Diasporic Worldliness in Postcolonial Globalization by Prof Pheng Cheah
Date : 14 Jan 2019
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : AS8, Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Prof Kenneth Dean, Asia Research Institute, and Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore


In its provenance, the concept of diaspora in contemporary academic discourse arises from the social sciences, especially sociology and anthropology. Consequently, its relation to areas of inquiry in the humanities such as cosmopolitanism and world literature has generally been assumed rather than explicitly theorized. Because diasporic subjects circulate across the globe and can have multiple affiliations and affective ties, they are inferred to be cosmopolitan. By virtue of this worldliness, literature produced by diasporas or that concerns the diasporic condition or diasporic experiences is often regarded as examples of world literature. This paper examines some fundamental connections between diasporacosmopolitanism and world literature. I argue that the initial theorization of diasporic consciousness, which focused on its destabilization of national identity and national belonging in the British imperial metropolitan center and its main settler colony, the U.S.A., enabled the conflation of diaspora with cosmopolitanism and the avant la lettre characterization of diasporic writing as world literature in the sense of literary texts that circulate globally. The fundamental material condition of diasporic subjectivity is, however, migration. As the vectors and significance of migrancy have radically changed in the contemporary conjuncture of postcolonial globalization, signaled by the New Empire of the Pax Americana and its conflict with the Islamic world and its competition with Chinese post-socialist global capitalism, new forms of diaspora have emerged that necessitate a radical rethinking of the presumed affiliation of diaspora with cosmopolitanism. The condition and experiences of these new diasporas are connected to a different kind of world literature that I have elsewhere called “worlding literature”. I make my case by contrasting two novels by and about the older kind of South Asian diaspora, Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) and K.S. Maniam’s The Return (1981) and two novels by and about the new South Asian and Chinese diaspora, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire (2013).


Pheng Cheah (PhD, Cornell) is Professor of Rhetoric and Geography and chair of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley, where he has taught since 1999. He has published extensively on the theory and practice of cosmopolitanism. His current research focuses on world literature and on globalization and human rights. He is the author of Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation (Columbia University Press, 2003); Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights (Harvard University Press, 2006) and What is a Wold? On Postcolonial Literature as World Literature. He is the co-editor of Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Grounds of Comparison: Around the Work of Benedict Anderson (Routledge, 2003), and Derrida and the Time of the Political (Duke University Press, 2009). His work has appeared in journals such as Diacritics, Boundary 2, Public Culture, Daedalus, New Literary History and PMLA. He is currently completing a book on human rights as biopolitical rights and another book on globalization and the three Chinas seen from the perspective of the independent films of Tsai Ming-liang, Jia Zhangke and Fruit Chan.


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Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY