Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Mary Wollstonecraft's "Love of Mankind" and Cosmopolitan Suffering in Letters Written during A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Mary Wollstonecraft's "Love of Mankind" and Cosmopolitan Suffering in Letters Written during A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Article excerpt

FOR SCHOLARS OF COSMOPOLITANISM, THE PUBLICATION OF IMMANUEL Kant's Zum ewigen Frieden: Ein philosophischer Entwurf (1795) signals the emergence of two important insights: first, the earth as a limited space plays a key role in the notion of cosmopolitan justice; second, justice associates a cosmopolitan order with critique, specifically a critique of imperialist abuse. References to the earth were absent in Kant's Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose (1784) and eleven years elapsed before he stated in Zum ewigen Frieden [Toward Perpetual Peace] every individual's right to "present oneself to society by virtue of the right of common possession of the surface of the earth." (1) In January 1796, ten months prior to the English publication of Zum ewigen Frieden, Mary Wollstonecraft published Letters Written During A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796), the travel memoir reflecting her experience while journeying in Scandinavia from June to October 1795. Here, Wollstonecraft predicates her view of mankind's future upon the resources of the earth and articulates a critique of the Enlightenment faith in universal improvement. By both endorsing the progress of mankind and calling it into question in the name of environmental exhaustion and human suffering, Wollstonecraft ushers a moment into Enlightenment cosmopolitan philosophy in which cosmopolitanism constitutes its own inescapable critique. In this essay, I contrast Kant's preoccupation with questions of property and hostility with Wollstonecraft's demand that the cultivation of "affection for the human race" be the "growth of each particular soil, and the gradual fruit of the ripening understanding of the nation, matured by time, not forced by an unnatural fermentation." (2) I argue that Wollstonecraft's commitment to cosmopolitan improvement reflects the kind of localism that proceeds from a planetary view of concrete, organically related singularities out of which all living matter weaves its existence.

Affinities and divergences between Kant's and Wollstonecraft's evocations of the earth give reason to read A Short Residence as a template of the planetary subjectivity that Gayatri Spivak proposes against the model of global agency. Spivak coins planetarity to ward off at least two tendencies prevalent in the schemes and rhetoric of globalization: first, the imposition of homogenizing practices, the same system of exchanges, on every spot of the globe, "that abstract ball covered in latitudes and longitudes, cut by virtual lines." Homogenization, enabled by the very abstractness that the image of the globe infuses into our relationship to the world, "allows us to think that we can aim to control it." (3) To counteract a relation to the earth as a manageable entity is the second reason behind the invention of the concept of planetarity. Thinking of the planet as manageable represents the large scale of thinking of the Other as manageable and to be managed. Planetarity counters such an ethos by positing a different relationship to alterity, and the planet itself, a relationship that cannot be resolved dialectically, but must be lived through [erlebt], while alterity incessantly holds us and casts us away. A shift of metaphor, then, from the globe to the planet is at work, so that we start perceiving ourselves as "planetary subjects rather than global agents, planetary creatures rather than global entities." (4) Spivak allots to this self-perception the ability to change our approach to alterity: "if we planet-feel, planet-think... 'our other'--everything in the unbounded universe--cannot be the self-consolidating other, an other that is a neat and commensurate opposite of the self." (5) This "peculiar mindset" in which "we must persistently educate ourselves" epitomizes a cosmopolitan education that trains us into a non-oppositional relation to all that presents itself to us in the shape of otherness. (6) It can also engender, as we will see through Wollstonecraft's A Short Residence, a training against the grain of the Kantian view of human "unsociable sociability. …

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