The literature around us is now unmissably a planetary system
– Franco Moretti (2000)
Are we a generation marked by cries for innovation rather than by any specific innovation itself? This question, posed to anybody who exists in this world of fast scientific advancement and exploration and global communication networks, seems almost ridiculous. This world is markedly less geo- than cosmo-centric. Indeed, the social and anthropological effects of these cosmos-spanning, hyper-accelerated systems of exchange have been theorized extensively: within the last decade, various brands of systems theory have continued to develop, Bruno Latour has offered Actor Network Theory (ANT) as an alternate model for mapping this situation, Michel Serres has written of virtual global networks, and Peter Sloterdijk has constructed a foamy metaphor for the contemporary world which represents universe-spanning networks and exchanges, the exsitence of which, in turn, explains man’s newfound capacity to exist in larger social forms than were previously imagined possible. At the intersections of science, philosophy, mathematics and politics, numerous thinkers continue to press the question of belonging. Isabelle Stengers has written extensively on the concept of a cosmopolitics, on the real limits which the natural and political worlds represent for one another. Giorgio Agamben exposes the immanence of a new form of community by analysing the symmetrical logics of the exception and the example and their exposition of paradigmatic modes of belonging. Alain Badiou’s mathematically-supported proposition of a properly infinite Truth that emerges from an Event, an Event which steps outside of and cuts across being and belonging, effects a decisive recuperation of a positive political and aesthetic subjectivity.
With these models and their attendant technologies, this ability to communicate trans-hemispherically at the click of a button, comes a dissolution of concrete borders. Transnational trade agreements, for instance, are conceptualised and actualised more readily; it was not a single nation, but the whole world, that was affected by the recent economic down-turn. Through its globe-spanning exchange networks, crisis and catastrophe become increasingly universal phenomena, instantanously communicated across time-zones, multilingually and outside of the traditional markers of identity. With the dissolution of concrete borders, margins and interstices blur with their contents. New borders which are erected or conceptualized signify a dislocation of power, and an increasing sense of the enclosed culture’s disempowerment in the face of the possibility of a real transnationalism. Displacement (if place is still to be understood as a culturally totalizing lived environment) becomes a norm. It is out of displacement that a new mediation arises, new cultural force is generated.
But where does literature fit into all this? We propose Cosmopoetics as the term through which a new global understanding of literature may be mediated, a term which moves the idea of World Literature away from Goethe’s euro-centric border-bound poetic to something more world- and word- spanning. Here, cosmo(s) is the ordered and ornamented universe (both perceived and conceived – as distinct from geo, implying a thought which is almost phenomenologically world-bound), and poetics is the artistic fashioning of that universe, or cosmos. Cosmopoetics will thus acknowledge the space of literary creation, or generative force, as a space sans frontières, a non-space the margins and interstices of which no longer mediate between defined places, but, rather, are these places.
The address of these questions, the use of this term, does not suggest that we should simply open out lines of flight from existing fields, however. Rather, the field itself should be reconceptualized, as is already taking place in much socio-political discourse. As Franco Moretti wrote, now a decade ago, “world literature is not an object, it is a problem, and a problem that asks for a new critical method […] the categories have to be different”. Equally, Kenneth White has spoken for a long time of the demand for “a new poetic anthropology” which results from this “new world sensation” and which is mediated by “a wavelength our culture has not yet turned to”.
It seems that these new demands on literature and its poetics are on the way to being met. The English Journal PN Review has long operated under the philosophy of a “poésie sans frontières”. Irish Pages, in collaboration with journals from Sarajevo, New Delhi and New York (so far), is in the process of setting up a Global Literary Network of contemporary literature journals which, unimpeded by dissemination from a single, totalizing, culture, operates freely between nations and languages. Michael Davidson speaks of the North American Free Trade Agreement as having created “a form of unheimlich reality through which subjects are produced and economic displacement is lived”. He sees the literary upshot of this is a community which operates cosmopoetically, “across national borders and cultural agendas”.
We hope that this initiative will reveal some of the many ways in which contemporary literature and poetics still has a signficant role to play in forging both new worlds and also new ways of relating to existing paradigms of “cosmos”. As such we envisage “Cosmopoetics” as both developing and challenging existing concepts of space/place, and relation of space to identity, and the productive relation these have to poetry and poetics in particular, literature in general. In this light, we propose to explore the manner in which literature, whether by design or accident, is also capable of revealing the contemporary as an atopian paradigm, a space of non-spaces which simultaneously reflects upon and makes possible poetic or generative force.