Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Precarious World: Rethinking Global Fiction in Mohsin Hamid's the Reluctant Fundamentalist

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Precarious World: Rethinking Global Fiction in Mohsin Hamid's the Reluctant Fundamentalist

Article excerpt

Through a reading of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, this essay outlines a theory of critical global fiction: literary works that contest the forces inhibiting global understanding and advance international coalitions through this struggle itself.

The question is not whether a given being is living or not, nor whether the being in question has the status of a "person"; it is, rather, whether the social conditions of persistence and flourishing are or are not possible.

--Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?

On 13 February 2013 US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta introduced the Distinguished Warfare Medal. The medal would honour those military technicians carrying out and defending against cyberattacks and directing unmanned aerial vehicles, or "drones." Panetta, a former CIA director, emphasized that he had seen these "modern tools" change the "way wars are fought" throughout his tenures at Langley and the Pentagon. "This award," he added, "recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in in the twenty-first century." The Distinguished Warfare Medal would rank higher than the Bronze Star but lower than the Silver Star, and it faced almost immediate criticism. Veterans' organizations argued that the award should not outrank combat medals. Critics of drone strikes characterized the medal as a way to institutionalize permanent war, denouncing it as a "Nintendo medal" or "drone medal."

Two months later, Chuck Hagel, Panetta's successor, cancelled the medal. In a brief memo, Hagel announced that he would be replacing it with a "distinguishing device" in order to reserve military medals for "those Service members who incur the physical risk and hardship of combat, [...] are wounded in combat, or as a result of combat give their last full measure for our Nation." American military medals are, as Hagel suggests, less about what is achieved than what is risked along the way. Some soldiers are faced with a greater likelihood of injury or death than others. This is the logic that informs the hierarchy of military medals. And yet politicians and policymakers are disinclined to recognize non-American life in the same way; they refuse to see Afghan and Pakistani lives--the chief targets of these drone strikes--according to the conditions that sustain or endanger those lives.

With the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and PATRIOT Act still in effect and no end in sight to the decade-old War on Terror, it is critical that we understand the way in which war circumscribes our ability to recognize the lives of others. Literature is one channel through which we might learn to think otherwise. In the last twenty years, the so-called "transnational turn" in literary studies has led many critics to analyze national traditions in relation to global currents of culture and finance. And more recently, scholars are beginning to theorize a global literature that goes beyond the discourses of transnationalism and canonical world literature. These scholars consider how literary works endeavour to transcend national boundaries and imagine global community. Literature can, they argue, lend narrative structure to an emerging global imaginary. But this body of work tends to focus more on a future coming-together than the ongoing warfare, inhumane detainment, and belligerent nationalism that block this imagined future. Through a reading of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I thus aim to outline what could be called "critical global fiction": literary works that contest the forces inhibiting global understanding and build international coalitions through this struggle itself. This literature is founded on the idea that life is not bounded and isolated but always conditioned by one's material and social surroundings. The issue then becomes, as Judith Butler notes, "whether the social conditions of persistence and flourishing are or are not possible" and why (Frames 20). …

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