From every quarter we hear of a new global culture, postcolonial, hybrid, announcing the death of nationalism, the arrival of cosmopolitanism. But under the drumbeat attending this trend, Timothy Brennan detects another, altogether different sound. Polemical, passionate, certain to provoke, his book exposes the drama being played out under the guise of globalism. A bracing critique of the critical self-indulgence that calls itself cosmopolitanism, it also takes note of the many countervailing forces acting against globalism in its facile, homogenizing sense.
The developments Brennan traces occur in many places--editorial pages, policy journals, corporate training manuals, and, primarily, in the arts. His subject takes him from George Orwell to Julia Kristeva, from Subcommandante Marcos to Julio Cortázar, from Ernst Bloch to contemporary apologists for transnational capitalism and "liberation management," from "third world" writing to the Nobel Prize, with little of critical theory or cultural studies left untouched in between. Brennan gives extended treatment to two exemplary figures: the Trinidadian writer C. L. R. James, whose work suggests an alternative approach to cultural studies; and the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, whose appreciation of Cuban popular music cuts through the usual distinctions between mass and elite culture.
A critical call to arms, At Home in the World summons intellectuals and scholars to reinvigorate critical cultural studies. In stripping the false and heedless from the new cosmopolitanism, Brennan revitalizes the idea.
Timothy Brennan first contributed to [the] controversies [surrounding cosmopolitanism] in his trenchant study, Salman Rushdie and the Third World. What interested him at the time was how such writers as Derek Walcott became fashionable by virtue of a ‘cosmopolitanism’ which made them ambiguous witnesses… Brennan’s formidable new book, At Home in the World, elaborates this diagnosis, extending the account of ‘cosmopolitanism’ to include the internationally informed academics, journalists, and policy advisors who are (in his view) stifling the message of liberation movements and clearing the way for a globalism, which is American capitalism writ large. The idea that Disney and McDonald’s are taking over the world is not exactly novel, but Brennan gives a nuanced account of globalization and he has fresh, provocative things to say about the role of intellectuals in the New World Order. Most of those engaged in postcolonial criticism would consider themselves radical, but Brennan contends that they advance the interests of Western pluralism when they celebrate ‘hybridity’ or ‘problematize’ situations which are exploitive.
This wide-ranging book unearths and challenges the spectral tenets of cosmopolitanism as articulated through the thesis of globalisation. In a highly entertaining and thorough dissection of the ‘new’ cosmopolitanism, Brennan argues that it is indeed not new, but founded on existing Western-oriented values, beliefs and structures. Brennan traces this movement across a varied but totalled terrain to note a theory of cosmopolitanism expressed within academia, the media and political and economic discourses and institutions. Through this analysis, Brennan uncovers an uncritical celebration of postmodernity and perceptions of differentiation, for example, cultural syncretism and cultural specificity, that fail to note the discourses of Western hegemony informing and sustaining these discussions.
In this brilliant, erudite, and difficult book, Tim Brennan takes critical aim at postcolonial studies and what might be called ‘transnational cultural studies’ …At Home in the World is not merely a critical study. Ranging across national literatures, cultures and languages—and authoritatively sampling material from such fields as business studies, sociology, communication studies, political economy, ethnomusicology, and philosophical aesthetics in addition to the arts—it does more than protest the insufficiency and political undesirability of the form of cosmopolitanism typically found in postcolonial and cultural studies. It also offers a powerful, reasoned defense of that alternative (internationalist) conception of cosmopolitanism implicit in the practice of socialist politico-intellectuals like Carpentier and James, Walter Rodney and George Lamming… At Home in the World is, I think, certain to change the prevailing thrust of postcolonial studies, forcing the field’s established practitioners to reconsider their critical priorities and giving enormous support and encouragement to those interested in returning questions of collective struggle and solidaristic intellectual practice to centre stage. It represents a truly formidable achievement.
One of the best things about this very good book is its genuinely interdisciplinary—or better, trans- or non-disciplinary—approach and perspectives. It is exhilarating and, in the best sense, thought-provoking to see discussed, linked, contrasted, et cetera, so many objects of scrutiny drawn from so many different areas… And all this from a position that lacks nothing in theoretical sophistication and self-awareness. Brennan’s unique combinatoire of diverse perspectives forms what might be called a new, original disciplinary constellation, as Benjamin has taught us to see such structures of thought… I wish I had more space in which to tout the virtues of At Home in the World… More than any theorist or critic I have read in a long time, Brennan offers a penetrating scrutiny and profound critique of academic and intellectual practice in our day and shows why taking part in it is worth the effort.
Timothy Brennan’s At Home in the World announces a new, and extremely suggestive style of cultural and literary criticism. A superbly literate and catholic reader, Brennan is also politically and historically attuned to the enormous changes in global culture that have left behind traditional labels or categories like nationalism, literary style, and culture itself; he reveals how the transformation of the global economy, the dependency of new nations, the hybridity of national culture has given rise to a new form of cosmopolitanism that necessitates plastic, dynamic interpretations of such things as the publishing industry, local traditions and markets as they interact with media conglomerates, critical theory, and the literary career. What emerges is a highly original, totally fresh approach to how we must now study culture on a world scale, without losing touch either with the concrete circumstances of literature, or with the complex theoretical awareness that Brennan himself so brilliantly exemplifies. At Home in the World strikes me as an absolutely essential book in its wonderful range, its jargon-free investigations, and its liberated, yet disciplined, idiom of analysis. A major achievement.
- 369 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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