chapter  3
12 Pages

Cosmopolitan criticism


My purpose here is to show that the gradual elaboration of cosmopolitan perspectives and solidarities (in Martha Nussbaum’s terms 1997), the expansion of our knowledge and of our sympathies, and thus of our capacity for citizenship) is to a large extent the very raison d’être of postcolonial literary criticism.1 There are four questions to be asked about cosmopolitanism. The first is: What is it? A provisional answer is that cosmopolitanism is both a disposition – one characterized by self-awareness, by a penetrating sensitivity to the world beyond one’s immediate milieu, and by an enlarged sense of moral and political responsibility – and, it is very important to add, a set of economic structures and political institutions that correspond to this. The second is: Why is cosmopolitanism necessary? Cosmopolitanism is called into being by the global reach of problems whose solution requires both democratic global institutions and, in order to make these legitimate and effective, global allegiances and solidarities. These problems include underdevelopment and exploitation; ethnic nationalism; environmental degradation; the abuse of human rights; the unequal distribution of resources; the proliferation of deadly weapons; and, of course, the US’s overbearing political and military supremacy, along with the threats posed by many lesser militarisms.