During World War II and the early Cold War period, factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or class made a number of American writers feel marginalized in U.S. society. Cosmopolitan Minds focuses on a core of transnational writers—Kay Boyle, Pearl S. Buck, William Gardner Smith, Richard Wright, and Paul Bowles—who found themselves prompted to seek experiences outside of their home country, experiences that profoundly changed their self-understanding and creative imagination as they encountered alternative points of views and cultural practices in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Alexa Weik von Mossner offers a new perspective on the affective underpinnings of critical and reflexive cosmopolitanism by drawing on theories of emotion and literary imagination from cognitive psychology, philosophy, and cognitive literary studies. She analyzes how physical dislocation, and the sometimes violent shifts in understanding that result from our affective encounters with others, led Boyle, Buck, Smith, Wright, and Bowles to develop new, cosmopolitan solidarities across national, ethnic, and religious boundaries. She also shows how, in their literary texts, these writers employed strategic empathy to provoke strong emotions such as love, sympathy, compassion, fear, anger, guilt, shame, and disgust in their readers in order to challenge their parochial worldviews and practices. Reading these texts as emotionally powerful indictments of institutionalized racism and national violence inside and outside of the United States, Weik von Mossner demonstrates that our emotional engagements with others—real and imagined—are crucially important for the development of transnational and cosmopolitan imaginations.
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Alexa Weik von Mossner is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Klagenfurt in Austria. Her essays have appeared in journals such as the African American Review, English Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, and the Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies.Review:
"Once more, with feeling! Weik von Mossner offers a powerful new vision of cosmopolitanism by going deep into the theory of emotion, negotiating inventively between the emotional and the ethical, the national and the universal. Her readings on the edges of the American canon are eye-openers not just about cosmopolitanism, but about America itself. She has re-tooled cosmopolitan universalism for the needs of our place and our time." (Bruce Robbins, Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University, and author of Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence)
"Cosmopolitan Minds offers an innovative theoretical lens for studying the phenomenon of cosmopolitanism. . . . It convincingly shows how a cognitive studies framework can enhance existing critical practices in the field and build on both historicist and aesthetic arguments. Moreover, the book demonstrates how cognitive literary studies can itself benefit from examining modes of thought and writing—including sentimentality, biography, fictionalized autobiography—that generally have been less attractive to conventional cog-lit scholars. . . . The selection of writers is strikingly original, especially insofar as it attends to figures that have been marginalized in the study of cosmopolitan American literature. . . . The same can be said for the selection of individual texts: the author does an excellent job of recovering several ignored—or at least undervalued—works by each writer." (Ryan Schneider, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English, Purdue University, and author of The Public Intellectualism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and W.E.B. Du Bois: Emotional Dimensions of Race and Reform)
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