Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Intricacies of Cosmopolitanism: Shirley Geok-Lin Lim's among the White Moon Faces

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Intricacies of Cosmopolitanism: Shirley Geok-Lin Lim's among the White Moon Faces

Article excerpt

The flowering of academic memoirs across continents since the 1990s is receiving much attention. Scholars have been enthusiastically charting the relationship between the private/personal and the public/professional in academic memoir writing. Gillian Whitlock, for instance, contextualizes the self in the academic memoir by looking closely at a number of childhood memoirs by British women professors. She suggests that the construction of the self in these memoirs is closely related to the intellectual vocation of these women memoirists as the first generation of feminists in post-war Britain, and that their childhood memoirs are heavily mediated by "disciplinary competences and protocols" (340). Cynthia G. Franklin, in Academic Lives: Memoir, Cultural Theory, and the University of Today, explores how academic memoirs by humanities professors have engaged in many important issues in the academe such as identity politics, feminism, and disability studies. In her chapter about postcolonial studies, Franklin examines at great length how academic memoirs of travel, diaspora, and exile have participated in scholarly discussions of cosmopolitanism, which is of particular interest to my essay. She argues that many academic memoirists who write about movement across racial, ethnic, and national lines often unconsciously succumb to "exclusionary frameworks for cosmopolitanism" (25) in their intimate disclosures, and that their problems--the complicity in the European imperialistic version of cosmopolitanism, the unawareness of their own privileges, the lack of attention to the networks of power that sustain cosmopolitan ideologies, and the failure to deal more fully with identity politics as an intersectional concept that embraces all categories such as nation, race, ethnicity, class, and gender--actually reflect the many limitations of cosmopolitan studies in the 1990s.

Franklin's argument is convincing and instructive. But during the period when she was busy writing her book with the materials gathered about the 1990s, significant changes occurred to the contours of many issues that concern the humanities. In the case of cosmopolitan studies, cosmopolitanism as an analytical tool has gained much force and rigor through lively dialogues and debates during the past ten years. In what follows, I first trace the collective efforts to strengthen cosmopolitanism by sketching three important turns in cosmopolitan studies since the new millennium, and then closely analyze the Malaysian American writer Shirley Geok-lin Lim's Among the White Moon Faces: An Asian American Memoir of Homelands within this theoretical framework. Lim's memoir has received some approving mention from Franklin, but only in a piecemeal fashion. I give it a more thorough discussion as an exemplar of academic memoir by minority writers in interrogating cosmopolitanism. Though written before the surge of interest in redressing the limited vision of cosmopolitanism in the new century, Lim's memoir already staged a brilliant rehearsal of what would happen in cosmopolitan studies in the following decade. By unravelling two important narrative threads in Lim's life stories--the writer's experience of living in multilingual cultural worlds and her interaction with people of different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds--I try to show, first, how Lim's memoir avoids the common problems Franklin points out in academic memoirs of travel, diaspora, and exile, and, second, what further challenges Lim poses to the issue of cosmopolitanism.

In the face of injustice, inequality, and violence emerging from globalization processes, the last decade has witnessed a cascading interest in the vision of a world community of manhood in which sameness and difference are dealt with harmoniously. Across the humanities and social sciences, there have emerged intense efforts to understand what cosmopolitanism means for research and our contemporary society. These efforts have brought about three important shifts in research perspectives: from cosmopolitanism of the elite to cosmopolitanism of everyman; from the single Kantian ideal of world community to cosmopolitanism in its plural form; and from discussing cosmopolitanism on a normative level to bringing it down to earth. …

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