Reading transnational American literature from a cognitive perspective, this book argues that our emotional engagements with others–real and imagined–are crucially important for the development of cosmopolitan imaginations.
During World War II and the early Cold War period, factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or class made a number of American writers feel marginalized in U.S. society. Cosmopolitan Minds focuses on a core of transnational writers—Kay Boyle, Pearl S. Buck, William Gardner Smith, Richard Wright, and Paul Bowles—who found themselves prompted to seek experiences outside of their home country, experiences that profoundly changed their self-understanding and creative imagination as they encountered alternative points of views and cultural practices in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Alexa Weik von Mossner offers a new perspective on the affective underpinnings of critical and reflexive cosmopolitanism by drawing on theories of emotion and literary imagination from cognitive psychology, philosophy, and cognitive literary studies. She analyzes how physical dislocation, and the sometimes violent shifts in understanding that result from our affective encounters with others, led Boyle, Buck, Smith, Wright, and Bowles to develop new, cosmopolitan solidarities across national, ethnic, and religious boundaries. She also shows how, in their literary texts, these writers employed strategic empathy to provoke strong emotions such as love, sympathy, compassion, fear, anger, guilt, shame, and disgust in their readers in order to challenge their parochial worldviews and practices. Reading these texts as emotionally powerful indictments of institutionalized racism and national violence inside and outside of the United States, Weik von Mossner demonstrates that our emotional engagements with others—real and imagined—are crucially important for the development of transnational and cosmopolitan imaginations.
Introduction: Literature, Emotion, and the Cosmopolitan Imagination
1. Empathetic Cosmopolitanism: Kay Boyle and the Precariousness of Human Rights
2. Sentimental Cosmopolitanism: The Transcultural Feelings of Pearl S. Buck
3. Cosmopolitan Sensitivities: Bystander Guilt and Interracial Solidarity in the Work of William Gardner Smith
4. Cosmopolitan Contradictions: Fear, Anger, and the Transgressive Heroes of Richard Wright
5. The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Disgust and Intercultural Horror in the Fiction of Paul Bowles
Conclusion: (Eco-)Cosmopolitan Feelings?
Literature, Emotion, and the Cosmopolitan Imagination
On May 25, 1948, former Broadway actor and war veteran Garry Davis walked into the United States embassy in Paris and handed the authorities his American passport. He no longer had any use for identification papers, he declared to the perplexed officials, because from now on he would live without his U.S. or any other citizenship--a free and independent man. While dropping bombs on German civilians during World War II, Davis explains in his 1961 autobiography The World Is My Country, he had come to understand that the roots of war were inherent within the nation-state system, built as it was on "division, aggressiveness, fear and the terrible consequences" of those traits (24). As a result of this recognition, he decided to reject henceforth all exclusive loyalties and, as a citizen of the world, to give his primary allegiance to mankind as a whole. This is what Davis explained to the rather puzzled American consul, who, after some debate, followed the young man's wishes and administered the Oath of Renunciation, thereby declaring him stateless. Determined not to break any laws, Davis promptly went to the French Bureau d'Étrangers, asking for a legitimization of his cosmopolitan presence in France. The French officials, for their part, now showed considerable confusion. For the time being, they gave him a ninety-day visa, which they stamped--for want of better alternatives--on the very same paper slip that said Davis no longer had an American passport or citizenship.
When, three months later, his French visa ran out, Davis took up residence on the grounds of the Palais de Chaillot, which had been temporarily declared international territory for the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Camping out on the steps of the old palace, he became an instant celebrity, and his claim to world citizenship, which he related directly to hopes for perpetual peace and the prevention of World War III, was the topic of many public debates. In France, prominent writers and public intellectuals like André Gide, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and André Breton supported Davis's call for a world government. Even on the other side of the Atlantic, in those early days of the Cold War, his gesture had not gone unnoticed. The New Yorker acknowledged his project, writing, "Mr. Davis, whether he acted wisely or foolishly, is in step with the universe. The rest of us march to a broken drum," and Life noted that Davis had "aroused a deep longing for peace" (quoted in Davis, 55). Soon enough, Davis was showered with mail from all over the world, addressed to "Garry Davis, Steps of the Palais de Chaillot" and to "Garry Davis, World Citizen, Paris" (43).
These addresses, as well as many of Davis's deliberations, are strongly reminiscent of another, much earlier, world citizen: Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic philosopher who famously declared himself a kosmopolitês--a "citizen of the cosmos"--and who chose to spend his life in a tub belonging to the temple of Cybele, a Greek deification of the Earth Mother. Like Diogenes, Davis came to reject all patriotic ties and duties. His radical claim to world citizenship and the enthusiastic reactions it generated around the world are interesting in the context of this study because of the conditions of their emergence. Recent sociological approaches to cosmopolitanism rightly insist on the social and emotional nature of the development of cosmopolitan worldviews. Gavin Kendall, Ian Woodward, and Zlatko Skrbis suggest in The Sociology of Cosmopolitanism (2009) that critical and reflexive modes of cosmopolitanism emerge "from bonds of solidaristic sentiments and the imagination," while at the same time insisting on "the hard, real and socially-spatially located origins of such cosmopolitan bonds" (152). Davis's claim to world citizenship seems to have been the result of exactly this combination: on the one hand, it originated in the historical and political context of his time that made him a bomber pilot in World War II. On the other hand, it grew out of the waves of empathy and compassion he felt as an individual when imagining what the bombs he dropped did to the civilians below--regardless of the fact that the civilians in question were declared enemies of the American people. Allegiance to a worldwide community, as Elaine Scarry has noted, in part depends on people's individual ability to imagine other people, whose injuries they must conceive of as their own ("The Difficulty," 99). In the case of Garry Davis, the result of such imagining was an empathetic emotional response and, ultimately, the rejection of parochialism and a search for new and broader attachments, based on different communalities.
While the question of how much we can feel for distant others has been a concern of theoretical debates about cosmopolitanism since its inception in ancient Greece, philosophers disagree about the exact relationship between emotion and the cosmopolitan imagination. Stoic philosophers like Cicero and Hierocles famously developed oikeiōsis--a concept that maps our affections concentrically, putting our strongest affections at the center where they are closest and most familiar to the self, and placing progressively weaker affections toward objects or persons further and further away from the center. Seeing the natural parochialism of human affection as the central obstacle to a good and cosmopolitan life, the Stoics argued that rational agents must cultivate apathy toward the near and dear, that they must learn to resist oikeiōsis in order to collapse the circles and become true "citizens of the world." Indeed, as Graham Long has pointed out, it is not difficult to see "that emotions of anger or contempt toward those beyond our borders, or feelings of love or care toward more particular communities--our families, nations, or states," can potentially "undermine the force of cosmopolitan moral duties" (327). These good arguments notwithstanding, we must be careful to not jump to the conclusion that a cosmopolitan worldview is necessarily devoid of affect. After all, Garry Davis's move toward radical cosmopolitan ethics seems to have been prompted not by detachment and apathy, but by empathetic imagining and emotional engagement.
That he was thus motivated would probably not surprise Martha Nussbaum. Over the past two decades, this American philosopher has been the most vocal advocate of what Long has termed "sentimental cosmopolitanism": a version of ethical world citizenship that stresses our imaginative and emotional attachment to distant others (see Long, 317). In For Love of Country (1996) Nussbaum insists, with reference to the Stoic concept of oikeiōsis, that "Our task as citizens of the world will be to 'draw the circles somehow toward the center' . . . making all human beings more like our fellow city-dwellers" (9). This is a task rather than a natural process because it is much easier for us to feel for and with the members of our in-groups, a tendency that psychologist Martin Hoffman calls "empathy's familiarity bias" (22). Cultivating the imagination, both Hoffman and Nussbaum believe, allows us to have empathic emotions also for the members of an out-group, people who do not resemble us closely but with whom we nevertheless share many traits, not least the capacity to love and to suffer. The literary scholar Bruce Robbins, although critical of Nussbaum's universalism, at least partially agrees with this notion in Feeling Global (1999), arguing that "people can get . . . emotional," too, "with those who are not fellow nationals" (70). These positions stand opposite those of scholars such as Benedict Anderson, David Miller, Michael Walzer, and Benjamin Barber, who insist that one of the inevitable fallacies of cosmopolitanism is that we are biologically equipped to care only for those who are near and dear to us, which makes caring for distant others difficult if not humanly impossible.
