by Baucom, the PMLA version of global literary study is an attempt to sustain the current hegemony of English literary studies, whose colonial origins and developments have been analyzed by critics such as Simon Gikandi (Maps of Englishness), Gauri Viswanathan (Masks of Conquest), and Margery Fee ("Canadian Literature and English Studies in the Canadian University").[5]

As Hassan shows in "World Literature in the Age of Globalization: Reflections on an Anthology," attempts to incorporate postcolonial and postnational claims into existing AngloAmerican hegemony are not limited to the discipline of English. There is a similar trend of "global comparative literature." Hassan gives the example of The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, which he characterizes as a Eurocentric, masterpieces-centered textbook for Comparative Literature that does not take into account Goethe's inclusive, politically and socially informed understanding of Weltliteratur. The anthology ignores that "our contemporary notion of the globalization of literary studies is affiliated with the globalization of capital, or late capitalism in the post-Cold War era" (Hassan 39). It is "a library of Western literature" (41) to which non-Western "masterpieces" like those of R. K. Narayan, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Naguib Mahfouz, and so on are added (40-41). This selective inclusion of non-Western texts in dominant Western critical and canonical categories dresses the habitual configurations of power in slightly new guises.[6] Hassan concludes that "[h]ere, finally, is globalization at work: no fundamental structural changes reflecting a new vision of global reality, but simply ‘expansion' (the term unambiguously implying territorial ‘colonization' or ‘annexation') by adding more and more foreign ‘masterpieces' to a consolidated Western canon" (42).

While Hassan and Baucom expose the dangers of employing globalization as a neo-imperialist category for literary study, they do not dismiss the notion of global literary study altogether. Hassan insists that such a conception can, indeed, be useful, if it proceeds from a non-Eurocentric, non-expansionist understanding of globalization that opens the current structural and conceptual hegemonies of literary studies to change. According to Baucom, the challenge of "the global" in global literary study "is that of rethinking the form of the globe ... as something closer to a route work" — of what Stuart Hall refers to as "the world's infinite ‘routes to modernity'" (170) -than a "Wallersteinian world system" (170). His evocation of the notion of a world of "multiple modernities" is an important one, variously made by postcolonial critics such as Paul Gilroy (e.g. his metaphor of the "black Atlantic"), C.L.R. James (e.g. his idea of Caribbean federation), Néstor García Canclini (e.g. his model of Latin American modernity), and Simon During (in his discussion of the recent Maori renaissance in New Zealand). The notion of "multiple modernities" intimates that an engagement in postcolonial critical theory is crucial to the project of "global literary analysis." In the introduction to the special issue "Anglophone Literatures and Global Culture" of the South Atlantic Quarterly, O'Brien and Szeman concur that postcolonial critical discourse provides important tools through which to address the relationship between globalization, literature, and literary study. They argue that a global literary or cultural study — which exposes the conceptual (nation-based and Western-centered) limits of literary analysis and opens new perspectives on the challenges literary scholars currently face — needs to explore "its points of affiliation and disagreement with postcolonial studies before it can do its work" (606). Postcolonial critical discourse has, in crucial ways, "foregrounded the links between cultural forms and geopolitics...[and] considered the modalities of race, nation, gender, and ethnicity, in relationship to the global activity of hegemonic cultural, political and economic forces" (606). It has generated one of the most complex and sophisticated critiques of the concept of national literature(s) and "‘the continuing economic, political, and linguistic power of Europe and North America over the Third World'" (606).

As previously noted, the PMLA call for papers encourages the translation of certain "global" themes of postcolonial criticism — the diasporic, transnational, cosmopolitan, hybrid — into concepts of global literary study. These "global" themes are recontextualized in Gunn and Jay's PMLA contributions in a way that does not respond to the problems and limitations they have met in postcolonial studies, especially as they have developed in the West. Gunn and Jay, in particular, fail to grapple with a key critique that has been directed at contemporary postcolonial theory from within and outside the field: its overstated focus on postmodernist paradigms and strategies of fragmentation and hybridity. This focus has underplayed capitalism's structuring of the modern world in which postcolonial study (and for that matter global literary study) takes place. Critics as diverse as Seshadri-Crooks, Gikandi, Appiah, Hardt and Negri, E. San Juan Jr., Arif Dirlik, Ella Shohat, and Anne McClintock have censured first world postcolonial studies for obfuscating its containment within and complicities with the global circulation of capital power and modernist ideology. They have argued that postcolonial theory's tendency to revise the Eurocentric comprehension of the world by means of a radical postfoundationalism has missed the fact that, as Fredric Jameson puts it, postmodernism is the logic of late capitalism. Jameson notes in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism that "the apparent celebration of Difference [by postmodernist theory] in reality conceals and presupposes a new and more fundamental identity" (357). In other words, postmodernism's emancipation from modernity's metanarratives and consequent valorization of differences feeds into the decentered and deterritorialized logic of late capitalism with the paradoxical result of consolidating the latter on a global scale. According to Dirlik, first world postcolonialism has subsequently become the logic of late capitalism moved to a third world scale (see his "The Postcolonial Aura").

