Academic journal article ARIEL

Aspects of Peripheral Modernisms

Academic journal article ARIEL

Aspects of Peripheral Modernisms

Article excerpt

I.

Can we consider the possibility of detecting likenesses among the many peripheral modernisms, these understood as the aesthetic forms generated beyond capitalism's cores? In this project neither core nor periphery is perceived as a homogeneous or static geographical region, but as clusters of internally differentiated nation-states, the periphery existing in an asymmetrical relationship to the older imperialist centres which had pursued capitalism's unilateral intrusion into pre-capitalist worlds. I go on to suggest that if proper assessments are to be made of the plentiful and diverse literatures from the peripheries, discriminations are needed other than those entrenched in the existing criteria of both mainstream and marginalized literary discussion. I will therefore look at critical practices that could be consonant with understanding the formal peculiarities of writings produced within and encoding, material and cultural situations of a special type.

Any inquiry into the generic modes and stylistic mannerisms of modern peripheral literatures since the nineteenth century is inseparable from considering the distinctive experiences of modernity in spaces outside Western Europe and North America, but within an imperialist world-system. Early in the twentieth century Rosa Luxemburg had defined imperialism as "the political expression of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment" (446, 362). Shared by this environment were histories which to varying degrees of magnitude had been interrupted by imperialist expansion, whether through military conquest, occupation and direct or indirect rule, or by way of gun-boat diplomacy followed by economic penetration, or through the export of capital.

For materialist theorists of modernity the only satisfactory semantic meaning of modernity lies in its association with worldwide capitalism (Jameson Singular 13). Thus the historian Harry Harootunian insists that the simultaneous experiences of change and upheaval precipitated transnationally by capitalism, even if at different speeds and to varying degrees, makes inappropriate "fashionable descriptions" such as "alternative," since these imply the existence of an "original" that was formulated in Europe, followed by a series of "copies" and "lesser inflections." Naming modernity as "a specific cultural form and a consciousness of lived historical time that differs according to social forms and practices," Harootunian states that these varying inflections of the modern promised, "not alternative modernities, but coeval ... modernities or, better yet, peripheral modernities ... in which all societies shared a common reference provided by global capital and its requirements" (History's Disquiet 62-63, 163). Or, as he writes elsewhere, "whatever and however a society develops," its coeval modernity "is simply taking place as the same time as other modernities" (Overcome xvi).

It would then seem that the only legitimate usage of an "alternative modernity" is to signify a future post-capitalist, socialist modernity--the case for which has been made in the work of some contemporary Chinese critics who detect a propulsion towards but not an integration into the modern as this had been received by way of a predatory colonialism (Kang). According to Liu Kang, because the Chinese revolution was set in a Third-World country, it was inevitably anti-imperialist and nationalist, so that Chinese discourses on modernity registered a resistance to capitalist modernity and an aspiration to establish a socialist alternative. (1) For Wang Hui "discourse on China's search for modernity" considered "how China's modernization could avoid the multiple problems of Western capitalist modernity," so that "inherent within the Chinese concept of modernization are tendencies towards socialist ideological content and values. ... Mao's socialism is both an ideology of modernization and a critique of Euro-American modernization itself" (13-14). …

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