In the following pages, I will side with Nussbaum, Hoffman, and Robbins in this dispute, but look more closely at both the crucial role played by the imagination in the development of cosmopolitan emotions and the role played by emotions in the development of cosmopolitan imaginations. Furthermore, I will be centrally concerned with the ways in which not only direct experience, but also literary texts, can offer such engagements. As Susan James has observed, "it is not always enough to offer people good reasons for changing their beliefs, expecting their emotions to fall in line" (234); often, it takes strong emotional experiences--real or imagined--to move people to adopt a more cosmopolitan stance and to act on behalf of distant others. Since it relies centrally on our ability to empathize with fictional characters, in turn also cultivating our ability to empathize more generally, literature emerges as a particularly fruitful site for the creation of such emotionally powerful experiences.
Nussbaum has famously made the claim that literary texts are central to cultivating the cosmopolitan imagination and to developing moral feelings for others. In her view, such cultivation is bound to have significant effects on people's real-life choices and actions. "[T]he great contribution" of literature to the life of the citizen, she explains in Cultivating Humanity (1997), "is its ability to wrest from our frequently obtuse and blunted imaginations an acknowledgement of those who are other than ourselves, both in concrete circumstances and even in thought and emotion" (111–112). Scholars such as Suzanne Keen have problematized Nussbaum's belief in a direct link between the cultivation of readers' empathy and altruistic behavior, insisting that more empirical evidence is needed before we can make such claims (see Empathy, 92). We must indeed be careful not to overestimate the ability of literary texts to influence their readers' actions in the real world. At the same time, however, we should keep in mind that cognitive psychologists have already begun to produce empirical evidence of such influence (a point I will return to) and that there are also historical examples, such as the considerable effect of Harriet Beecher Stowe's sentimental novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) on the American public.
There is also the fact that most politically engaged writers are convinced that their texts do have tangible effects on their readers. This was the case, at least, for the diverse set of American expatriate writers who will be considered in this book: Kay Boyle, Pearl S. Buck, William Gardner Smith, Richard Wright, and Paul Bowles. Each of these writers relied on what Keen has called "authorial strategic empathizing" ("Narrative," 83) in order to move their American readers to adopt less parochial worldviews. In their fiction and nonfiction produced during World War II and the early Cold War period, these writers explored the uses and hazards of physical dislocation and the sometimes violent shifts in understanding that result from an affective encounter with previously unknown people and places--shifts that lead to a troubled sense of belonging and often to new, cosmopolitan solidarities. Boyle, Buck, and Smith all demonstrably believed in the link between their readers' sympathy for fictional protagonists and their actions in the real world, and wrote their texts accordingly.
Wright and Bowles employed a different strategy, manipulating their readers' empathy in ways that provoke feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and disgust, and thus a cognitive recognition of their own parochialism and morally questionable behavior. Reading the literary texts of these authors gives us a better understanding of how emotions can further as well as hinder the development of cosmopolitan imaginations.
One of the central observations in this book is that the relationship between emotion and the cosmopolitan imagination in fact extends in both directions. Strong emotions, whether they are triggered by experience, memories, or the imagination, tend to inform our "rational" judgments, and they in turn feed our imagination. If that imagination is shared, as a literary writer would do, it can in turn trigger the emotions of readers, feeding their imaginations and informing their judgments and decision-making. The theoretical foundation of this argument is provided by cognitive science, specifically by the work of neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux, who have been telling us since the early 1990s that their clinical research suggests that we should see emotions not as irrational outbursts of feeling (and thus the opposite of reason), but as an integral part of our rational thinking and decision-making processes. As Damasio explains in his path-breaking Descartes' Error (1994), "emotion, feeling, and biological regulation all play a role in human reason" (xxiii). LeDoux similarly argues, in The Emotional Brain (1996), that "the struggle between thought and emotion may ultimately be resolved, not simply by the dominance of neocortical cognitions over emotional systems, but by a more harmonious integration of reason and passion in the brain" (21). These neuroscientific accounts also insist on the importance of both the human body and the environment in the generation of emotions. One of the concerns of this study will therefore be with the physical journeys to Europe, Asia, and Africa of the American writers it considers, and with the resulting emotional engagements that led them to reflect critically on American parochialism and their own obligations to others.
Most centrally, however, it will be concerned with the emplotment of cosmopolitanism and the way in which emotions form the very basis of such emplotment in these writers' novels, short stories, and nonfiction texts. Narrative, as Patrick Colm Hogan has convincingly argued, "is intimately bound up with emotion" and "even real life emotion is bound up with narrative" (Mind, 5). For this reason, it is important to investigate the ways in which literary texts are structured and animated by emotions, and I have found that cognitive approaches to emotion, which build on the insights of neuroscience and cognitive psychology, are particularly helpful for such investigations.
This book will therefore employ a cognitive approach to explore the role of basic emotions such as attachment, lust, anger, fear, hatred, guilt, shame, and disgust in the development of the cosmopolitan imagination and its emplotment in literary texts.
My investigations into the relationship between literature and cosmopolitanism are perhaps somewhat less affirmative than Nussbaum's, and they also rest on a different theory of emotion. While Nussbaum, too, relies on cognitive research in her exploration of the relationship between emotion and literary texts, she embraces what is called an "appraisal account" of emotion. Appraisal theorists understand emotions as the outcome of goal-related judgments elicited by conscious or unconscious inferences about changes in the likelihood of goal achievement rather than being directly elicited by perceptual experiences. In this account, we experience an emotion because we believe that a certain occurrence changes our prospects for achieving a certain goal, be it our own physical survival or the avoidance of pain. While this study will occasionally draw on appraisal accounts of emotion not only by Nussbaum, but other philosophers, including Robert Solomon, and by cognitive psychologists such as Nico Frijda and Keith Oatley, it will mostly follow Hogan's perceptual account of emotion, which is indebted to the work of Damasio and LeDoux.
This approach, to which we will return in the second section of this introduction, aims to reconcile neuroscientific perception theories with appraisal theory, offering, in my view, the most convincing account of our emotional engagements with the imaginary worlds of literary texts. In studies such as The Mind and Its Stories (2003), Affective Narratology (2011), and What Literature Teaches Us about Emotion (2011), Hogan argues that because the literary imagination is bound up with emotion, it is useful to consider the two of them together. In Understanding Nationalism (2009), he argues that such consideration also allows us to get a better understanding of the narrative emplotment of nationalism. As the following chapters will demonstrate, the same is true for the narrative emplotment of cosmopolitanism. By investigating the role of universal emotive principles in such emplotment, Cosmopolitan Minds aims to offer a contribution to the growing body of cognitive approaches to literature and culture, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of specific cultural ties and particular attachments. Reading cosmopolitan literary texts from a cognitive perspective allows for a better understanding of how these texts use emotional appeals to resist the dominant ideologies of their time. Perhaps even more important, such a reading also leads us to better appreciate the crucial and complex role imaginative and emotional engagements play in the development of solidarities that stretch beyond self, family, community, and nation.
