Cosmopolitanism and the Cosmopolitical
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Before the scientific
awareness of space as we
know it, "cosmos" was closest to what we would call the "globe." Cosmos is neither "world," nor the idea of many cultures coming together. To use "cosmopolitanism" as a multidisci-plinary project of forging identities that are not focused on ethnic identities is excellent. I think, however that we should also attempt to look at the second part of the word "cosmopo-litanism." Not as if it comes from the word "cosmopolis" but as if it comes from "cosmopolitheia."
Politheia-Constitutions—is a book by Plato. The title was mistranslated as Republic during the Renaissance and no one corrected it. The iconic book is still Plato's Republic. Yet the res publica comes in with the Romans. Plato's book is about constitutions. It is well known that in it there is no particular favor shown for what we call democracy.
As you suggest, most people today go back to Immanuel Kant when they wish to entertain new ideas of cosmopolitheia. I am also with you when you say that that Kant's thinking of cosmopolitheia was connected to the rise of monopoly capitalist colonialism. As a result of the colonization brought about by the demands of the expansion of industrial capitalism, Kant's generation of European intelelctuals felt, as we do as a result of the network society attendant upon capitalist globalization, that they had access to a world. Goethe talks about Weltliteratur—world literature. Kant trumps Plato, who only knew the city-state because his contemporary Europeans had the world. From Politheia we advance to Cosmopolitheia, from mere constitutionality to world governance.
As you also suggest, Kant's idea of cosmopolitheia could really not go beyond the nation state having its own colonial states. But we cannot rebut this through mere regionalism: let us show the Europeans that there were lived cosmopolitanisms in Asia and theorize them. That gesture legitimizes Euro-teleology by reversal. There is all this European stuff that everybody reads; we will do our region. People will patronize you and not take you seriously when you are not there.
I was invited to Nepal in December 2011 because in South Asian studies India is the 8001b gorilla in the room. My hosts were not interested in Nepal Studies; there is already important Nepal Studies in existence. And they were not interested in South Asian studies "from a Nepalese perspective." Then they uttered the sentence that I just used: "people will patronize us or, when we are not there, they will forget us." They proposed different kinds of regionalisms and now I am collaborating with them. They proposed Himalayan studies, they proposed studies that would give to the economic associations such as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, etc - some kind of cultural thickness, politico-cultural, linguistic thickness, multidisciplinary thickness. This is the beginning of a good thinking of regionalism.
I want to go beyond this today. In addition to thickening mere economic regionalisms, what I want to suggest here is, we must also correct the tradition of the Enlightenment, even as we recognize its power. We must not just propose an alternative, endlessly pointing out that there were people living cosmopolitanism in Asia and we will theorize it. That still brings with it the idea of "we live it, they think it," now we too think it. What happens to Africa? Latin America? There's nothing. Is this cosmopolitanism in today's globality? No.
This is why I would like us to think about the second bit: politeia—world governance. We are complicit with a certain kind of world governance, yet, thinking littoral cosmopolitanisms, we fall back upon the discourse of the postcolonial conjuncture reterritorialized for the metropolitan migrant: "hybridity," "hybridization," "syncretism." Then comes the idea of the cosmopolitan citizen. Have we thought through the social contracts presupposed by a citizenship on the cosmopolitan register? Have we thought of the cataclysmic systemic changes needed for such a claim to be politico-structurally feasible? Or is this a psychological fantasy? I began, then, to ask: what is at stake in claiming cosmopolitanisms? This is the question today, here, now. And this is where I come to when I think about cosmopolitanism, even as I am mindful of your distinction between civic and ethnic cosmopolitanisms. The larger political question, of citizenship within a world government, will not go away.
If our stakes are no more than a Euro-critical regional identitarianism, I must speak as a member of a sometimes violent majority, and think about the depradations of politically mobilized identitarianism; this is one of the most threatening things in the world. From these angles, then, I ask: what is at stake, even oppositionally—is it in opposition to Kant or to contemporary politics that we are saying—we are claiming—lived cosmopolitanisms? Cosmopolitanism is never nationalist. It cannot be just about a cosmopolitan Malaysia, in the past and the future. Cosmopolitheia is a way of world governance. Our responsibility is to think this one through.
To take notice of this view, that the cosmopolitical is a concern about a constitution for the world, world government, is also to ask what is at stake at this time, in this place, in claiming cosmopolitanism; not one, but many; not theoretical or practical, but descriptive; occluded under the value-laden word "lived" by the custodians of ideology, the humanities.
I approach this by way of Gramsci's "organic intellectual." This phrase is not automatically positive. Most people who cite this phrase think that that means you're a good person, you're a good intellectual. Not in Gramsci. The adjective means "determined by an organization," meaning the organization of a specific mode of production or value. We think the word "organic" —especially those of us in Brit lit—through Coleridge and the human as organism1.For Gramsci it is the organization of political economy determining how you are going to think the world. It is an epistemico-epistemological kind of charge, that the mode of production within which you live makes you organic to it.
