Chimeras of Form: Modernist Internationalism Beyond Europe, 1914–2016
Faculty Book Manuscript Workshop Publication
Winner, 2018 Harry Levin Prize, American Comparative Literature Association
In Chimeras of Form, Aarthi Vadde vividly illustrates how modernist and contemporary writers reimagine the nation and internationalism in a period defined by globalization. She explains how Rabindranath Tagore, James Joyce, Claude McKay, George Lamming, Michael Ondaatje, and Zadie Smith use modernist literary forms to develop ideas of international belonging sensitive to the afterlife of empire. In doing so, she shows how this wide-ranging group of authors challenged traditional expectations of aesthetic form, shaping how their readers understand the cohesion and interrelation of political communities.
Drawing on her close readings of individual texts and on literary, postcolonial, and cosmopolitical theory, Vadde examines how modernist formal experiments take part in debates about transnational interdependence and social obligation. She reads Joyce's use of asymmetrical narratives as a way to ask questions about international camaraderie, and demonstrates how the "plotless" works of Claude McKay upturn ideas of citizenship and diasporic alienation. Her analysis of the contemporary writers Zadie Smith and Shailja Patel shows how present-day issues relating to migration, displacement, and economic inequality link modernist and postcolonial traditions of literature. Vadde brings these traditions together to reveal the dual nature of internationalism as an aspiration, possibly a chimeric one, and an actual political discourse vital to understanding our present moment.