Lawrence Grossberg agrees with Jameson in "Speculations and Articulations of Globalization" that the postmodernist faith in difference and hybridity as forms of agency and emancipation may appear ironic precisely because it plays into the power field of neoliberal globalization, whose decentered structures and logics of power deconstruct the very notions of the modern subject and the modern nation-state challenged in postmodern(-postcolonial) critiques (28). So do Hardt and Negri who argue that the now "dominating powers ... have mutated in such a way as to depotentialize any ... postmodernist challenge ... [They] rule through differential hierarchies of the hybrid and fragmentary subjectivities that [postmodern and postcolonial] theorists celebrate" (138). However, unlike Jameson, both Grossberg and Hardt and Negri do not equate the current power dynamics of global capital with U.S. neo-imperialism. Where the former asserts that "this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world" (Postmodernism 5), Grossberg propounds a notion of neoliberal globalization as a decentered formation of power, and Hardt and Negri constitute "Empire" as the new global political order. These critics intimate that, while having its roots in the European projects of imperialism and colonialism, globalization at present is "different in kind from earlier forms of imperialist power, especially insofar as it has become at one and the same time centered in the United States [as the only ‘superpower’] and supra- or trans-national, dispersed into fully deterritorialized logics and circuits of power" (Szeman "Globalization" 214).

Taking this perspective on globalization, O'Brien and Szeman note that a key problem with first world postcolonial studies is "its commitment to a worldview that understands globalization as ... little more than a form of intensified neo-imperialism headquartered in the United States...; something new, but not different in kind from earlier moments of global capitalist expansion and exploitation" (607). This perspective distracts from the vital differences between present and prior capitalist developments and imperialisms, and reinscribes the present moment "as a centre/periphery dynamic that produces resistant margins and hegemonic cores" (607). In their contribution to this special issue of Postcolonial Text, Sandro Mezzadra and Federico Rahola suggest that "a far more politically productive image of contemporary conflicts is one that, while throwing into proper relief the absolute persistence of ‘vertical' threads of domination and of exploitation, underlines the ambivalent role played by the failure of a set of real, historically enacted projects of liberation from those very forms of domination and exploitation." They posit their image against a logic of absolute continuity, which both "dispenses with anti-colonial struggles as a mere inconvenience ... along the linear and uninterrupted threat of the history of domination and exploitation ... [and] eliminates from history all ‘direct responsibility' that is not identified with the colonial West and, so too, any revolutionary act that does not belong to the West." As Mezzadra and Rahola emphasize, claims that contemporary globalization amounts to little more than U.S. neo-imperialism have in substantial ways distracted from non-Western conditions and parties involved (however ambivalently) in the current neoliberal restructuring of the forces of domination, and thus also from potential sites of resistance and alternative. They have run the risk of restricting power (the power to decide, to make history) and thus agency to the leading economic, political, and cultural vectors of power.

