“At Home in the World”: Hong Kong as a Cosmopolitan City in Xu Xi’s The Unwalled City

Melody Yunzi Li’s “‘At Home in the World”: Hong Kong as a Cosmopolitan City in Xu Xi’s The Unwalled City” appears in Telos 180 (Fall 2017), a special issue on Cosmopolitanism and China. Read the full article at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our online store.

Hong Kong is unique for its hybrid nature in language and culture. Drawing upon Ulf Hannerz’s model of cosmopolitans and locals, this paper argues that Hong Kongese are cosmopolitans and locals in one, other than the dichotomy raised by Hannerz. The paper considers how Xu Xi’s novel The Unwalled City questions any overarching or simplified understanding of cosmopolitanism and its utopian parlance of seamless linguistic-cultural coexistence. For Xu Xi, writing in English provides a crucially literary tactic with which to construct her multiple ethnic identities and eclectic images.

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The Language of Warfare

“Today words like ‘persevere’ and ‘hero’s death’ had been so ceaselessly bandied about that they had long since acquired an ironic sound—at least wherever there was actual fighting. . . . Once, before an attack, Sturm had heard an old sergeant say the following: ‘Kids, we’re going over there now to gobble up the Englishmen’s rations.’ It was the best battle address that he had ever heard. That was surely something good in the war—that it destroyed glorious-sounding phrases. Concepts that hung fleshless in the void were overcome by laughter.”
—Ernst Jünger, Sturm, describing the Battle of the Somme, whose centenary is this year.

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Europe after Brexit

Walk around Berlin these days and you will find that you will hear almost as much English being spoken on the streets as German. While some describe this situation as a sign that Berlin has now become a cosmopolitan city, this very interpretation reveals precisely the attitude that has led to the rise of English in Germany. To speak English is to be cosmopolitan, and to speak German is to be provincial, and so it becomes a mark of pride to converse in English rather than one’s native German, at least for a certain segment of the population. And therein lies the problem. For it is precisely that segment of global business people, academics, and bureaucrats against whom nationalist sentiment has been rising all over Europe amongst the monolinguals who see themselves as excluded from the European project.

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Johann Herder, Early Nineteenth-century Romanticism, and the Common Roots of Multiculturalism and Right-wing Populism

In today’s public life, marked by large-scale migration, welfare states under pressure, and a soaring right-wing scene, “multiculturalism” and “right-wing populism” remain at the center of political debate. It is assumed, moreover, that they stand in sharp opposition to one another. On the one hand, multiculturalism is widely acclaimed for being progressive, radical, and safely leftist. It is seen as a vital precondition for a modern society: tolerant, humble, and anti-racist. Anyone who opposes multiculturalism, then, will be deemed at best a conservative or reactionary—if not outright racist, xenophobe, nationalist, or fascist. On the other hand, we have right-wing populism. Due to its allegiance with racism, virulent nationalism, and fascism, right-wing populism has a dubious reputation. Multiculturalism, as it seems, is anything that right-wing populism is not.

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Marrano Universalism: Benjamin, Derrida, and Buck‑Morss on the Condition of Universal Exile

The following paper was presented at the 2015 Telos Conference, held on February 13–15, 2015, in New York City. For additional details about the conference, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

In my short essay, I would like to outline a new strategy of the universalization of history, which emerges from the analysis of modern Jewish practice of philosophizing. I call it a Marrano strategy, by building an analogy between the religious practices of the late-medieval Sephardic Jewry, which was forced to convert to Christianity but kept Judaism “undercover,” and the philosophical intervention of modern Jewish thinkers who spoke the seemingly universal idiom of Western philosophy but, at the same time, impregnated it “secretly” with motives deriving from their “particular” background.[1] Yet, they did not do it in order to abolish the universalist perspective, but to transform it; for the last heirs of this “Marrano” line, Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida, the proper universalism amounts to an after-Babel project of mending the broken whole from within, horizontally, without assuming the lofty position of a general meta-language, but through the effort of multi-linguality.

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Is Linguistic Justice Translatable? On the Significance of Translation for Universal History

The aim of this short paper is to offer a critical response to Philippe Van Parijs concerning his notion of linguistic justice as worked out most extensively in his book Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World (2011). I thus begin by elucidating his conception of linguistic justice by presenting two basic theses on which it rests: first, he attempts to demonstrate the need for a lingua franca in the “globalized” (or rather “globalizing”) world today (i.e., advocating a common language for the entire world); and second, he seeks to justify the exceptional and unprecedented position the English language is now in to serve as the de facto lingua franca for this globalizing world. Given the general theme of history for this conference, I shall present Van Parijs’ thoughts with a particular focus on its historical aspects and implications. Accordingly, the first part of my discussion will center on the idea of lingua franca in relation to history. As a critical response to Van Parijs’ view, I subsequently take up the question of translation and discuss in the second part the significant role translation can and must play in our contemporary, multilingual world. Such an analysis will be carried out by examining some of the important contributions made in the hermeneutic tradition on the question of translation. In particular, the works of George Steiner, John Sallis, and Paul Ricoeur will be considered. By doing so, I wish to demonstrate in this paper that it is not English as the lingua franca that serves linguistic justice, but rather our openness to translation that must be seen as a fundamental principle of linguistic justice.

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