Looking to expand modernism/modernity beyond their Eurocentrisms, and popular culture beyond American postmodernism/postmodernity, Jon Lindblom turns to the concepts of transmodernism and transmodernity in their decolonial versions.

What could culture in a world without capitalism look like? This is an important question for progressive thinkers who not only believe that such a world is possible, but that it also would provide us with unparalleled opportunities for constructing novel forms of cultural dynamics. This essay aims to speculate on what one form of such a culture might look like, by aiming to outline the rudiments for what we may think of as a genuinely global, modernist popular culture that stands in sharp contrast to the now dominant form of globalisation associated with neoliberal capitalism. This is important on the one hand for providing a much-needed corrective of the firmly established associations of modernity and modernism with Euro- and Western-centrism, and on the other hand for outlining a progressive vision of post-capitalist globality that surpasses the colonial programme of economic globalisation that has been integral to the development of modern capitalism. Indeed, insofar as a constitutive feature of capitalism is that globalisation does not occur on equal terms for all, means that providing an alternative image of global cultural exchange is a fruitful strategy for post-capitalist, progressive thought.

From a cultural perspective, the potentials of thinking a world beyond capitalism may be characterised in terms of the conviction that a world free from capitalist domination would provide us with the conditions for building entirely new forms of cultures that would not need to exist in opposition to a massive capitalist culture industry, but instead could flourish freely across popular and global registers. Indeed, the ambition to build a global modernist culture of the popular kind cannot be divorced from the ambition to overturn capitalism, since global capitalism is the primary (although not the only) system that blocks this culture from becoming a reality. In other words, it is my conviction that attempts to build other kinds of cultures as long as capitalism remains hegemonic will remain limited in scope – at best resulting in fringe and temporary outbursts of cultural authenticity that may be exciting, but that do not pose a fundamental threat to the status quo. In contrast, it is the ambition of this essay to take serious Fredric Jameson’s argument that ‘a truly new culture could only emerge through the collective struggle to create a new social system’,1See Jameson, F. (1992) Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press), p. xii. by envisioning a global modernist popular culture whose underlying premises are fundamentally incompatible with those of capitalist hegemony.

This is where so-called transmodernism emerges as one potential form of such a new culture. I say ‘potential’ since we obviously do not know whether a transmodern future ever will be realised. Hence, the purpose of this essay is to imagine transmodernism as a cultural variant of post-capitalism. My intention is thus to think of transmodernism as presented here as a latent potential, depending on which path humanity takes in the future. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that post-capitalism is a somewhat ambiguous concept, since it does not specify what a world after capitalism actually will look like.2See, for example, Frase, P. (2016) Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (London: Verso Books). Basically, it could be something even worse than capitalism – which also most likely would mean forms of culture even worse than the worst at the present. Hence, while elements of the transmodern culture envisioned here already exist at the present, there are also other latent cultural forces at work that could take us in very different directions should they become dominant in the future.

Transmodernism

Let us begin by looking closer at the concepts of transmodernism and transmodernity, which are partly rooted in Latin American, decolonial thought and intimately linked to issues around capitalism and globalisation. While far lesser known than postmodernism, transmodernism has actually been around for a while in various different forms.3Other thinkers who have written on transmodernity include the philosophers Fernando Zalamea and Rosa María Rodríguez Magda. See, for example, Zalamea, F. (2009) ‘Peirce and Latin American “razonabilidad”: forerunners of Transmodernity’, in European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, I-1/2 and Rodríguez Magda, R.M. (2011) ‘Transmodernity: A New Paradigm’, in Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(1). See also the work of the theorist Inigo Wilkins on cultural transmodernism in Wilkins, I. Irreversible Noise (forthcoming). However, the way it is utilised in this essay draws in particular upon its decolonial version associated with the work of the philosopher Enrique Dussel. Crucial to his work are two accounts of modernity. One of these is the familiar European version, which he argues must be traced back to the late 15th century and the discovery of America – and which reached its peak a few centuries later with the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. According to this understanding of modernity, Europe increasingly came to occupy the centre of world history since 1492 because of how its control of the Atlantic and the New World through colonial domination allowed it to significantly strengthen its position vis-à-vis other geographical regions. Modernity is thus here understood in terms of a particular nexus of Eurocentrism, colonialism and capitalism, insofar as the beginning of modern capitalism and the world market is identified as synchronous with the European, colonial domination that began when the Spanish and the Portuguese arrived at and conquered the land of the indigenous peoples of South America – and which later has continued, most notably with Africa and the Middle Passage, in various ways up to present forms of globalisation, where the US has turned into the new global centre against the backdrop of a Global North that continues to dominate and exploit a significantly poorer Global South.

