Having finished reading Gilroy’s book, I’m now about halfway through the review.
For the review, I’m interested in Gilroy’s notion of patriotism, and how it connects with his conception of cosmopolitanism. Because Gilroy would seem to want to hold on to both of these concepts. Strangely, indeed, it is Orwell who is perhaps the key figure in the book, the only one to bridge its two halves, “The Planet” and “Albion.” Orwell, we are told, combines “worldly consciousness” with “parochial attachments to England’s distinctive environment” (76-77). So, it would seem, does Gilroy.
Patriotism in Postcolonial Melancholia is not, then, or not always, the last refuge of a scoundrel. It can be, in Orwell’s own case, “authentically geo-pious” (96); it can also be, now in Ali G’s case, a “daring act of . . . love” (135). Of course, Gilroy’s advocacy of patriotism is far from unequivocal. He’s certainly opposed to the “state-sponsored patriotism and ethnic-absolutism [that] are now dominant” (25). But the fact that, especially towards the end of the book, he often refers to “ultranationalism” as the enemy (as in the “artificially whitened, comprehensively rehomogenized national community to which ultranationalist discourse casually refers” ) appears to leave open the possibility of a dignified, modest brand of national adherence.
There’s a tension here, though, between adherence and the “estrangement” that Gilroy also praises, for instance in what he calls Montesquieu’s “carefully cultivated degree of estrangement” (70) or Freud’s “intuitive estrangement” (68), even Eric Auerbach’s “observation on the perfection of the man for whom ‘the whole world is as a foreign land'” (24). This is, again, where Orwell comes to the fore, because there are few who have been as estranged either from their own country or even from the poor with whom he sought solidarity (as even a cursory glance at The Road to Wigan Pier shows) than this Old Etonian turned colonial bureaucrat turned tramp turned anarchist turned writer in the lonely isolation of remote Jura.
Gilroy half acknowledges that such estrangement is the very model of the modernist intellectual. “Distancing can sound like a privilege and has sometimes been associated with the history of elites,” he says, “but I am not convinced that it is inevitably tainted by those association” (67). I’m not convinced that it isn’t, either, but perhaps this could be another way of reading the irony and cynicism that are such denigrated features of our postmodern condition. With the universalization of irony, are we all now able to be “stranger[s] in [our] own country” (135)? Is that indeed what a website such as i am fucking terrified is all about?
Gilroy is no friend of postmodernism–far from it, it is modernism he tells us he wants to reclaim–but there’s a sense in which his ironic, distanced patriotism can only be postmodern in its generalized assumption of modernism’s aesthetic distancing plus its premodern appeal to territory, belonging, and even authenticity.