Cosmopolitan Minds is therefore also related to recent efforts to conceptualize and analyze "cosmopolitan" literatures of various origins, efforts led by scholars such as Timothy Brennan, Amanda Anderson, Jessica Berman, Rebecca Walkowitz, Berthold Schoene, and Robert Spencer. Many of these scholars have turned their critical eyes to literatures other than American, and I am certainly not suggesting here that my selection of texts is in any way comprehensive or complete. But I do take seriously the claim made by Kendall, Woodward, and Skrbis, as well as by countless other scholars, that we must pay attention to "the hard, real and socially-spatially located origins" (152) of cosmopolitan imaginations and projects. Robbins insists on the multiplicity of such projects, defining individual cosmopolitanism(s) as "habits of thought and feeling that have already shaped and been shaped by particular collectivities, that are socially and geographically situated" ("Actually Existing," 2). Brennan has even argued that cosmopolitan imaginations can only be properly understood in the context of "specific national-cultural mood[s]" ("Cosmo-Theory," 661). For these reasons, this study focuses on American literature specifically, and on authors whose cosmopolitan imaginations seem particularly interesting. Given that such imaginations inevitably oppose what Paul Gilroy has called "the continuing dangers of race-thinking" (Against, 8), as well as essentialist gender constructs, it would not have made sense to limit the selection to a specific ethnic group or gender. As Ryan Schneider has demonstrated in his study The Public Intellectualism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and W. E. B. Du Bois (2010), a cognitive analysis of the cultural work performed by American writers who conceived of both race-thinking and race reform as emotive processes must almost necessarily cross color lines. In a similar vein, Cosmopolitan Minds explores both the important differences and the very interesting similarities between the ways in which American writers of different backgrounds go about the emplotment of cosmopolitanism.
As we shall see, American cultural formation played as large a role in the development of these writers' transnational imaginations as the cultures of the various host countries in which they lived. Like Garry Davis, they were all born as American citizens, even though not all of them kept their U.S. citizenship at all times. For reasons related to issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, and, not to forget, politics, they were all to a certain degree marginalized, and therefore "othered," in American society. Partly as a result of this internal marginalization, they all spent significant periods of their lives outside of their native country. They were all deeply affected by the events of World War II and the early Cold War period, and some of them, like Richard Wright, even felt prompted to support Davis's call for a cosmopolitan world government. In the face of war, genocide, and struggles for postcolonial liberation, they grappled symbolically with their American heritage as well as the emotional and intellectual challenges inherent in the development of a reflexive and critical cosmopolitan stance. Despite their transnational experiences and intentions, however, they--with very few exceptions--continued to write in English and for an American audience, even after decades of expatriation.
I have chosen to focus specifically on the cosmopolitan imaginations of transnational writers because I agree with Gerard Delanty that while transnationalization is not to be equated with cosmopolitanism--since transnationalism can exist without cosmopolitanism and vice versa--it "can be a significant precondition of cosmopolitanism" (83). In the case of the five authors selected here, dislocation, and the resulting change of their physical environment, were central to the emergence of the cosmopolitan imaginations that we find in their work. In its focus on the work of American writers who lived and worked outside the nation, Cosmopolitan Minds also contributes to recent work in literary studies that reconceptualizes U.S. cultural production in its global context. As Wai Chee Dimock writes in Through Other Continents (2006), "Rather than being a discrete entity," American literature "is better seen as a crisscrossing set of pathways, open-ended and ever multiplying, weaving in and out of other geographies, other languages and cultures" (3). Different routes of transit, Dimock maintains, constitute "connective tissues" that "thread American texts into topical events of other cultures" (3). The American texts under consideration in this book are a case in point. Not only did they emerge within the force fields of geographies, cultures, and politics of countries other than the United States, their cosmopolitan imaginations were the result of emotional engagements that were complexly transnational in nature, rather than parochial or simply imperial, as American engagements so often are.
The most pertinent argument, however, for understanding these American texts as part of world literature is that their story structures are built on what Hogan has called "literary universals" and thus on universals in human emotion. As Hogan explains in Affective Narratology, "the particularity of an individual work is at least in certain respects comprehensible only by reference to the ways in which it relates to a more general pattern. . . . patterns that recur across works in different traditions and different historical periods" (9). By paying attention to such cross-cultural and transhistorical narrative patterns, as well as to the ways in which they have been used by Boyle, Buck, Smith, Wright, and Bowles for the emplotment of cosmopolitanism, we are able to arrive at an understanding of these writers' works as cosmopolitan on the level of content, as well as on the level of narrative structure. After all, cosmopolitanism is often defined as a stance that affirms principles that are universal in their scope while also recognizing and even celebrating difference and particularities. Before turning to the narrative emplotment of cosmopolitanism, however, we should first give some more thought to the ways in which emotion has been theorized in the context of cosmopolitanism and intercultural understanding.
Parochialism, Cosmopolitanism, and Our Feelings for Others
Although there seems to be general agreement that emotional attachments play a major role both in our parochialism and in our ability or inability to develop cosmopolitan worldviews, a detailed study has not yet been dedicated to the subject. This is all the more remarkable given that the issue can hardly be avoided. Emotions--including pleasurable emotions such as love, pride, and sympathy, but also some less comfortable ones like fear, anger, and guilt--play a major role in both nationalist and cosmopolitan deliberations. Whether we consider political, moral, or "sentimental" cosmopolitanism, each of these conceptual approaches has to deal with questions of how much we must care for our "compatriots" and for our nation, and how much we can care for noncitizens and other others. As Hogan has pointed out, "societies such as the United States are pervaded by practices that enhance the motivational force of national identifications" (Understanding, 9), and U.S. nationalist ideology historically has indeed tended to cast a particularly strong spell over its subjects. Being an American, as political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset reminds us, has always been "an ideological commitment. . . . Those who reject American values are un-American" (31) and thus unpatriotic. While all nations tend to generate ethnocentrism and a certain notion of collective uniqueness--and as a result, have some sort of built-in resistance to cosmopolitanism--the United States has been, in Yi-Fu Tuan's words, "outstandingly ethnocentric, full of confidence in its own superiority" (73). To be cosmopolitan in the sense of building transnational solidarities--and in the sense of valuing other emotional attachments as highly as (or perhaps more than) one's Americanness--tended to be understood, especially during the mid-twentieth century, as an unpatriotic lack of appreciation for one's fortune of having been born an American. The question then arises whether U.S.--or any--national feelings can be compatible with a cosmopolitan outlook.
The ex-American world citizen Garry Davis would probably argue that they cannot. His brand of cosmopolitanism, after all, is predicated on the total rejection of any affiliation with a nation-state, and so he sees "only division, aggressiveness, fear, and the terrible consequences" when looking at the American flag (24). Contemporary cosmopolitan philosophers, however, are generally much less radical with regard to patriotic feelings. They often emphasize, as, for example, does Kwame Anthony Appiah in an essay entitled "Cosmopolitan Patriots" (1998), that "the cosmopolitan patriot can entertain the possibility of a world in which everyone is a rooted cosmopolitan, attached to a home of his or her own . . . but taking pleasure from the presence of other, different, places that are home to other, different, people" (91). While Appiah's attitude here seems to speak largely to a cultural cosmopolitanism--an attitude that is difficult to distinguish from many versions of multiculturalism--he expresses a notion that is widely shared by those theorists who advocate what they call, like Appiah, a "rooted cosmopolitanism."9 There is nothing wrong, they say, with loving and being proud of the place we are from, as long as we are also able to enjoy other places and people on their own terms, and are willing to accept that they love their home countries as much as we love ours. Rooted cosmopolitans--who "accept the citizens' responsibility to nurture the culture and politics of their homes" (Appiah, "Cosmopolitan," 92)--are often set in opposition to the specter of the rootless cosmopolitan, a radically independent being who has no home, no attachments, and no sense of responsibility. Advocates of rooted cosmopolitanism often point to the "sociopathic" quality of its rootless variant, arguing that it is natural and healthy for human beings to be emotionally attached to their homes, their families, and their friends. They often assert that we cannot, and in fact should not, feel for foreign places or strangers in the same ways. It is indeed quite remarkable that recognition of the human need for emotional attachment and commitment to those attachments so often and so easily get translated into the double claim that "love of country" and a feeling of pride for one's fatherland are social necessities. This leads to the idea that empathy and solidarity that extend beyond that fatherland are against human nature and potentially dangerous for human conviviality.