Like all of Gramsci's work after imprisonment, the idea of the organic intellectual is in notes. Gramsci's prison notebooks or journals are an open text, it asks you to do something with it. Gramsci died too soon to write the book he planned for in jail.
The stakes of claiming "lived cosmopolitanisms" relate to the de facto existence of a capital-intensive world governance system. The UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court, andmore important—the international banking system anchored by central banks of various nation states, secretly protected by entities such as the Bank for International Settlements, the International Organization of Securities Commissions, and the World Economic Forum. And supported by non-banking financial institutions such as insurance firms, pawn shops, cashier's check issuers, check cashing locations, currency exchanges, micro-loan organizations and the like, which are free of any national and international regulatory efforts: this is our active cosmopolitheia, world governance. This is what makes the world go round.
And here in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, you are a major player in it. What I speculate is that to remove interest and involvement with these cosmopolitical instruments, the organic intellectual of globalized world governance asks the interesting question, or rather proposes the interesting idea, that we should rediscover worldliness in unlooked—for places historically. If we understand our own role in this way, it is not that we stop doing what we do; we supplement what we do with also an active interest in involving ourselves with education that can ask the question of the performance of such cosmopolitical institutions.
I am not saying cosmopolitan. Again and again, to my tongue comes that other adjective: cosmopolitical. Cosmopolitics is not a question of syncretism. It is a question of the organization of global governance. That is what "cosmos" means. Kant was not there yet. And so we should correct and take forward the Kantian Enlightenment from another perspective altogether. Now that globalization makes North and South fluid, that's where I think our task lies, including the task of people in the humanities.
In the Humanities we must take note that languages do not globalize. Languages must come through to supplement the uniformism that is the condition and effect of globalization. Only capital and data globalize. Everything else is damage control. In the spirit of the damage control of today's world governance - determined askew by the demands of capitalist globalization - we must of course look at the past in your way. But we must also take into account other cosmopolitanisms ignored by official history, for example of the first African pan-Africanisms, before de-colonization.
You have to think about Africa as you think about your own region, because Africa is generally ignored in general arguments. Let me give you a description of something that some of us are at work on. It is very hard to get funded for this because the funding agencies only want to give to Africa clean water and HIV/AIDS relief, and not these kinds of intellectual resources unless it is to South Africa, which, on the university level, remains an imperial enclave—with some organized internal resistance, to be sure—separated from Continental Africa. This particular idea, that we can see historically, in and shared syncretisms, lead to a different description of globalization, and that's what's coming back to work as "culture" because European colonialism was a relatively brief and contained—though intense and transformative—phenomenon. This is an idea that is very hard for funding agencies to understand.
I sometimes think of Socrates who said to the city fathers: you have to kill me, because I will never be able to produce a proposal that's going to please social engineers; you won't like what I have to say. That is the grant proposal situation. He said he was the gadfly on the backside of the huge horse, the hippo megalo that is the state2.
It is in such contexts that it is important to look at these shorelines as the crossroads of the world. That may be what's coming back, not the Euro-teleological nation-state fixed clue to modernity. In globalization, everything is modern. It's very hard to get your head around that one. We shouldn't propose counter-modernities or counter-cosmopolitanisms; we should look at how much our "modern" is the conflictual co-existence at the crossroads, even as the North in the South in Malaysia is hopelessly compromised in managing capitalist globalization.
So, here is our collective work in progress : "most accounts of globali-zation see it as having emerged from imperial and colonial era forms of internationalism, expressing a binary and teleological historical narrative in which local cultures and societies are overwhelmed and incorporated into a Europe-centred world order. Hence, we have numerous studies of the transformations drawn by French, British, Portuguese and German colonialism in Africa or Asia. Our project takes an entirely different approach, showing the ways in which our contemporary globalized world was not just produced by Europeans or simply through bilateral connections between imperial nation states and their colonial positions. Instead of moving from the imperial metropole to the colonies—here it's similar to what you're doing—we begin at the so-called periphery, and in this case it's Chandernagor in India and radiate out immediately to Saint-Louis, Senegal, and gradually include other sites. Incidentally, the Institut at Chandernagor has so far been able to show interest only in the Hexagon, cosmopolitan by default, and not in the anterior "lived cosmopolitanisms" in France's former colonies.
Although we begin with Chandernagor where, northward from Kolkata, along the Hooghly River from Srirampur through to Chinsurah, we have the outposts of six colonial and/or trading adventurers, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, British, French and Chinese, and then consider the Hooghly-China connection from the thirteenth century, we go on to Senegambia because it shows a certain kind of counter-point to this.
