Traveled eyes: the global politics of proximity in Midnight's Children.

Author:Buchanan, Jason M.
 
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Is globalization over? This was one of the key questions that arose in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. For economists like Kenneth Rogoff and Nariman Behravesh, the crisis of 2008 was a referendum on globalization. They argued the "giant influx of money" that came from "emerging markets" caused nations, businesses, and even individuals to "lose perspective on what was real wealth." (1) What was needed, suggested economist Moritz Schularick, was to consider how the end of "financial globalization 3.0"--which is essentially Schularick's term for neoliberal economics--required us to ask "how we make financial globalization safe for the world instead of trying to make the world safe for financial globalization." (2)

It was not just economists that questioned the value of globalization, but various political groups helped inspire an "emergence of economic nationalism" in both the US and Europe. (3) Populist concerns about small government, fiscal austerity, and crony corporatism merged with xenophobic anti-immigration fears to gain heavy traction in mainstream politics. Pre-2008 popular narratives about globalization, such as a faith in the interconnectedness of peoples and cultures, were cast aside in what Nicolas Sarkozy called the "revolt" against globalization that recast the phenomenon "not as a promise but as a threat." (4) This idea that globalization was a dangerous "threat" was also picked up by left-leaning groups like the Occupy Wall Street movement, which attacked the globalized nature of contemporary financial models and practices. In many ways, Sarkozy's and Occupy's comments encapsulated the political Zeitgeist that rushed to proclaim that the latest age of globalization had died.

But, as the year 2008 drifts into the past, a more profound question needs to be asked about globalization: Can it ever be "over"? The economic collapse of 2008 was not even the first time that, during the 2000s, globalization was proclaimed to be dead. (5) After 9/11, there were similar proclamations that the "grandiose dreams of the globalises" had been smashed by "the lesson of 11 September" that taught us all that "the go-go years of globalisation were an interregnum." (6) And yet, the mechanics of globalization continued as new markets were still sought, immigrants still moved from country to country, and the political repercussions of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had far-reaching consequences. While the many economic, political, and cultural attacks on globalization represented a change in how societies and peoples understood the narrative of globalization, it did not signal the end for globalization as a pillar of life in the twenty-first century. In essence, the global crises of 2008 or 9/11 were not "unprecedented," but represented the continued expansion of neoliberal global capitalism where state power protected financial institutions at all costs. (7) Following David Harvey, these crises could be argued as nothing special--if still devastating--because the mechanisms of globalization continued as multinational corporations, banks, and investment firms quickly recovered (even if many people were not as fortunate). (8) Also, the handwringing about the end of globalization was overblown, because it was always a phenomenon in which "the processes of global economic integration" were intermingled with "trends towards social and political disintegration." (9) The scales of globalization were always engaged in a balancing act where NAFTA, the European Union, Mercosur (Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay-Uruguay), and the projected Free Trade of the Americas were placed against the energies of resurgent nationalisms and discourses of ethnic identification. (10) And yet, even if the 2008 crisis was not an unprecedented event, many were left trying to reconcile the continued existence of globalization, especially its inequalities, with the fact that globalization was proclaimed dead in many mainstream discourses. As Eric Cazdyn and Imre Szeman argue, the aftermath of 2008 was "a sign of the confusions of globalization--ideology, narrative, post-national discourse and all the rest--as it started to come to an end without an after." (11)

In this era of zombie globalization, which is supposedly dead but is still living, postcolonial thought remains vital to understanding the daily realities of people and as Sankaran Krishna argues, postcolonial thought is the "tethered shadow to globalization" that is "an endless and yet ethical critique ... against the impoverishing ideational and material effects of neoliberal globalization." (12) Alfred J. Lopez and Robert P. Marzec also assert the need for postcolonial thought to address the ethical realities of "the vanishing present of globalization" (13) and speak to "the need to define alternative modes of existence to combat this continuing imperial ontology." (14) In a period of history that appears to want to reject many of the tenets of neoliberal globalization, the need to study the intersections of globalization and postcolonialism is redoubled. Postcolonial thought challenges many of the rejections of neoliberalism--like ethnic nationalism--to show how they are actually reinstitutions of an imperial ideology that allows the economic and cultural oppressions found in global capitalism to continue.

To help engage with the effects of this vanishing present of globalization, I argue for a postcolonial interpretation of the political spaces that are created by the forces of, and interactions between, the global and the local. (15) Instead of approaching globalization through a model of nationalism, which has dominated so much of the debate on globalization, I analyze the underlining spatial model that helps keep the ideological screen of global capitalism in place as the dominant narrative of globalization. Underneath the deaths and rebirths of globalization is a spatial politics of proximity that keeps communities yoked to the false promise of neoliberal global capitalism. A focus on proximity reveals that many expansions of geographical or globalized spaces still retain proximity as a guiding principle; namely, what is closer is still preferred to what is distant and foreign, even if the idea of closeness is reconfigured or expanded (for example, the new spaces represented by the acronym soup of global trade agreements). The lasting influence of the local, what is "closer," is directly connected to ideas that create rigid borders around what can be considered an authentic identity. Although strongly connected to the nation, proximity is a more radical "localness" that exists within national identities (for example, ideas of ethnic purity). In addition, proximity influences non-national forms of identity. The pressures of proximity are also found when postnationalist reorganizations of national space reduce cultural differences to what can be considered approximate or similar to all humans (for example, the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights). This side of proximity produces "a postnationalist ideal that underestimates people's particularism" via attempts to create an ethical or, increasingly, biological worldview. (16) This double-bind of proximity exposes how the postnationalist restructuring of space creates a free-flowing form of identity that is, along with being a popular trope of a certain strain of postmodernism, not always a beneficial position for people in the developing world.

Literary responses to the changing realities of life in age of globalization are valuable because they present how postcolonial people are "deeply marked by experiences of cultural exclusion and division." (17) examine the forces of cultural exclusion and division found in the connections between the postnation, proximity, and theories of globalization presented by Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Why this book? Rushdie's text is important because of its acute awareness of how postcolonial forms of identity are influenced by the politics of postnational and global forces. Also, a return to Rushdie's text reveals how foundational postcolonial texts (and authors) are still vital in interpreting the delineations of contemporary globalization. Traditionally, Midnight's Children has been read as Rushdie's critical investigation of Indian nationalism; nevertheless, many critics feel the novel remains very emotionally committed to the narrative of the nation. (18) Even critics who argue that Rushdie attacks models of nationalism still understand the novel as primarily concerned with rearticulating new and more inclusive national tropes. (19) Throughout his text, I argue that Rushdie presents the reader with groups or communities, like the Midnight Children's Conference or the magician's ghetto, that assert a postnationalist reformation of identity. These groups or communities each present a different political attempt to incorporate a postnational and globalized understanding of culture into a local community. Rushdie's postnational communities show that while he adopts an inclusive approach to the many cultures of India, he views the muddy day-to-day actualization of postnational identities with a heavy dose of skepticism. A return to Midnight's Children not only reveals how the roots of proximity stretch deeper than the last thirty years of globalization, but also shows how proximity lives beneath the ideological screen of globalization and acts as a dangerous remainder lurking within globalized ideas of community, freedom, multiculturalism, and interconnectedness.

"Men Apart": Globalization and the Conflict between Close and Distant Cultures

The narrative of Midnight's Children follows the life story of Saleem Sinai, who is writing his story on sheets of paper that will be stuffed into pickle jars for safekeeping. Yet Saleem's narrative is not just a simple memoir. He claims to be "mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of...

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