Bruce Robbins has challenged this notion repeatedly and, I believe, successfully. In Feeling Global he takes up Benedict Anderson's famous claim that nations are "imagined communities" that develop a "deep, horizontal comradeship" (Anderson, 7), explaining that "If [national] culture is the domain of feeling, then for Anderson there is no culture of cosmopolitanism, only an elegant, decorous absence of feeling" (Feeling, 69). This, however, Robbins continues,
does not, in fact, follow from Anderson's premises. Feelings are produced within a bounded administrative unit on a national scale, but it is not the bounds themselves that do the affective producing; the same sorts of feeling are also produced . . . by the sorts of connections now increasingly common on a transnational scale. If people can get as emotional as Anderson says they do about relations with fellow nationals they never see face to face, then why not with those who are not fellow nationals, people bound by some other sort of fellowship? . . . Why is it that Martha Nussbaum is forced to affirm so energetically that "the life of the cosmopolitan . . . need not be boring, flat, or lacking in love"? (Feeling, 69–70)
These crucial questions point in two important directions. First, it is more than doubtful that our emotional engagements have to be, or indeed ever are, bounded by national borders. Second, we should question what exactly keeps our emotional concerns confined within all kinds of boundaries or, conversely, allows them to extend beyond those boundaries. Before we address either of these issues, however, we must first ask a more fundamental question: what exactly is an emotion?
Perceptions, Judgments, and Emotions
As mentioned earlier, a number of contemporary philosophers have integrated the insights of cognitive science into their work on emotions, the appraisal theorists among them going so far as to claim that emotions should be regarded as cognitive judgments about the world. Nussbaum, for example, takes what she calls a "cognitive-evaluative" view (23) of the emotions in Upheavals of Thought (2001), arguing that emotions evaluate as good or bad, beneficial or threatening, those occurrences and people we perceive to have importance for our own well-being. Emotion is closely related to belief and evaluation in this approach, which posits that once we change our evaluation of an object, we will change our emotions toward it. Scholars like Peter Goldie and Ronald de Sousa have challenged the understanding of emotions as judgments, arguing that emotional rationality is not reducible to the rationality of beliefs. In addition, Nussbaum has been criticized for relying too heavily on the Enlightenment notion of an autonomous subject when she asserts that individuals can change their emotions--even those that are socially induced--once they can no longer stand up to the (rational) criticisms leveled at them as a result of a changed understanding. While this critique is justified to a degree, most psychologists would assert that cognitive processes do play a role in the way we feel about things. Rather than rejecting Nussbaum's account entirely, we should therefore acknowledge that things are in fact more complex than she makes them out to be.
Robert Solomon, for years one of the most eloquent advocates of understanding emotions as judgments, admitted in a more recent piece that the appraisal account "lacks the keen sense of engagement" he now sees as essential to emotions ("Emotions," 77). This sense of engagement is explained more easily by what Hogan calls perceptual accounts, because they can encompass not only emotion episodes guided by our cognitive judgments but also more spontaneous and automatic emotional incidents and events. The perception theory that Hogan himself has developed is particularly helpful for my purposes here, because it aims to reconcile appraisal and perception theories and because it seeks to explain why we react emotionally not only to what we perceive directly, but also to things we remember or imagine. Given that both the nation and any transnational or cosmopolitan formation are by definition imagined communities, such an explanation is very much needed.
Hogan acknowledges the obvious advantages of viewing emotions as judgments. It indeed makes a lot of sense to claim that we do not react emotionally to things we perceive unless we have put them in relation to ourselves. Our emotions, Nussbaum claims, are not so much related to the identity of an object, but to "the way in which the object is seen" (Upheavals, 28). The sight of a stranger might not affect us in any way emotionally unless we make a judgment about whether or not he can endanger us, or whether he is in any other way related to the goals we have at that particular moment. However, it is not that simple. Hogan reminds us, with recourse to the work of LeDoux, that our emotional responses are not always governed by such judgments or appraisals. Meeting the stranger unexpectedly in a dark alley may make us jump even before we have made any judgment about the potential danger he represents. In fact, we might feel embarrassed once we realize that the man is our perfectly harmless next-door neighbor.
Such instances of "delayed decoding" are of course central to our enjoyment of all kinds of literary and film genres, most importantly the psycho-thriller and horror film. But they do pose some problems for appraisal accounts of emotions, since strong emotional reactions occur before any specific cognitive goal-achievement-based judgments have been made. On the other hand, it is clear that cognitive processes play an important role in the experience of an emotion, and that they may also bring about an emotion, especially when we consider emotional triggers that are not actually present, as in the case of memories and one's imagination. Hogan acknowledges that appraisal "is a crucial part of most emotional experiences," but he insists that it is "not the cause of emotion" (Affective, 51). Rather, emotions are triggered by what Damasio has called "images" (Self, 111), and these may either be images of something that is present, or memories of something that happened in the past, or the vivid imagination of something that may happen or is presented to us as fiction. "Whether 'live,' reconstructed from memory, or created from scratch in one's imagination," explains Damasio, "the images initiate a chain of events" as the "[s]ignals from the processed images are made available to several regions of the brain" (Self, 112). Appraisals can provide what Hogan calls "an occasion for emotion-generating (or emotion-inhibiting) imagination, perception, and memory" (Affective, 51), but they cannot produce the emotion itself. The most important point here is the explanation offered by this account of why we respond emotionally not only to directly perceived situations and people, but also to imagined plots and characters.
Appraisal theorists are likely to explain our emotional reactions to fiction in terms of simulation. Keith Oatley, for example, suggests that "In understanding narrative a subject may identify with the protagonist of a plan, and the simulation can have many of the properties of real plans, including the property of eliciting emotions appropriately to the junctures that the plan reaches" (Best, 108; emphasis in original). However, Hogan argues that this scheme does not really explain our engagement with narrative fiction, because our emotional response is in fact "not a matter of the probability calculations that go along with that simulation" (Affective, 55). Rather, it is "some version of an empathic response" (55– 56) that is triggered by perceptual factors. That we respond to fiction is irrelevant in Hogan's account. Instead, it is a question of vivacity. Images that are in greater detail and that are more concrete lead to more forceful emotional reactions, while more abstract renderings lead to a weaker response, regardless of whether these images are remembered, imagined, or "real." I will further elaborate the consequences of this account for our engagement with literary texts in the section after next; for now, I want to consider its significance based on whether or not we are capable of feeling with and for distant others.
Feeling with and for Others
Robbins argues that if we can feel with distant others within the boundaries of a nation--which clearly seems to be the case--there is no good reason why we should not be able to do so in relation to others with whom we are bounded in different ways. Once we realize that emotions are the result of things we perceive, remember, or imagine, as well as of our cognitive appraisals of these things, we must assume that these processes play a central role in all our interactions with the world, regardless of national or other boundaries. A number of psychological studies concerned with intercultural understanding and solidarity have given thought to the role of emotion in such processes, and it is quite interesting to consider them in relation to Hogan's perceptual account.