Chandernagor remained a French enclave in what became British Bengal. But Saint-Louis, Senegal offers a provocative counterpoint. The Senegal River region played an active role in the configuration and development of the Bilad-al-Sudan, a constitutive region of Muslim Saharo-Sahelian world. The island of Saint-Louis at the mouth of the river and the region surrounding it is very different from Dakar. We're drawn into an emergent Atlantic world from the fifteenth century. Drawing Senegambian, Saharan and Atlantic intellectual, cultural and economic resources and connections of traders, teachers and pilgrims crisscrossing the Sahara and the Sahel, profiting from both the caravan and the caravel, and bound by the Senegal river to the Futa Toro and the upper Senegal Niger, Saint-Louis and its neighbors generated new civilities as they passed between French and English possession3.
This particular idea, that Saint-Louis has never been defined by the Atlantic world it helped to shape, that it just passed in-between centuries-old connections across the Sahara to the Maghreb, and even Iberia, as well as ties to the worldwide community of Muslims, wove and continued to weave it into the texture of a global cosmopolitanism and multiple routes that cannot be reduced to the European empires. The topos of the crossroads is powerful here as well.
These ways of looking at regions in the past, because these are the forces that are coming back in this new epistemological invitation, where the colonial/post-colonial, modernity/tradition binaries will no longer work well because something which was always true under heliocentric time has become empirically available to the consumer. With the silicon chip and global capital it is now possible for a population that can afford to access the Internet on her desk to actually think: that everything is simultaneous, everything is modern. How it is that we are going to change? I want to keep the idea of laterality. I am myself much taken by the Indian Ocean rim, Kirti Chaudhuri's wonderful book Asia Before Europe4. Also now, with the work in Chandernagor, the Bay of Bengal rim. But I must keep in mind that cosmopolitanism is something other than the powerful topos of the crossroads.
Cosmopolitheia requires a borderless world. A borderless world already exists where capital roams free. Our present crisis, occasioned by unregulated capital attempting to turn finance capital over across borders. This capital crosses borders in order to keep borders intact. For if there were no difference between nation-state based currencies, further divided by Global North, the G20—and believe me, finance capital thrives also on the difference between yen, euro, eurodollar and dollar, so it's not just confined to the difference between North and South.
If, on the other hand, there were no difference between nation-state based currencies, further divided by the G20, the Global North, and the Global South, currency speculation such as practiced for example by George Soros would not flourish. These divisions—virtual and electronic —are added to more conventional borders so that capital can travel across borders in a digitally borderless fashion.
So, when, in this cosmopolitheia that holds us, we talk about cosmopolitanisms, we have to really try in our students to change desires a little, so that it isn't just a fight against identity politics. We must also be able to think the abstract, consider that borderlessness needs borders of a certain sort in order to be borderless. It is within this performative contradiction that the entire problematic of immigration is lodged. And so, when people suggest that there is vernacular cosmopolitanism among immigrants situated in various places, either paperless or papered, I think there is something questionable in it. It is an abdication of responsibility.
"Let us," I said at a conference on "The Global Turn" last year, "rescue the word into its political meaning, a constitution for the world, an abstract juridico-legal structure that must match the abstractions of globality. It is not enough to hang on a colloquial sense and suggest, as does Bruce Robbins, that vernacular cosmopolitanism is just a change of definition. In order for a corrective vernacular cosmopolitanism to work, there must be a world governmentalized evenly. To suggest now that global minorities, labor export, paperless immigrant women achieve cosmopolitanism is to forget that they must exist in race-class divided situations where it is impossible to feel or exercise the sense of general equality that must be the definitive predication of epistemic cosmopo-litanism."
In other words, in the face of our desire to declare vernacular cosmopolita-nism, we must ask: who pulls the strings or have these people become so-called cosmopolitan because of other people's demands, even in the old days, that trade flow. The humanities question is the subject position question: who pulls the strings and what happens in moments of crisis?
The restricted solidarities, un-regarding of national origin, immigrant oppression, cannot be called cosmo-politanism. Today's global cosmopolitan—today's; remember, historically I'm saying fantastic work, fantastic work, multidisciplinary work that must be pursued—but today, today's global cosmopolitan looks more like this (I am writing about Bangalore, Indian "Megacity" looking out towards the IT world. And therefore "cosmopolitan?"):
My informant, this relaxed, good-looking man, going slightly thick in the middle with stress and easy living, described himself, in effect, as a member of the cosmopolitan culture: very good telecom links abroad, traveling abroad incessantly, making a dollar salary but living in India... DIPSO-s dollar income private sector—"
‘‘... traveling abroad incessantly, making a dollar salary but living in India, free to be globally mobile in skills with aspirations clued in. [I had introduced him with the] gender division of labor in the culture of the megacity: for the husband, business and globalization; for the wife, child-rearing and Americanization. That, connection remains unmade, but this is the picture of the cosmopolitan upper class.’’