In Empire, Hardt and Negri come to the conclusion that while postcolonial theory is "a very productive tool for rereading history ... it is entirely insufficient for theorizing contemporary global power" (146) and thus "may end up in a dead end" (137). They see postmodernism and postcolonialism's importance in their function as symptoms or effects of a passage from one form of sovereignty to another. Dirlik takes a similar position in "Globalization as the End and the Beginning of History: The Contradictory Implications of a New Paradigm." He argues that "[p]ostmodernism and postcolonialism, both residual concepts that derive their meaning from their relationship to the past, do not present themselves as viable candidates for a new paradigm that might enable us to grasp the present in its novelty ... they make quite good sense as concepts of a transitional period" (35). Other critics (among them Mezzadra and Rahola) have intimated a more optimistic future for the field, a future that builds on postcolonial studies tackling the political, social, and economic realities and conditions of the "cultural." O'Brien and Szeman, Crystal Bartolovich, Timothy Brennan, Neil Lazarus, Helen Scott, and Nagesh Rao (see Scott and Rao's contributions to this issue), amongst others, have argued that the field of postcolonial studies in the West needs to overcome its radical rejection of the "general," that is, of (interpretative) totalities. It needs to recognize that at the given historical moment, the interrogation of global continuities and similarities is a crucial step in the process of spelling out the "particulars" of the contemporary condition of postcoloniality and activating alternative (non-Western-centric and non-totalizing) narratives of globalization. As Szeman emphasizes in the first chapter of Zones of Instability: Literature, Postcolonialism, and the Nation, it is in considering the similarities and differences between theories of totality and those that focus on the (post)colonial subject "that a much needed rapprochement [between the two] can begin to be developed" (64).[7] The challenge is that of thinking together difference and sameness, totality and subjectivity/identity, the global and the local, continuity and disjuncture without eradicating the uneven, conflictual, and changeable nature of these conjunctures. I would argue that any approach toward a global literary study needs to confront these conjunctures, as well as its own situatedness in the logic of global capitalism.

While the PMLA call for papers emphasizes the "realization...that the object of knowledge in literary studies is situated within a vastly broadened network of [global] relations," there is no mention of a "realization" that globalization is not only an object of knowledge for literary studies but also an important context within which the latter articulates itself as an intellectual formation. In other words, the PMLA approach to "global literary study" omits the crucial question of how contemporary literary study as intellectual, academic activity in the U.S./North America is influenced by and influencing neoliberal practice and thinking. It passes over Said's important question of whether the profiling of U.S. power in the world "has any bearing, directly or indirectly, on the nature and results of what we have been asked to discuss here [at the MLA forum], the globalization of literary study" ("Globalizing Literary Study" 67). And why is it that English literary studies in the U.S. and beyond have so far failed to offer resistance to the oppressions and injustices of global capitalism (67)? Evidently, to answer these questions, intertextual and interdisciplinary analyses of those past and present literatures that have as their subject phenomena grouped under the term globalization (or postcoloniality, for that matter) do not suffice. The study of literature needs to explicitly address questions of economics and politics, of knowledge, power, and ethics — an approach I term "materialist literary criticism."

Clearly, materialist literary criticism rejects postmodern and postcolonial apotheoses of cultural difference, hybridity, and placeless spatiality, which have mystified the totalizations of capital, the persistence of modernist ideology and existing power structures, and the very real nexuses of culture and place. The Western project of globalization has in many instances profited from the postmodern discourse of cultural difference, which often boils down to the assertion of many cultures, but only one project — the Western project. In this scenario, difference is normalized, idealized, and reified and community is imagined as an idealized form of cultural pluralism that ignores the very real asymmetries in access to and participation in places of power. This, then, leads to one answer (albeit not the only one) to Said's challenge of contemporary English literary studies. Said himself has variously censured postmodernist critical discourse for its affirmation of existing power structures with its decontextualized "fetishization and relentless celebration of ‘difference' and ‘otherness'" ("Politics of Knowledge" 183). This participation in the, as Grossberg puts it, "discursive machine of domination" (44) constructs political struggles "as always being about and around identities and differences" (44), thus ignoring that political agency is also and crucially about scrutinizing one's own as well as other social actors' (e.g. universities, university departments, writers, publishers and other cultural producers) location within, and implication with, the formations and vectors of neoliberal globalization.

Making this issue of situatedness and agency a key object and context of study, materialist literary criticism is an intellectual practice concerned with exploring the relations between literature and what is not obviously literary - including processes of production and marketing, national issues, cultural policies, contexts of consumption, and so on. For instance, a materialist literary study of Rohinton Mistry's appearance on The Oprah Book Club with A Fine Balance, a project on which I am currently working, complicates the depoliticized-postmodernist and solely text-focused interpretations of globalization that have so far dominated criticisms of Mistry's writing.[8] One of the top media tycoons and highest-paid entertainers in the world, Oprah Winfrey embodies a widely-admired neo-liberal version of Adam Smith's classical liberal assumption that the social and cultural are best determined by market forces. Built upon self-determination, economic success, and private welfare, Winfrey's public persona marries capital and culture in a profitably philanthropic way that intimates the common good of Oprah products and the larger corporate structure of Oprah-labeled media communication, as well as of contemporary neoliberal capitalism at large. This positive picture of neoliberal globalization contrasts sharply with the one Mistry conveys throughout his postcolonial novel A Fine Balance[9] and it remains to be analyzed how these two versions intersect and compete with each other.