Carol Gould, for example, maintains that a mode of solidarity that transcends parochial boundaries "centrally involves an affective element, combined with an effort to understand the specifics of others' concrete situations, and to imaginatively construct for oneself their feelings and needs" (156). Given Hogan's claim that our emotional responses to nonpresent and nonfamiliar situations or people are generated by our imagination (and that these emotional responses can in fact be elaborated by our emotional memories), we must assume that the affective element is in fact the result of the imaginative construction. The more vivid the imaginative construction, the stronger will be the emotional response. The fact that Gould writes about an effort to understand the specifics of others' concrete situations suggests that there is a deliberate cognitive process involved in such constructions. Jean Harvey, too, argues that we should conceptualize "moral solidarity around the relationship of empathetic understanding" (27), while reminding us that such a relationship "does not 'just happen'" (35). Rather, "it requires active involvement with the other undertaken with a willingness to learn and to try to feel another's pains and joys" (35).
Cognitive processes thus play an important role in our emotional responses to distant others. We need to be willing to imagine their concrete situations and to subject ourselves to the perhaps painful process of feeling some of their feelings. If that willingness is lacking, we can avoid empathic pain by simply not making the effort. As Elaine Scarry has noted, imagined objects tend to lack vivacity in comparison with perceptual objects (see Dreaming, 4), and we are therefore less compelled to respond emotionally to them. However, as Martin Hoffman has shown--and as I will discuss in more detail in chapter 3--even when the object is present, an empathic response can be partially or fully inhibited by cognitive factors (see Hoffman, 34). This is why the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer is correct when he argues, in Truth and Method (1960), that a certain amount of goodwill is essential for any successful interaction, any hermeneutic "conversation," between ourselves and others. Such interactions are important because, in Gadamer's view, they enable us to better comprehend not only our interlocutors, but also the prejudicial nature of our own understanding. Only the challenge posed by a text or another person, he claims, enables us to see as constructed what we have learned to see as natural, because it is "impossible to make ourselves aware of a prejudice while it is constantly operating unnoticed" (298). The problem, however, is that, as cognitive judgments, those same prejudices tend to make us somewhat or very unwilling to engage in challenging conversations in the first place.
Worse still, negative cognitive judgments are often supported by powerful emotions. As Karsten Stueber reminds us in Rediscovering Empathy (2006), we must consider "the whole range of . . . our reactive attitudes towards others, such as being angry, being insulted, feeling ashamed, or being proud" (209), which may further diminish our willingness to let our prejudices be challenged in a hermeneutic conversation. At the same time, these reactive attitudes also tend to interfere with our empathic abilities. There is often a deeply ingrained resistance to empathizing with another person--present or not--if the person in question belongs to another gender, race, religion, or nation. As Hogan has pointed out, such identity categories codify in-group/out-group divisions that tend to inhibit empathy toward the members of the out-group by developing negative prejudices about that group (see Affective, 248). Feeling empathy with a member of the out-group therefore requires a considerable amount of cognitive and imaginative effort, and the effort further increases with spatial distance.
These insights, I believe, can help us answer the question, posed by the work of Bruce Robbins and others, of how exactly humans can learn to stretch their solidarities beyond the parochial. Part of the answer to this question is political, as addressed by scholars like Seyla Benhabib and David Held, who, focusing on issues of cosmopolitan justice, tend to overlook emotional ties. The other part of the answer, however, lies in a better understanding of the role played by empathy and other emotional engagements in the development of cosmopolitan and transnational imaginations. This is at the center of what Graham Long calls "sentimental cosmopolitanism." Long's central thesis is that emotions are needed as motivation for people to act upon the cosmopolitan moral principles they have already accepted. He believes that "sentimental" cosmopolitanism plays an important role because it "aims to reshape [emotional] attachments--to reshape people, if you like, so they are more responsive to cosmopolitan demands" (327). Long admits that such reshaping is a complex and difficult process, and he looks to Martha Nussbaum to answer the question of how it can be achieved.
Nussbaum suggests that humans can get some "outside help" to boost the vivacity of their imagination of others, and thus their emotional responses to them. In "Compassion and Terror" (2007), she calls for the cultivation of a "culture of respectful compassion" that educates children "through stories and dramas . . . to decode the suffering of others," which "should deliberately lead them into lives both near and far" (32). This implies a direct link between the kind of empathy we use in our engagement with literary texts and the kind of empathy we employ in our interaction with actually existing others. It also corresponds in interesting ways with Scarry's assertion that the "ordinary enfeeblement of images has a striking exception in the verbal arts, where images somehow do acquire the vivacity of perceptual objects" (Dreaming, 4–5). If literary texts can help readers create imagined objects that are as vivid and forceful as perceptual objects, then a perceptual account of emotion will lead us to expect an emotional response to the narrative that is similar to the one that would ensue in case of direct perception of the object. As Hogan has explained, whether an image is directly perceived, remembered, or imagined is irrelevant for an emotional response. What counts is the degree of its vivacity. The vivacity of the image alone, however, does not determine the kind of emotion we will experience. It also cannot change the fact that the reader may intuitively resist empathetic engagement with members of an out-group, real or imagined. For a story to reach beyond the boundaries of an in-group, it would need an element that reshapes human attachments in ways that would lead to an empathic engagement with the (imagined) members of an out-group.
Given the enormous diversity of literary texts, we should expect that such cosmopolitan stories come in all shapes and forms, and to some degree they do. It is interesting to note, however, that the example offered by Bruce Robbins in Feeling Global is an intercultural and transnational love story: Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize–winning novel The English Patient (1992), in which a male-female romance is "being set against the stupidity of national belonging and national hatred"--an authorial choice that, in Robbins's view, is "specifically and self-consciously, if also temporarily and ambivalently, cosmopolitan" (Robbins, Feeling, 165). Robbins considers Ondaatje's novel in the context of his response to Benedict Anderson's notion of an "eroticized nationalism" that is characterized by "imaginings of fraternity" across racial divides (Anderson, 203). The English Patient, Robbins argues, is one of many literary texts that mark "the hesitant and equivocal emergence of an internationalist parallel: an eroticizing of bonds not just across different races within one nation but across different nations" (164). While Robbins makes an important point here, he neither pays much attention to the general narrative patterns that may underlie the specific plot of Ondaatje's novel, nor looks more closely at the ways in which the text appeals to readers' emotions in order to engage them affectively, as well as cognitively, in a narrative that opposes parochial claims. However, in doing so, we will better understand what kinds of stories encourage readers to stretch their imaginations and empathic attachments beyond the parochial, and what narrative strategies they employ. Hogan's work on literary universals and the emplotment of nationalism, I believe, gives us some valuable tools for such an analysis.
The Romantic Emplotment of Cosmopolitanism
Much of Hogan's work over the past decade has been dedicated to the isolation of three cross-cultural prototype narratives--the heroic, the sacrificial, and the romantic tragicomedy--which are "literary universals" in the sense that they are "generated from the prototypical structure of our emotion concepts" and therefore bound up with universals in human emotion (The Mind, 11). In Understanding Nationalism (2009), Hogan links these prototypes to the phenomenon of nationalism, arguing that, like metaphor, narrative "guides the way we understand and respond to the nation" (12). The heroic and the sacrificial tragicomedy, he demonstrates, are both well suited for the emplotment of nationalism and often have been used in its service. The romantic structure, however, is a special case. While, as Doris Sommer has observed with reference to Latin American writers, the romantic plot has also been used by writers to bolster nationalist projects (see 75), Hogan argues that such uses are in some measure undermined by the prototype's "antidivisive or incorporative tendency that tends to repeat itself with increasingly large groups all the way up to humanity as a whole" (Understanding, 20–21). The logic behind this assertion is as simple as it is convincing: Romantic love stories tend to pit two desperate lovers against a social system that opposes their love--Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet being a prime example--and they usually invite us to empathize and sympathize with the lovers, not with the system that threatens to destroy their love. On the national level, such stories may call for the overcoming of subnational differences for the lovers' sake, but, as Hogan points out, "if romantic emplotment offers us an argument against regional subnationalism, then it must equally offer us an argument against nationalism. If it works against the oppositions among different racial groups in the United States, then it must work against the oppositions among different national groups globally" (21). For this reason, he detects in the romantic plot an intrinsic tendency toward internationalism, or, in the terminology I use here, toward cosmopolitanism. In fact, I believe that the term cosmopolitanism is more accurate than the term internationalism in describing the "antidivisive or incorporative tendency" that Hogan sees at the heart of the romantic prototype.
