Cosmopolitan Strangers in Latina/o Literature and Culture

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Esther Alvarez Lopez
contact email: 

COSMOPOLITAN STRANGERS IN LATINA/O LITERATURE AND CULTURE

This volume sets out to identify and analyze current definitions of the figure of the stranger, as well as ‘rooted’ or ‘vernacular’ cosmopolitanism at work in Latina/o literature with a cosmopolitan outlook that runs counter to discourses that criminalize ‘strangers’. While necessarily examining the workings of xenophobia, racism, gendering and othering in that specific context, we will focus on the alternative processes of interaction, conviviality, and inclusive practices.

While the stranger is a long-standing figure, the defining characteristics of the figure are specific in space and time. All studies of alterity implicitly contain the stranger (i.e., in postcolonial and gender studies, and critical multiculturalism). Most markedly, the figure of the stranger has been foregrounded in spatial and urban theory (Young 1986, Ahmed 2000, Sandercock 2003). The affinities between the stranger and the cosmopolitan subject have been recently dissected by Vince P. Marotta (2010, 2017), who conceives the stranger as a social type, and argues for its importance in understanding the human condition and cross-cultural interaction (2010, 106). The stranger had been studied previously at certain length by two major theorists, Georg Simmel (1964) and Zygmunt Baumann (1988, 1995), both of whom see this figure as “in-between”, ambivalent, neither friend nor enemy, an insider-outsider who threatens the insider/host’s identity, making social, cultural and even physical boundaries porous and unstable. Rather than reinforcing boundaries (as earlier analyses of binary thought on self/other sustained), strangers, in their ambivalence, make boundaries problematic. A second important characteristic attributed to this figure by both Simmel and Baumann is an epistemological advantage, awarded by their intellectual mobility. The condition of the stranger, one of nearness and distance to the host group, fosters, in their view, a hermeneutic perspective unavailable to those confined in local perspectives. It therefore allows them to transcend situated knowledge. Simmel speaks of a “subjective objectivity” –being both distant and near, indifferent and concerned—or “bird’s eye view” which would permit a broader cultural understanding. The links between this hybrid, boundary-crossing subject and the classical cosmopolitan subject are patent in Simmel and Baumann’s descriptions, in the display of an epistemic distance that allows the shuttle between particularism and universalism (a “rooted cosmopolitanism”), as critical perspective on binary thinking, essentialist identities and grand narratives.

The interest in neo-cosmopolitan theories stems from a proximity of perspectives and political aims with theories such as post- and de- colonialism, feminism and ecocriticism. The concept of cosmopolitanism has a long philosophical history of ‘citizens of the world’ going back to Diogenes, the Stoics, Hierocles’ concentric circles (self-family-locals-citizens-nationals-humanity). In modern Western thought, the concept is strongly rooted in Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace (1795), which argued for a ius cosmopoliticum or cosmopolitan right (/law) based on the principle of universal hospitality, a right to the use of the Earth, a principle that entered International Law only in 1954, as “the Common Heritage of Humanity” in the Hague Convention, in the transnational climate that followed the Second World War. The most influential philosophers to retrieve and develop the concept in the twentieth century were therefore post-WWII: Emmanuel Levinas (Totality and Infinity, 1969), who defines the foundation of ethics as the duty to respond to the Other, to respond to the face of the other in a vulnerable state; and Jacques Derrida, for whom the foundation of ethics is hospitality, the willingness to welcome the Other into one’s home. 

The twenty-first century has seen the emergence of the transdisciplinary field of cosmopolitan studies, with a lively discussion of the concept in various disciplines. The resurgence of cosmopolitanism, as several of its theorists argue (Delanty 2012; Gunew 2017) occurs as a reaction against the master narrative of the new century, that of globalization. Far from being understood now as the privileged perspective of a mobile, rootless elite, cosmopolitanism is seen as an ethical response, effecting a critique of globalization and stressing the need to take the Other into account in the search for solutions. For recent theorists of cosmopolitanism, the concept is a state of mind, a disposition of openness and involvement with others. Ulrich Beck (2001), credited with a major role in the recuperation of the concept, argues for a “dialogic imagination” which incorporates other ways of life into individual experience, thus promoting understanding, comparison and critique, and a meaningful engagement with the other. Likewise, Rosi Braidotti (2013) embraces cosmopolitanism as an affirmative response to the processes of planetary interrelation. Her ‘becoming-world’ develops an ethical-political relational model that embraces diversity and the immanence of structural relationality as a starting point for a “cosmo-politics of affective inter-dependence” (7). Gloria Anzaldúa (2002) referred to this awareness of interrelatedness as “la naguala”, the belief that we are united, not separated, a necessary step to make progress in dissolving boundaries and re(con)ceiving the other, which is central to the notion of hospitality at the base of cosmopolitanism.

Debates on cosmopolitanism in the new century have been involved in imagining “a new critical framework that is more culturally inclusive” and in thinking “in terms of ‘planetary’ rather than ‘global’” (Gunew 2017). Sneja Gunew places herself on the side of a vernacular cosmopolitanism which draws attention to the tension between the singular and the plural, a tension that she sees as also part of national –as well as diasporic and global—literatures; she advocates a subaltern and peripheral cosmopolitanism (Nyers 2003) that recognizes the cosmopolitan nature of marginalized groups (indigenous, immigrant, refugee, labor migrants).