Significant also is Mistry's reaction to Winfrey picking his novel: he made his appearance on the show and agreed to having the Oprah label on his novel with the comment "‘I'm used to having stickers on my book'" (Stoffman). Besides the private Oprah label, A Fine Balance has carried the labels of the L.A. Times Award and of the "serious" Giller Prize and Commonwealth Writers Prize. I do not think that, with this comment, Mistry intended to downplay the fact that the "Oprah Award" made a difference of degree in terms of economic benefit, celebrity, and media attention for both him and his publisher McClelland & Stewart. Rather, his reaction exposes the artificiality of the elitist claim (underlying traditional literary studies) that the value of "serious" literature remains immaterial despite the fact that the piece of work itself is produced and disseminated through profoundly material, capitalist processes. The "story" of A Fine Balance gives evidence that a literary work can be a both critical and commercial success, that artistic merit and commodification are not mutually exclusive. Like Toni Morrison and Bernhard Schlink before him, Mistry entered the Oprah mass-marketing machine of daytime talk-show television with the reputation of a "serious" writer. Like theirs, his appearance on Oprah contravened the social and cultural parameters within which the binaries of "high" ("serious," canonical) and commercial literature or restricted and mass production are grounded. Russell Smith's condescending dismissal, in the Globe and Mail, of Oprah's book discussions as self-help and show buzz is not uncommon among "serious" literary critics and writers anxious to recuperate the myth of "serious" literary production as a restricted, exclusive practice and "serious" literature as truly accessible only to the literary expert and cultured reading public. Reassurances such as Smith's exhibit the enormous success Winfrey's Book Club has had at exposing and challenging the arbitrariness and self-interest that underpin elitist distinctions of "serious" and commercial literature, book and television audiences, the non-manipulative written word and manipulative popular culture.

I agree with Szeman that the aim of materialist literary criticism is "not to discover the meaning, significance, or logic of a literary ... text elsewhere" ("A Manifesto for Materialism" 2), by discarding all literary approaches and rigorously applying the methods of other disciplines such as sociology or economics to the literary text. Rather, its aim is "to effect a fundamental reorientation of our approach to texts" (2), one which "attends to the ways in which institutions, concepts, and historical formations that are nonliterary ... nevertheless structure literary ... criticism just as much as they structure the production of the typical objects of critical analysis (novels, poems, etc.)" (2). This excludes neither the study of the interiority of literary texts (traditional textual analysis) nor the study of "literature's relation to the processes of globalization as they manifest themselves in a variety of historical periods" (Jay 35). Materialist literary criticism does not aim at reducing "literature" to its material aspects, at denying its symbolic, experiential, and historical dimensions and ideological representations. Rather, its objective is to effect a radically different view of (critical and literary) texts in relation to their social, cultural, and economic functions. As the critique of traditional literary scholarship carried out in the earlier sections of this paper and the Mistry/Oprah example show, this implies that an understanding of the relations between literature and globalization must involve "the context of contemporary social, political and cultural conditions and preoccupations" (O'Brien and Szeman 604, emphasis added). It must include raising questions "about processes and practices of literary theory and criticism that frame discussions of the literary" (604). Indeed, this is the form of materialist literary study of globalization at work not only in this paper but in the scholarship of many of the critics discussed here, such as Baucom, Hassan, Szeman and O'Brien, Gikandi, Shohat, Jameson, and Said. Said's concepts of "secular criticism" and "worldliness" have become notable for drawing attention to scholarship's political dimensions and partisan ends, to its situatedness in specific cultural, economic, political, and historical contexts. They connote a process of "restoration to such works and interpretations of their place in the global setting ... to read a text in its fullest and most integrative context" (Said, "Politics of Knowledge" 185-86). According to Said, all texts, no matter if literary or critical, are worldly, "a part of the social world, human life, and of course the historical moments in which they are located" (Representations 4).