Given these observations, it should not surprise us that all of the literary works I will consider in the following chapters involve a romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism, even if not all of the writers use the prototype's unique combination of emotional attachment and sexual desire as blatantly as Pearl S. Buck does in her intercultural love stories. As I will show in chapter 2, Buck was a master in what we could call the sentimental emplotment of cosmopolitanism, and it was this unabashed sentimentalism that made the Nobel Prize winner both one of the most successful American authors of all time and a persona non grata among literary scholars. However, we will see that Boyle, Smith, Wright, and Bowles offer their own versions of romantic emplotment, pitting individual emotional attachments and affections against misguided social systems, thus opposing the racial, religious, ethnic, national, and other ideologies that work toward reinforcing in-group/out-group divisions. Boyle's engaged novels about the uncertain destiny of stateless refugees during World War II and Smith's sensitive account of the complicated relationship of the African American community in Paris with the Algerian War all rely on the emotional power of the romantic tragicomedy to articulate affect-driven forms of cosmopolitan ethics that value transnational solidarity and cooperation.
Even though we would not immediately connect the work of Richard Wright or Paul Bowles with the notion of the romantic love story, some of the prototype's central features are prominent in their narratives as well. Wright's angry professions of radical independence and detachment tend to collapse on themselves because of an existential need for love and attachment. Bowles's gruesome tales of Western encounters with North Africa dramatize the confusing maze of curiosity, attachment, lust, fear, and disgust that often marks romantic engagements with "exotic" others, alerting American readers to the fatal consequences of their naïve parochialism. Despite their great differences in other terms, these American writers are united not only by their literary engagements with the members of one or several out-groups; a further point of connection is a focus on individual relationships of attachment and an explicit resistance to American nationalist ideology.
These, of course, are exactly the elements mentioned by Robbins when he writes about the cosmopolitan aspect of Ondaatje's The English Patient. He thus indirectly affirms Hogan's claim about the "antidivisive or incorporative tendency" of the romance plot and his assertion that "the tacit romantic emplotment of politics tends, not toward nationalism but toward internationalism" (Understanding, 21). Indeed, Robbins himself notes that, in The English Patient, we find "Small signs, perhaps, that cynicism about the nation and its representatives is lurching unsteadily toward some alternative moral code, in which love and internationalism will at last be coupled" (Feeling, 168). Robbins takes pains to stress the "unsteady" nature of such an "alternative moral code," which unites emotions of attachment and affection with the openness of internationalism. But this code nevertheless roughly corresponds to what Nussbaum has called "ethical cosmopolitanism": "an overall ethical doctrine about how people should organize their loyalties in a world where we have many types of local attachment, and in which strangers at a distance also seem to demand our ethical concern" ("Capabilities," 403). In Nussbaum's view, reading novels such as The English Patient will not only help "to wrest from our frequently obtuse and blunted imaginations an acknowledgement of those who are other than ourselves" (Cultivating, 111–112); it will also help us become moral actors in the real world. Since there is a good deal of disagreement about this particular quality of literary texts, as mentioned earlier, I want to dedicate the final section of this introduction to a brief discussion of the debate, primarily because the issue has a high degree of relevance to all the writers who will be discussed in later chapters.
Cosmopolitan Literature and Moral Action
For a philosopher, Nussbaum has a remarkably steadfast belief in the positive social impact of literary texts. In her view, "narrative imagination is an essential preparation for moral interaction" (Cultivating, 90), and a cultivation of literary empathy quasi-automatically leads to the cultivation of social empathy. Nussbaum even considers it "impossible to care about the characters" imagined by realist writers like Charles Dickens and George Eliot "in the way the text invites, without having some very definite political and moral interests awakened in oneself" (104). Not only is reading literary texts envisioned as a beneficial activity for those who want to cultivate their understanding of various others, but literature also becomes a central element in the education of the responsible citizen within and beyond the nation. Nussbaum's great trust in the vital role of literature in "cultivating powers of imagination that are essential to citizenship" (85) is bound to discomfit scholars in literary studies. Narrative description has been understood, at least since Foucault, as a potential means of control and domination, and Marxist scholars like Fredric Jameson have argued that literary texts have a "political unconscious" that is the product of successive layers of political repression.21 Many poststructuralists, moreover, would simply doubt that literature can "cultivate" anything in such foreseeable ways. The most interesting aspect in the given context, however, is the critique of Nussbaum's claims by cognitive literary scholars who have engaged directly with their psychological and narratological dimensions.
Suzanne Keen's Empathy and the Novel (2007) is particularly interesting in this regard, because it concerns itself in great detail with the novel's potential ability to stir readers to social and political action in the real world. Keen in fact agrees with Nussbaum that readers feel both empathy with and sympathy (or compassion) for fictional characters, as well as with and for other aspects of fictional worlds. Empathy, she demonstrates, is central to our understanding of narrative in general, be it the narrative of a sentimental, popular novel or a highly experimental, modernist text. Keen thus happily affirms "the robustness of narrative empathy, as an affective transaction accomplished through the writing and reading of fiction" (xv). The problem she sees with Nussbaum's argument is that only "scant evidence exists for active connections among novel reading, experiences of narrative empathy, and altruistic action on behalf of real people" (xiv). Having experienced strong emotions while reading a novel about the fate of another human being, readers may simply search for the next immersive reading experience rather than acting on behalf of similar humans in the real world.
These are not the only potential problems involved in the claim that empathetic reading leads to more cosmopolitan attitudes and behaviors in the real world. As Keen explains, critiques of empathy by feminist, postcolonial, and critical-race scholars point to the potential danger of "the empathetic individual's erasure of suffering others in a self-regarding emotional response that affronts others' separate personhood" (xxiv). In this reading, which corresponds to the warning from Karsten Stueber mentioned above, empathy is regarded as a typical manifestation of Western arrogance, which in fact "occludes the other's true feelings by imposing Western ideas about what ought to be felt" (Keen, Empathy, 142). This is related to the general suspicion toward ethical readings of literature that has pervaded literary criticism throughout much of the past century. As Marjorie Garber, Beatrice Hanssen, and Rebecca Walkowitz remind us in The Turn to Ethics (2000), ethical approaches in fact form a long tradition in literary criticism, dating back to at least the eighteenth century. With the rise of poststructuralism in the l970s, however, such approaches were seen as part of a problematic Western "master discourse" that "presumed a universal humanism and an ideal, autonomous and sovereign subject" (viii). This was especially true for concepts of cosmopolitan conviviality and intercultural understanding, which were considered Western and imperialist in their "ethics" rather than truly cosmopolitan.
Over the past two decades, however, literary scholars have begun to reconsider the potential value of ethics, partially as a result of the ideas and influence of Emmanuel Lévinas. In Lévinas's understanding, ethics becomes an existential, dialogical process, with the obligation toward the "Other" holding the highest possible value. New approaches to ethics thus tend to foreground plurality, diversity, and difference instead of unified systems of knowledge and belief. While the universalist and naïvely subject-centered bias of ethics has thus been partially transformed, contemporary scholars have not simply done away with the subject. In a 2008 article, Hubert Zapf explains that one of the issues that has found attention in interdisciplinary debates on ethics involves "the ways in which literature, as a form of knowledge that is always mediated through personal perspectives, reflects the indissoluble connection between ethics and the human subject, a subject, however, not understood as a mere cognitive ego but a concrete, bodily self implicated in multiple interrelationships" (853).
