“Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Empire: British Literature in the Eighteenth-century,” Suvir Kaul

On behalf of Christopher Eng and Melissa Phruksachart, I am posting this event that will kick-off a series of talks this spring. (Please RSVP for this event: engchristopher [at] yahoo [dot] com):

We am very excited to introduce the “Mentoring of Future Faculty of Color Project,” generously sponsored by the Diversity Projects Development Fund. Developed in conversation with many students in our program, this initiative aims to offer scholarly and professional mentorship to students of color in CUNY PhD Programs by bringing in faculty of color from a variety of U.S. universities to share both their scholarship and their experiences in navigating the academy.

Each of these scholars will provide a talk on their current research. In addition to the lectures, we will have a lunch with the speakers and participate in a colloquial discussion geared toward professional matters including publication, tenure, and the navigation of departments and institutions as a scholar of color. Please e-mail either one of us off-list if you are interested in joining any of the lunch conversations (for the purposes of a preliminary head count).

“Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Empire: British Literature in the Eighteenth-century”
Suvir Kaul (English at UPenn)
Fri 4/19 @ 2PM – Room 4406, English Lounge

This paper will explore the idea that “Cosmopolitanism,” as a term, an idealized state of being, and a cultural and political idea, comes into vogue in historical circumstances where the putative attributes of cosmopolitanism—tolerance of, even ease with, people of different nationalities, cultures, religions, and races—are disabled in practice. Eighteenth-century English and European commentators on cultural difference derived most of their operative sociological and historical categories from the explosion of information produced by commercial and colonial expansion across the globe. Out of this welter of knowledge emerged the theories of kinship and social development that underpinned imperialist ideas of human difference as well as more cosmopolitan arguments that insisted on the recuperative powers of cultural knowledge and human sympathy. Such cosmopolitanism was a forceful, though necessarily compromised, response to the cultural coercions of empire. I will show that eighteenth-century literary texts are a fruitful archive for discussions of the forms and vocabularies of cosmopolitanism, and also venture a larger, more speculative claim: cosmopolitanism, that is, the awareness of the mediated relations between provinces and nations, nations and colonies, and between competitive empires in history and in the contemporary moment, enabled “English Literature” to come into institutional being in the eighteenth century.

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