This points to an issue that is key to the study of the literary conditions under neoliberal globalization: namely that, as O'Brien and Szeman proclaim, "all literature is now global, all literature is a literature of globalization" (611). In other words, the current contexts of globalization have a pervasive influence on literature and culture at large, not just on an exclusive subset thereof. Hence, we need to do more than open our study and the literary canon(s) to more texts. As argued above, we need to take a radically different view of (critical and literary) texts in relation to their social and cultural functions. It does not make sense to merely search for texts that "explicitly thematize processes of globalization — anymore than it does to search for particularly explicit examples of postcolonial literature" (610), which are then added to the canons and curricula of traditional literary study. If, as Jay claims, the key challenge of global literary study is "how to shift the center of English away from its traditional British and American focus without colonizing the variety of literatures and cultures now contributing to the transnational explosion of English" (40), then its primary concern cannot be what it seems to be for Jay and the PMLA call for papers — the survival of an "enriched-globalized" English literary study that keeps existing power structures, canons, and curricula intact. Rather, the critical practice of global literary study needs to tackle these very imperialist undercurrents and anxieties about English literary study's survival. It needs to address the relationship between literature and globalization within the larger context of contemporary power relations between nation-states, institutions, corporations, global markets, international trade and policy instruments (e.g. the World Bank, WTO, IMF, TRIPS, GATS), and so on. It is in this sense that materialist literary criticism points toward an effectual and dynamic encounter between the literary study of globalization and postcolonial studies.



For a full version of the call for papers see


Imre Szeman notes in "Globalization" that what has given this discourse of globalization much of its rhetorical power "is its function as a periodizing term, that is, as the name for the ‘natural' economic and political order existing at the ‘end of history'" (211). Theorists as diverse as Immanuel Wallerstein, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall McLuhan, and Milton Friedman have portrayed today's world as a "single place" of unbounded capitalism, built on Western or rather American economic, cultural, and technological dominance. Perpetuating the notion that there is only one single and universally-applicable model of capitalism — the Western model — they have in significant ways enforced the grand narrative of universal modernity.


Here is the missing part: "what new subjects, issues, and problems these perspectives have brought into discussion in these various periods; how these perspectives have been assisted or thwarted by specific critical methodologies; what impact the perspectives have had on inherited notions of the aesthetic, the historical, and the cultural in literary studies, as well as on relations between literature and other media, including the Internet; how this globalization has been conceptualized and critiqued."


E.g. In the fall of 2001, Comparative Literature published the special issue "Globalization and the Humanities." David Leiwei Li describes the issue as "a continuing endeavor to chart humanistic inquiries in the ever-changing conflicts and consolidations of a planetary culture" that follows and adds to the critical work of the PLMA issue (276). Also, in the spring of 2002, Modern Fiction Studies issued a special edition, entitled "Postmodernism and the Globalization of English." There are many other critics who have tackled the issue of English literary studies and globalization, such as J. Miller Hillis, Ali Tariq, Franco Moretti, Peter Hitchcock, Cooppan Vilashini, Vinay Dharwadker, and Michael Valdez Moses.


For instance, the historical perspective these texts provide find mention (not serious engagement) in Jay's essay as evidence for the "transnational character of English in the past" (46), for English literature's fundamentally transnational nature.


Kristin Ross makes a similar criticism in her examination of the World Literature and Cultural Studies program at the University of California, Santa Cruz: "When we speak about breaking out of a Western bourgeois model in our teaching, we cannot speak merely of adding on or integrating cultures...into a better, more representative totality, a fuller globe. For we will then merely reproduce what is essentially a Western bourgeois sociology of culture: Western civilization as a world civilization" (670).


Szeman describes his argument as "an implicit argument on behalf of totality ... the totality constructed by an antitranscendental and antiteleological ‘insurgent science' that ‘is open, as open as the world of possibility, the world of potential'" (Zones of Instability 63).


E.g. Nilufer Bharucha has characterized Mistry's writing as "diasporic discourse" and M. L. Pandit as "fiction across worlds," purveying an understanding of globalization that is embodied exclusively in the fictional text's postcolonial-postmodern subject matter.


Set in Bombay during the Emergency in 1975, A Fine Balance confronts us with the human misery of urbanization; sweat labor and unemployment; political and economic comprador elites being corrupt and complicit with the World Bank and IMF; the power of foreign corporations; Brahmins selling hair to export companies, which again sell it to Western consumer markets which "can afford to fear ... baldness" (207-08); Mahatma Gandhi and Jay Prakash Narayan reduced to myths of a great past; and Indian students caught up in the Western-centric metanarratives of "democratization, ... collectivization, nationalism, capitalism, materialism, feudalism, imperialism, ... socialism, fascism, relationism, determinism, proletarianism — ism, ism ism, ism" (296).

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