This notion of an embodied self that is caught up in various and complex relationships with the world is central to my understanding, in Cosmopolitan Minds, of the cosmopolitan literary imagination. Ethics, as Garber, Hanssen, and Walkowitz point out, "is a process of formulation and self-questioning that continually rearticulates boundaries, norms, selves, and 'others'" (viii), and some of this self-questioning and rearticulation may take place within and with the help of literary texts. Scholars such as Nussbaum and Wayne Booth have asserted that such imaginative reworking may also resonate in the social world in which these texts are produced, and while the objections I have mentioned above must be kept in mind, there is also some evidence in favor of this assertion.25 Despite her skeptical stance in Empathy and the Novel, Keen acknowledges that there are certain factors that "give pause to the skeptic who would argue that literature makes nothing happen" (xxv). For example, what Keen calls "empathetic fiction" tends to reach a much wider audience because many readers prefer emotionally engaging stories. There is also "the perseverance of novelists" (xxv), such as those under consideration in this book, who believe that their emotionally engaging literary texts can have an effect on the real world.
To these two factors, we must add a third: that empirical evidence for connections between novel reading and real-world action is growing. The recent work of Keith Oatley is of particular interest here. Oatley agrees with Keen that the impact of fiction "is largely emotional" ("Emotions," 41), but he also asserts, as Booth had already claimed in the late 1980s, that reading fiction can give us the sense that we are entering into a new relationship with an author, a narrator, and/or any number of characters. Like other relationships, these literary relationships "can potentially transform us" (42). In another recent piece, Oatley goes so far as to propose that "emotion recognition, in ourselves and others, is a skill," further suggesting "that by reading literary fiction, we can practice and improve it" ("Communications," 206). Empirical studies conducted by Oatley and various collaborators support this proposition. Writers may thus not be entirely mistaken when they hope that their literary texts will have some effect on their readers' attitudes and behaviors in the real, social world. The cognitive literary scholar Mark Bracher has even argued that "literature emerges as a privileged site for promoting social justice" because it can help correct "the faulty cognitive structures that are ultimately responsible for injustice" (xiii). Bracher argues that (some) literary texts are particularly well suited to foster such corrections because "they engage readers in repeatedly performing more adequate routines for processing information about other people" (xiii). Of course, empathy and emotion play an important role in the performance of such "routines," as they do in our willingness--or even desire--to engage with literary texts in the first place.
We are therefore looking at a complex interaction among sociocultural conditions, individual authorial engagements, literary texts, and readers, and such complexity demands an interdisciplinary approach. Sociologists Shai Dromi and Eva Illouz have recently suggested that a dialogue among sociological, psychological, and literary approaches is helpful for studying the complex role of texts in the social articulation of ethical and moral standpoints. In their view, "A novel which exposes the reader to a sense of injustice or to a dilemma and which imbues these dilemmas and injustices with emotional value is not only a work of fiction but what we may call a critique" (352). The role of a literary text in civil society, they explain, is twofold. First, a text can itself serve as a critique of the social world in which it is produced. Second, individual members of the reading public, which include "common readers, popular reviewers, and high-brow critics" (353), voice their own critiques of such literary texts and, by extension, of their own social world. These multiple critiques, whether they are voiced by authors or by readers and reviewers who have processed these texts, express the concern of various speakers with what they perceive "to be the greater good of society" (353). Dromi and Illouz's interdisciplinary approach is particularly useful because they include the authors of literary texts in their exploration of how moral and ethical standards are formed and transformed through the production and consumption of literature. Understanding literary texts as "critiques" allows us to conceptualize them as modes of communication among various actors within a transnational public sphere.
Emplotting Cosmopolitanism in Cold War Literature
There is something very helpful about understanding cultural products as one of many modes of critique that are always mediated by previously held attitudes and attachments. If we want to better understand certain forms of American literary cosmopolitanism of the early Cold War period, we should thus pay close attention to the sociocultural conditions in which these forms emerged. Kendall, Woodward, and Skrbis rightly insist that cosmopolitanism as a social and cultural condition exists in a complex relationship with the cosmopolitan individual; however, I would argue that this relationship does not necessarily have to be "mutually nourishing" (7), as the authors suggest. The American ideological climate in the mid-twentieth century was in fact actively discouraging of individual cosmopolitan projects bound to transcend the physical and ideological boundaries of the American nation. At the same time, however, the stark inequalities and social tensions within American society seem to have opened up possibilities for individual cosmopolitan development for those who were not fully incorporated into the American national project.
Prominent among these inequalities and tensions have been racial, gender, and sexual discrimination, and, during the mid-twentieth century, the discrimination against communists. As I shall argue, these decidedly uncosmopolitan conditions in the United States furthered the development of cosmopolitan imaginations, and not least because they produced strong emotional reactions against the prevailing order and a certain openness to alternative points of view and cultural practices. This was at least the case for Boyle, Buck, Smith, Wright, and Bowles, all of whom, for various reasons, felt marginalized in American society and thus developed an incomplete and troubled sense of belonging that prompted them to seek experiences outside of their home country, experiences that profoundly changed their self-understanding and creative imagination.
For an understanding of the emotional dimensions of cosmopolitanism, and the role of literature in it, it is imperative to pay close attention to the cosmopolitan critiques that these writers voiced in individual texts. The narratives I have selected for this study seek to engage their readers' emotions through a romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism. As literary imaginings, they are expressions of their authors' strategic empathizing, and by necessity, they also bear traces of these authors' own emotional entanglements. Keen notes that empathetic fiction is often "written by women, racial and ethnic minorities, and postcolonial citizens" (Empathy, xxiv), so it is perhaps no coincidence that empathetic fiction was the "weapon of choice" for all of the writers I will consider in the following chapters. Whether they concerned themselves with transnational love and compassion or with more negative emotions, such as fear, anger, guilt, shame, and disgust, which can complicate, prevent, or even further cosmopolitan solidarities, they all foreground the importance of emotion in their characters' engagements beyond the American nation. In one way or another, they all suggest that the communication with, understanding of, and feelings for others rely on a complex dialectic, one in which historically situated emotional developments interact constantly with rational deliberations and the imagination to produce deeper insights and new commitments. For this reason, these narratives enact aspects of imaginative and emotional engagement that are relevant to contemporary theories of cosmopolitanism.
Each of the following chapters examines a different American writer and a different aspect of emotional literary engagements across borders. Examining the work of Kay Boyle, the first chapter explores in more depth the role of empathy and sympathy in not only the reading but also the writing of literary texts. It pays particular attention to Keen's concept of authorial strategic empathizing, which explains well the way in which not only Boyle but all authors under consideration in this book consciously crafted their texts in order to stretch their readers' empathy beyond parochial borders. Boyle's personal experiences in war-torn Europe and her deep emotional entanglement with stateless refugees led her to imaginatively engage with questions of citizenship and human rights. In novels like Primer for Combat (1942) and 1939 (1948), Boyle demonstrates her thorough understanding of the legal and humanitarian consequences that spring from the binding of the "Rights of Man" to citizenship in a nation-state. I suggest that these novels offer readers imaginative and emotionalizing engagement with an issue that was at the center of cosmopolitan philosophical and political debates after World War II. Boyle's trenchant critique of a human-rights concept that treats a human being as a citizen first, and only then as a person, powerfully resonates not only with Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), but also with the work of contemporary political theorists like Seyla Benhabib, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques Rancière, who consider the legal consequences attendant upon forced displacement today. Boyle's literary imagination powerfully demonstrates that caring for the rights of others necessarily involves empathic and emotional engagement.