Thus cosmopolitan culture with the edge of cosmopolitics worked in is not just ethnicity, culture, and their crossings. The world has shifted. Globalization cannot be encountered simply in terms of Chinese opera today and Balinese cock fights tomorrow, and people traveling, and huge numbers of foreign students—used to be called international students because foreign was a dirty word, and now called global students. These full tuition paying foreign students are global only in so far as their influx makes money for the university.
What globalization requires is a change in ourselves as instruments of knowing. Those wonderful historical approaches, "culture wars" approaches, critique of Eurocentrism approaches, the modernity/tradition approaches, post-colonial approaches, will not serve if you're doing the contemporary as such. That's the epistemological challenge: "how do we construct our objects of knowledge?" That's the change.
We must construct cosmopolitanism differently. We must train our imaginations to go into a different epistemological performance when it comes to the idea of cosmopolitanism. It's not syncretism. It's not people living together. Not exchanging different nationalities. Not the shortfall at the crossroads...
Languages cannot be cosmopolitical in the sense that I am urging. We must protect the world's wealth of languages, we must protect real language learning, we must protect entering the lingual memory of the different groups that otherwise have stereotyped notions of identity based on the linguistic privilege of exclusion.
There is a sentence in one of the great poems of Buddhadeva Bose, a sentence which I hope is at least partially ironic "These people after all are not Bengalis. How would they understand father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife... what these words mean?"5
This cruel ironic question is at the centre of all culturalism that embraces others and all culturalism that destroys others. The idea of learning the languages of others with so much interest that it actually begins to replace the mother tongue when you're using it is a great step towards the ability to will social justice for all. This is indeed Marx's definition of revolutionary practice in the 18th Brumaire6. His analogy is, you learn a foreign language so well that when you're producing in it, you forget the language that is rooted in you, your mother tongue. This idea will never be cosmopolitan. It is cosmopolitan in that old sense - I speak twelve languages. That's the Orient Express model. What this will do is supplement our new idea of cosmopolitical engagements, multi-disciplinary desires, change coming perhaps from the humanities and radiating out into the social sciences, even the hard sciences.
The kind of language learning is to supplement the idea of cosmopolitheia as altogether abstract. Otherwise, with the state decimated by economic re-structuring—national capitals made consonant with international capital—becomes managerial of international capital, rather than working to redistribute income and be accountable constitutionality, etcetera.
With the state, however minimally contracted socially, decimated in this way managerially the demand that comes up is not for clean water, not for health, education and welfare so to speak. Self-selected moral entrepreneurs, the so-called international civil society, move in to take charge.
My university has a large, well-meaning human rights sector. One evening, one of the leaders there, a young woman, says to me: "well, the state is not accountable, so...," I went home and called my friend Romila Thapar. I said 'Romila, we used to think that the new nation was accountable to all of us. We were taught in the Nehruvian days that the citizen uses the structure of the state and Gramsci told us that the subaltern does not have access to this, and we felt that we could do something about it. What do you say, Romila? I was just talking to a young, well-meaning human rights person from my university who told me without blinking, because she felt that this was correct, the state after all is not accountable.'
And yet, single-issue constitution-mania, without cosmopolitical vigilance, also thrives.
It's a great thing for intellectuals to be maniacal about constitutions, but then, there has to be awareness of how constitutions function today, as a shaming instrument in the hands of the international civil society, a sentimental cosmopolitical instrument, dependent largely upon corporate generosity. And as I have mentioned, the redistributive powers of the State or the accountability of the State has been undermined by transforming the State into a managerial state for the international capital. So who rules the world? And what are the stakes of making a claim to lived cosmopolitanisms today?
This is where the idea of intellectuals being organic to an organization of the mode of production may give us some auto-critique which will allow us to do the necessary historical work. This can supplement the contemporary where a certain kind of globality does not allow us to ask the question of cosmopolitics rather than cosmopo-litanisms.
To your spirited attempt to correct the European account, I bring these two offerings, then: one, think the cosmopolitical; and two, supplement the cosmopolitical global abstract with multidisciplinary language learning. To supplement you have to attend the precise shape of the blank you are filling up. You must attend to what escapes the networked cosmopolitical. And then, the supplement introduces the incalculable, so that the gap is no longer a lack but an excess, never quite filled. We are all the custodians of that incalculable wealth—the gift of tongues.
1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria ***; Antonio Gramsci
2. Plato, Apology 30E.
3. Much of the detail here is provided by Souleymane Bachir Diagne, one of the contributors to the project.
4. K N Chaudhuri, Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilization of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1990).
5. Budhadeva Bose, "Bideshini", in Naresh Guha, ed, Kabita Sangroho (Kolkata, Dey's, 1989) vol 2, p 43.
- Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", in tr. Surveys from Exlie (New York : Viking, 19..)
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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