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Cosmopolitan Sensibilities in 21st Century Postcolonial and Postsocialist Fiction

Ágnes Györke
Wednesday, March 15, 2023, 5:40 pm – 7:19 pm

With the rise of mass migration after the collapse of historical empires, cosmopolitism has become one of the most widely discussed issues in the humanities and the social sciences. To what extent do cosmopolitan attitudes foster transcultural communication and openness? To what extent do they rely on West-centric norms and role models? My talk will explore the ways in which 21st century literature engages with these questions, focusing specifically on postcolonial and postsocialist women writers, whose work, I argue, is particularly relevant from the perspective of cosmopolitanism. Postcolonial fiction depicts the legacy of colonial violence and the convergence of different ethnicities in global cities, while postsocialist novels engage with the atrocities of communism and the transformations that followed its collapse in 1989. My talk will investigate the portrayal of cosmopolitan sensibilities in novels and short stories including Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003), Zadie Smith’s NW (2012), “The Embassy of Cambodia” (2013), Noémi Szécsi’s The Finno-Ugrian Vampire (2001) and Noémi Kiss’s “Passage to a Detour” (2006), for instance, which draw on cosmopolitan attitudes yet are suspicious of the universalising implications of the term. Relying on the concept of “cosmopolitan feminism” (Vieten 2012; Fitzgerald and Stevens 2018), which foregrounds the significance of the local and the embodied, I will explore the role affects play in the formation of cosmopolitan sensibilities. My talk will address two specific questions: to what extent does postcolonial and postsocialist fiction offer an alternative to hegemonic cosmopolitan attitudes? Can the cosmopolitan sensibilities they depict help cope with the unresolved affects that haunt the postcolonial and the postsocialist world?

Short bio:  
Ágnes Györke is Associate Professor at Károli Gáspár University’s Institute of English Studies in Budapest, Hungary. She has been visiting scholar at Indiana University, the University of Bristol, King’s College London, the University of Leeds, and Fellow at Central European University’s Institute for Advanced Study. Her recent publications include Geographies of Affect in Contemporary Literature and Visual Culture: Central Europe and the West (co-edited with Imola Bülgözdi, Brill, 2021); “On the Periphery: Contemporary Exile Fiction and Hungary (Journal of Postcolonial Writing 57, 2021) and “Salman Rushdie and Globalization” (in Salman Rushdie in Context, ed. Florian Stadtler, Cambridge University Press, 2023).