The second chapter uses the literary work of Pearl S. Buck for an exploration of the question of whether there can be a successful sentimental emplotment of cosmopolitanism. It considers the alleged "gratuitousness" of sentimental emotions, drawing on the work of cognitive film scholars and psychologists such as Ed Tan, Nico Frijda, and Carl Plantinga to explore the suitability or unsuitability of such "excessive" emotions for a romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism. Buck's sentimental novels about interracial love and intercultural understanding provide a particularly interesting ground for such exploration. Though she won the 1938 Nobel Prize for Literature, literary scholars still tend to dismiss Buck as a mediocre writer of popular fiction. I argue that such a dismissal overlooks not only her interesting cultural position, but also the complex cosmopolitan engagement displayed in much of her work. Growing up as a child of Southern Presbyterian ministers in rural China, Buck became what David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have termed a Third Culture Kid: a person whose childhood is spent navigating different cultural worlds and who builds emotional relationships with all of them, while not having full ownership of any. As I will demonstrate, her transcultural upbringing and her emotional engagement with what she called her "several worlds" shaped Buck's sentimental cosmopolitanism as well as her highly successful literary style.
Chapter 3 considers the importance of sensitivity and empathic guilt in the cosmopolitan novels of William Gardner Smith. Exploring the complex relationship between an increased empathic responsiveness and the development of what psychologist Martin Hoffman calls "bystander guilt over inaction" (102), it argues that this relationship is crucial for the processes of self-reflection that scholars in sociology and political theory have put at the heart of concepts of critical, reflexive, and "tick" cosmopolitanism. Smith's 1963 novel The Stone Face is interesting in this context, because it demonstrates that empathic guilt can arise in response to direct perceptions as well as to memories and imaginations, and that it is a vital component in the emergence of the critical cosmopolitan imagination. A relatively little-known African American writer, Smith belonged to the black expatriate community in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s, and also spent some time in Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana. Another example for the romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism, The Stone Face deals openly with both the debilitating effects of American racist ideology and the complicated relationship the African American expatriate community in Paris had to the Algerian War. Linking black, Jewish, and Algerian histories of oppression, Smith's novel is a powerful reminder that cosmopolitan solidarities across national, ethnic, and religious boundaries must be motivated by an empathic engagement with others.
The fourth chapter looks at the powerful emotions that led another African American writer, Richard Wright, to abandon his country, arguing that his repeated professions of radical independence and (racial) rootlessness must be seen in relationship to the anger he felt toward the American "home" he both passionately loved and despised. The chapter explores the negative and often debilitating emotions that tend to dominate Wright's novels--fear, anger, and shame--and looks at his reflective essay "How 'Bigger' Was Born" (1940) to demonstrate the centrality of such emotions in the creation of his influential first novel, Native Son (1940). It then turns to Wright's second novel, The Outsider (1953), as another intriguing example of the romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism. Like Native Son, The Outsider features a protagonist who is driven by fear and anger, but unlike Native Son's Bigger Thomas, Cross Damon is also tormented by transgression guilt and remorse. The latter emotions, which are a direct result of the novel's love story, are what allow Cross to move away from radical and murderous solipsism toward an understanding of the importance of human community. Both novels force readers into an uneasy alliance with black protagonists who, as a result of American racial politics, have become insensate and ruthless "monsters" with no regard for human life. In his final and unpublished novel "Island of Hallucination," Wright uses a different rhetorical strategy. Here, the black monster is even more "monstrous" as a result of its life in the United States, but it is no longer the protagonist and thus no longer invites readers' empathic alignment. My focus in the discussion of all three novels is on the ways in which Wright aligns readers with morally transgressive protagonists and their negative emotions in order to promote cosmopolitan ethics.
Chapter 5 investigates the role of disgust, horror, and fascination in the literary imagination of Paul Bowles and the meaning of disgust, specifically, for the narrative emplotment of cosmopolitanism. It considers both the physical disgust we experience in response to inanimate objects that we perceive as threatening, and the sociomoral disgust we sometimes feel in relation to the members of ethnic, national, or religious out-groups. In this context, I explore what Noël Carroll has called the "paradox of horror" (10): the seeming contradiction that we can actually enjoy literary passages or film scenes that induce strong negative emotions such as fear, disgust, and horror. Bowles was a master of horror. A longtime expatriate in Morocco, he used his fiction to explore various Orientalisms, confronting his naïve American protagonists with environments that are alien and threatening to them. I will look at Bowles's short story "A Distant Episode" (1947) and his first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949), as pertinent examples of his strategic use of readers' disgust for a shocking revelation of the possibly horrific consequences of cultural ignorance and supremacist arrogance. The Sheltering Sky, I will argue, is yet another example of the romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism, but one that produces highly uncomfortable emotions in readers as they mentally simulate the divergent fates of its three American travelers in the Sahara desert. In his exploration of the complex relationships between imagined and physical interactions with foreign environments and cultural others, Bowles suggests that the emotional knowledge acquired by the traveling body of the would-be cosmopolitan can be both enlightening and fatal. In its intensive engagement with North African culture, his work offers a complex perspective on cosmopolitan engagement--and its limits.
I intend this book, then, as a contribution to cognitive literary and cultural studies in two ways. It puts cognitive approaches to emotion and narrative emplotment in communication with recent theories of cosmopolitanism, in an attempt to explore how American literary works have served as affective modes of cosmopolitan critique. Given that a number of scholars have made the claim that literary texts are central to cultivating the cosmopolitan imagination, and further given that strong emotional experiences are often needed to move people to act on behalf of distant others, this book suggests that cognitive theories of emotion can help us greatly in the analysis of the narrative strategies of literary texts that invite readers to stretch their imaginations beyond parochial boundaries. Investigating empathic narrative strategies that work across such boundaries, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of particular attachments and cultural ties, it demonstrates that literary cosmopolitanism is a matter of both universal principles and relational constraints. At the same time, this literary analysis can make a significant contribution to the larger field of cosmopolitanism studies by foregrounding how empathic engagement and powerful emotions like love, compassion, curiosity, anger, fear, shame, and disgust can promote or hinder the emergence of critical cosmopolitan imaginations. It is my hope that this study will contribute to an understanding of how cognitive approaches more generally might facilitate a better understanding of the complex emotional processes that inform both parochial identities and cosmopolitan commitments that go beyond self, community, and nation.
“Once more, with feeling! Weik von Mossner offers a powerful new vision of cosmopolitanism by going deep into the theory of emotion, negotiating inventively between the emotional and the ethical, the national and the universal. Her readings on the edges of the American canon are eye-openers not just about cosmopolitanism, but about America itself. She has re-tooled cosmopolitan universalism for the needs of our place and our time.”
Bruce Robbins, Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University, and author of Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence
“Cosmopolitan Minds offers an innovative theoretical lens for studying the phenomenon of cosmopolitanism. . . . It convincingly shows how a cognitive studies framework can enhance existing critical practices in the field and build on both historicist and aesthetic arguments. Moreover, the book demonstrates how cognitive literary studies can itself benefit from examining modes of thought and writing—including sentimentality, biography, fictionalized autobiography—that generally have been less attractive to conventional cog-lit scholars. . . . The selection of writers is strikingly original, especially insofar as it attends to figures that have been marginalized in the study of cosmopolitan American literature. . . . The same can be said for the selection of individual texts: the author does an excellent job of recovering several ignored—or at least undervalued—works by each writer.”
Ryan Schneider, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English, Purdue University, and author of The Public Intellectualism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and W.E.B. Du Bois: Emotional Dimensions of Race and Reform