In 2016 Donald Trump ran a campaign demonizing Latinxs, using an openly racist rhetoric that helped him become the 45th President of the United States in January 2017. Since then Latinxs have borne the brunt of belligerent and defamatory attacks from Trump and his administration. “Drug dealers”, “rapists” and “criminals” are some of the harmful designations that the president of the United States has relied on to push for measures such as family separation, deportations, and a “new border wall system” aimed at deterring Mexican and Central American migrants from wanting to cross the US-Mexico border. In addition to inciting violence, this climate of hispanophobia has contributed to reaffirming the abject condition of Latinxs in the United States. However, even if Trump’s administration has been under the spotlight for overtly denigrating the Latinx cultural identity (as well as for its misogyny and its fierce denial of climate change, among other things), Latinxs did not become defiling others overnight. Regardless of their citizenship status, Latinxs have been marked by an “ineradicable foreignness” since the United States needed to justify its territorial designs on the US Southwest, which culminated in the Mexican American war (Oboler 2006, 10). The condition of Latinxs as strangers, then, refers to the ways in which they have been subjected to the workings of racism, xenophobia, gendering and othering in the US context.

These power structures are frequently exposed and interrogated by US Latinx authors who reflect on the exclusionary logics of racial, economic and gender discrimination, while also imagining alternative modes of interaction. Throughout her ouevre, Gloria Anzaldúa delved into the idea of an ideal, borderless hospitability that could be reached through spiritual activism and the role of the neplanteras, whose work “lies in positioning themselves—exposed and raw—in the crack between these worlds, and in revealing current categories as unworkable” (2002, 567). This figure stands for the need to dismantle ingrained beliefs and move beyond traditional positions that lead to separation, misunderstanding, and discrimination.

The exploration of processes of othering and conviviality is, in fact, the major focus of the proposed edited book. A cosmopolitan outlook is crucial in this regard in that it not only interrogates logics of exclusion but also promotes forms of conviviality that rest upon a meaningful engagement with the other. Thus, this volume draws on works on the figure of the stranger (Simmel 1964; Ahmed 2000; Marotta 2010, 2017) and recent theories of cosmopolitanism to address the various ways in which US Latinx authors and artists imagine processes of interrelatedness, interaction, and relationality that run counter to discourses that regard Latinxs as threatening others. In offering nuanced readings of othering and conviviality, this volume can foster cultural integration in the context of increasing racism and misogyny, picturing imaginative solutions towards the reduction of inequalities and social exclusion in contemporary societies.

 

Interested scholars may submit abstracts or informal inquiries to eal@uniovi.es for preliminary feedback. The deadline for submission is January 31, 2021.

Topics may include but are by no means limited to:  

 

  • The cosmopolitan nature of Latina/o immigrants, exiles, refugees
  • Convivial cultures in the multiethnic city
  • Queer/feminist solidarity
  • Hostility, hospitality, and the hierarchies of power
  • Environmental crisis and hospitality
  • Hostipitality in the borderlands
  • Thresholds, bridges, and home as spaces of connection and hospitality
  • Anzaldúa’s concept of Neplanta and borderless hospitality
  • Re(con)ceiving the other
  • Identity and difference in cosmopolitanism
  • Strange(r)ness as challenge to normativity
  • Inclusiveness, reciprocity, and connected identity
  • Cross-cultural encounters
  • Cosmopolitanism and globalization in Latina/o literature
  • Latina/o writers as mediating figures 

 

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. 2000

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. 2002. “now let us shift…the path of conocimiento…inner works, public acts.” In This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions of Transformation, edited by Gloria E. Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating, 540-579. New York and London: Routledge.

Baumann, Zygmunt. 1988-1989. “Strangers: The Social Construction of Universality and Particularity”. Telos 79: 7-42.

---. 1995. “Making and Unmaking of Strangers.” Thesis Eleven 43: 1-16.

Beck, Ulrich. 2001. “The Cosmopolitan Society and Its Enemies.” Theory, Culture & Society 19 (1-2): 17-44.

Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. “Becoming-world.” In After Cosmopolitanism, edited by Rosi Braidotti, Patrick Hanafin and Bolette Blaagard, 8-27. New York: Routledge.

Delanty, Gerard, ed. 2012. The Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies. London: Routledge.

Gunew, Sneja. 2017. Post-Multicultural Writers as Neo-cosmopolitan Mediators. London and New York: Anthem Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority.  Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP.

Marotta, Vince P. 2010. “The Cosmopolitan Stranger.” Questioning Cosmopolitanism, edited by S. van Hooft and V. Vanderckhove. Studies in Global Justice 6: 105-120.

---. 2017. Theories of the Stranger. Debates on Cosmopolitanism. Identity and Cross-cultural Encounters. New York: Routledge.

Nyers, Peter. 2003. “Abject Cosmopolitanism: The Politics of Protection in the Anti-Deportation Movement.” Third-World Quarterly 24 (6): 1069-1093.

Oboler, Suzanne. 2006. “Redefining Citizenship as a Lived Experience.” In Latinos and Citizenship: The Dilemma of Belonging, edited by Suzanne Oboler, 3-30. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sandercock, Leonie. 2003. Cosmopolis 2: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century. London: Bloomsbury.

Simmel, Georg. 1964. “The Quantitative Aspect of the Group/The Stranger;” “The Stranger.” The Sociology of Georg Simmel, edited by Kurt Wolff, 87-174; 402-408. New York: The Free Press.

Young, Iris Marion. 1986. “The Ideal Community and the Politics of Difference.” Social Theory and Practice 12 (1): 1-26.