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The Scale of Global Modernisms: Imperial, National, Regional, Local

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


One of the Principal Challenges Facing the Study of Global Modernisms, as of Any Transnational Cultural Phenomenon, is the question of scale. In declaring the contemporary world to be “one, and unequal,” several recent theorizations of world literature rest on the foundational assumption of a unified—albeit uneven—planetary scale (Moretti, “Conjectures” 56; see also Casanova 62-74; WREC 6-12). As such they model the dynamic of literary circulation across world regions according to the geographic distances, as well as the disproportionate access to socioeconomic and cultural resources, that separate and distinguish the world's centers from their peripheries. These distances, and the inequalities they generate, are perceived as the necessary by-products of two spatial logics, that of the expanding world market and that of the modern Westphalian system of sovereign and competing nation-states. To posit the modern world as a singular system has the undoubted merit of acknowledging the structural connectedness of its operative inequalities, arising from the territorial partition of the globe by the imperial powers during the final decades of the nineteenth century and from its simultaneous unification in the wake of accelerating trade and new infrastructures of transport and communication. Nevertheless, the premise of a singular modernity (Jameson 142) has been repeatedly challenged (Chakrabarty 6-16; Mitchell; Scott 113-15; Orsini). It has been faulted for its developmentalist logic, involving an implied or explicit adherence to the related assumptions of linear or stadial historicism and spatial diffusionism, which together reduce the negotiated impact of modernity on the world's far-flung regions to a process of top-down modernization originating in and imposed by the West. The force of this critique is blunted once the world system (Wallerstein; Hopkins et al.) is grasped as a profoundly uneven totality, allowing us to view the multiply differentiated space-times that coexist in the global present as produced by the imbalances constituting the world system as such (in literary scholarship, see Anderson, “Modernity”; Moretti, Modern Epic 50-52; Wollaeger 13-14; Lazarus 232-41, WREC 1-95; for corresponding debates in historiography and the social sciences, see Harootunian 62-63; Cooper 113-49; Chibber).

talks from the convention
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2016

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