Four Paths Five Destinations: Constructing Imaginaries of Alter-Globalization through Literary Texts

Article excerpt

In a 2001 article, Nicholas Brown ends his analysis of the global relevance of literature as carrier of an 'eidaesthetic' project, as defined by Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe with reference to Schlegel, on a skeptical note. Brown traces the 'striving' of this project--which transforms from the notion of the aesthetic sublime to a utopian one and which provides an intellectual framework for the notion of world literature--from Romanticism, through European Modernism, to the literature of decolonization. Its 'utopian impulse' disappears in postcolonial writing but 'reappears precisely in the emergence of theory in the 1960s'. (1) With reference to Jameson, Brown raises the question of whether 'the emergence of Theory signal[s] ... the end of Literature' (EI 847). While he does not want to reply to this question with an unequivocal 'Yes', he does suggest that

It seems reasonable to be agnostic about the future of literature, which is threatened not only by a kind of technical obsolescence and by an entirely complementary tendency to sink back into the merely decorative, but also, and perhaps more consequently, by the rise of other cultural forms that seem better able to carry literature's eidaesthetic project into a fully globalized world. ... Could it be that music has somehow been able to take over the objectives of the two-hundred-year-old project of literature? (EI 847)

Throughout the article, Brown holds to a rather narrow definition of what 'literature' is; most of his examples come from the novel. His final suggestion that literature might be replaced by theory or music is, as we will see, at least partially a result of his focus on this one genre. In this article, I wish to revisit Brown's conclusion in the light of a corpus of literary texts that participate in the utopian project summarized in the slogan 'another world is possible', evoked by the broad array of forces that are summarized under labels such as 'Global Justice Movement' or Alter-globalization Movement'. My analysis will focus on texts by the Subcomdante Insurgente Marcos, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, and the Franco-Spanish musician Manu Chao. I have chosen works from these four writers out of a much larger corpus because they can be considered representative articulations of the project. They also acknowledge their debt to each other through a tacit and flexible enmeshing of intertextual references. (2) Whether their project is related to, or can replace, the 'eidaesthetic project' evoked by Brown is one of the questions that will be explored in this article.

My analysis will focus on two issues in particular. The first concerns literary genres; the second concerns the relationship between literature and politics. As for the first point, I will argue that the permeability of genres is an important characteristic of 'alter-globalization literature' because it aesthetically expresses a dialogue between actors who insist on their 'difference'. Poetry and narrative interpenetrate in Saramago's work; Subcomandante Marcos combines poetry, storytelling and the epistolary; Galeano draws on narrative, history and journalism; in Chao's work, storytelling, poetry and music inform each other. (3)

As for the second issue, my argument contests the perception of literary and cultural works and institutions as reactions and responses to globalization. As a result of this perception, literary works, their authors and their readers are posited as reactive or passive participants of a situation that is already made; they do not seek to intervene in the political and economic project of globalization or in the societies that result from it. This is a symptom of the notion that there is no alternative to neoliberal globalization and that neoliberal capitalism absorbs all cultural work. The acceptance of this premise leaves writers with two options: they can pursue a utopian project, or they can make the most of the structures provided by the cultural economy under neoliberal capitalism. …