Composite City: Towards A Theory of the Composite Urban In Contemporary Multi-/Ethnic Literature

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Powell, Tierney S.
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Contemporary writers are reconfiguring the space of the global, American city and challenging the spatial, theoretical, and literary representations of the urban. The space of the city has been a predominant figure in literary conversations, namely because the city is a particularly robust space for considering the renegotiations of identity. As Saskia Sassen notes, the “Western city of today concentrates diversity. [The] radical form assumed today by the linkage of people to territory is the unmooring of identities from what have been traditional sources of identity, such as the nation or the village” (Sassen 191). The discourse of nationhood is being transformed by emergent ideas of transterritorial urban identity. Contemporary writers leverage the urban as a mechanism for challenging spatial claims and the essentializing limitations of colonial cartographies.|Although contemporary fiction has generated literatures reflective of the complexities of the global city, literary theory has neglected to keep up. This is due to the failure of literary theory to encompass the dynamism of global citizenship, identity, and nation-building inherent in these literatures. Scholarship on contemporary urban literatures predominantly situates contemporary literary practices within postcolonial and cosmopolitan discussions on the one hand, and problematic spatial models influenced by postmodernism, on the other. The theoretical limitations demonstrate a need in contemporary literary criticism to formulate a practice of reading the literatures of the modern, global city. I herein propose a theoretical approach that subsumes socio-political and spatial readings of these contemporary multi-/ethnic literatures.|What I term composite space functions as a historically-based practice of reading contemporary multi-ethnic literature of the city. This practice reads the literary urban stage as comprised of multiple, layered, spatio-temporal dimensions. Composite theory is a non-scalar, spatial modality aimed at reconfiguring and (re)theorizing the spaces of urbanity in contemporary, multi-/ethnic American literature. Composite spatial theory closes the gap between existing theories of postcolonialism, postmodernism, and geocriticism, and offers instead a practice of understanding contemporary multi-/ethnic literature, attending to issues of temporality, historicity, and the growing need for literary theory to advocate for the voices of contemporary multi-ethnic authors and the voices represented in contemporary multi-/ethnic literatures.
Creighton University
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