Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation

Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Author Columbia University Press $75 (248p) ISBN 978-0-231-13750-8
English professor and anthology editor Walkowitz argues in this muscular literary criticism that novelists Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro and W. G. Sebold shared a telling skepticism ""about political commitments defined by national culture, and about efforts to specify and fix national characteristics."" Expressed not only in the content of their work, the writers argued through their stylistic techniques, including wandering consciousness, paratactic syntax, recursive plotting collage and portmanteau language. Using close reading, Walkowitz considers each novelist on his own terms and the terms of culture at large; for example, Conrad's nominal devotion to ""naturalness"" hides more complex and decidedly unnatural forces competing in his work, including a number of narrative tricks that reveal ""practices of social perception,"" identifying both characters' and readers' perhaps unconscious reduction of individuals to cultural types. Woolf's work ""suggests that political engagement in an international context requires,"" somewhat paradoxically, ""the willingness to embrace uncommitted styles of attention,"" including evasion and anti-heroism, in order to resist ""the politics of imperialism."" In part two, Walkowitz explores ""treason"" in the work of Ishiguro and Rushdie-which suggest that steadfast allegiances are neither possible nor desirable-as a tactic of immigrant writing and antifascist descent. Unapologetically academic, this is a dense and detailed argument that will appeal to serious scholars of modernist thought and the authors that have shaped it.
Reviewed on: 03/27/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 248 pages - 978-0-231-51053-0
Paperback - 231 pages - 978-0-231-13751-5
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