Carnegie Mellon University

Citizens Everywhere: Modernism, Decolonization, and Discourses of Citizenship

Author: Srila Nayak

Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2007

This dissertation analyzes the construction of citizenship in modernist and (post)-colonial literary, cultural and political texts. While the diasporic and cosmopolitan roots of modernism are well documented by critics, my project analyzes the ways in which British and American modernists theorize and historicize their affiliation to a chosen or naturalized constituency. I primarily focus on modernist writers’ identification with the nation across the registers of nationalism, gender and state. My project also engages with Indian and Carribean perspectives on citizenship as it evolves from a vocabulary of Western liberal notions of self-government within the context of liberal imperialism. My project primarily attempts to address two areas of critical concern. The first pertains to a cultural material framework to contextualize the varieties of modernist anti-liberalism. More often than not, modernism is theorized as a monolithic aesthetic movement whose anti-liberalism primarily constitutes a deliberate construction of a gap between high-culture and mass culture. This project demonstrates that modernist anti-liberalism vigorously debates the definition of the liberal nation state and forms of inter-war nationalism by considering what it means to be a citizen in an era defined by the crisis of the liberal nation-state, the disintegration of the British empire and the rise of the totalitarian state. I begin by demonstrating that critical constructions of Eliot’s conservatism, primarily deriving from his self-definition as a British-Anglican and royalist, entirely obliterate the forceful confrontation between his poetic aesthetics and inter-war nationalism’s definition of citizenship. Similarly, my chapter on Woolf  argues that her break with Edwardian materialism comes to constitute a modernist female agency that contests both nationalism and imagines England as a post-imperial and post-patriarchal territory. I read Pound’s turn to Fascist totalitarianism as deriving from, among other things, a specific interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s definition of economic self-determination for the citizens of the newly post-colonial American republic.  The second area of concern pertains to the critical treatment of (post)-colonial nationalism that either sees it as a derivative form of Western liberalism or an expression of oppressive xenophobia. My project analyzes Indian colonial discourses and the writings of Pan-African Marxist, C. L. R. James to demonstrate the variety of adaptations and departures from Western liberalism undertaken by anti-imperial nationalism and James’s particular critique of the typologies of class-hegemony and national community generated by the Western liberal nation state, that is often ignored.