Dussel thus criticises the well-known European definition of modernity as rational emancipation from immaturity for papering over the colonial horrors that this distinctively narrow understanding of emancipation rests upon. More specifically, this is what he refers to as ‘the myth of modernity’ and ‘the developmentalist fallacy’: how emancipation through development was based on a false distinction between European civilisation and non-European primitives who not just were excluded from the process of development, but whose submission to colonial domination was its very condition. Indeed, the European ascension to the centre of the world system after 1492 was made possible precisely because of its conquering of the lands and peoples understood as positioned outside of (European) civilisation. They are consequently identified by Dussel as the neglected sacrificial victims of the myth of modernity – which may be understood as a decolonial revision of Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical diagnosis of myth and sacrifice that, in a similar way, sees the rationalisation of emancipation as fuelled by distinctively irrational underpinnings synonymous with large-scale social domination. Although, in this case, the victims of domination are the people in the colonised worlds – from the first Amerindians and onwards – whose subjugation to colonial oppression was seen as necessary for furthering the modern project of emancipation through development.

However, unlike many other critics of modernity, Dussel’s critique does refreshingly not end with the rejection of the modern project as such. On the contrary, he is in fact an advocate of modernity – yet in a different form, which is where transmodernity emerges as the second account of modernity that revises and augments the first. Crucial to transmodernity is thus not a negation of European modernity, but what Dussel refers to as its ‘subsumption from the viewpoint of [its] alterity’,4Dussel, E. (1995) The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of the Other and the Myth of Modernity (New York: Continuum Books), p. 138. or exteriority: the many peoples that have been oppressed and marginalised by colonial domination, but that have been developing their own societies and cultures in parallel with Western modernisation. Hence, rather than simply seeing these cultures as instruments to be integrated into and accommodated to the false universality of Western modernity – essentially, to be conformed to the sameness of the Western image – transmodernism instead views them as creative nodes whose cultural exteriority to Western modernity is crucial for overcoming its internal limits through a transsystemic project of creative alterity wherein the modern and all of the cultures beyond are syncretically integrated into a new globality.

What is crucial to transmodernity is thus not a distinctly Western perspective that converts the other into its own sameness, but rather a global perspective that approaches non-Western cultures as exteriorities whose alterities will enrich the modern project as long as their integrity is maintained and their autonomy preserved through symmetric dialogue as opposed to asymmetric oppression. And, conversely, Dussel argues that these cultures should not just reject Western modernity as such, but rather incorporate its best aspects in order to further their own growths. Thus, centre and periphery will be genuinely integrated and mutually amplify each other not through the imposition of a false universality of one party upon the others, but through the ‘pluriversality’ (i.e., a universal commitment to plurality) of a global, transcultural community where alterity is preserved and recognised as a resource for transcultural dialogue and creativity, among other things. It is in this sense that the transmodern project not simply is a rejection of modernity, but rather an attempt to genuinely fulfil its emancipatory promises by detaching the notion of emancipation from the myth of European modernity and its developmentalist fallacy. In short, by no longer construing emancipation based on an us versus them, but in terms of all. As Dussel puts it: ‘Modernity will come into its fullness not by passing from its potency to its act, but by surpassing itself through a corealization with its once negated alterity and through a process of mutual, creative fecundation’.5Ibid.

Transmodernity may thus be characterised as an attempt to envision a revised, future modernity beyond historical and present forms of domination. Needless to say, this is why it is an important resource for constructing a post-capitalist modernity – because its potential future realisation hinges on the overcoming of the colonial and neo-colonial forms of oppression associated with capitalist modernity and globalisation. Or, to put it differently, because it does not see modernity as strictly synonymous with Western capitalism, but rather associates its true potentials with a future beyond. However, in order to look closer at the benefits and limitations of Dussel’s conception of transmodernity, it is necessary to introduce the writing on modernity and cultural modernism by the scholar Susan Stanford Freedman, whose work on what she intriguingly calls ‘planetary modernisms’6See Stanford Friedman, S. (2018) Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (New York: Columbia University Press). from the perspective of post-colonial modernist studies, is useful precisely for how it helps us approach Dussel’s work in a productive way, by fleshing out the concept of the transmodern.

Like Dussel, Friedman is interested in revising our conception of modernity from a perspective beyond Eurocentrism. But whereas Dussel’s understanding of modernity still takes its Western version as its fundamental starting point and centre of orientation – in the form of a Wallersteinian take on Western modernity as the centre of the world system that was established following the discovery of the New World in the late 15th century – Friedman, on the other hand, argues that modernity should be augmented to also encompass periods of rapid techno-social transformation beyond the West. Not just after the late 15th century – that is, synchronous with Western modernity – but also before. Indeed, she suggests that the idea of modernity as an inherently Western phenomenon is itself an ideological construct perpetuated by the West – which has obscured the fact that the massive processes of transformation and upheaval associated with Western modernity also have taken place at other times and in other geographical locations. In order to substantialise this argument, she thus looks closer at the sedentary Tang-Song empires of China (7th–13th century) and the nomadic Mongol empire (13th–14th century), both of which she argues ‘were engines of innovation and rapid change across a wide spectrum of societal domains – from the economic, political, and technological to the cultural, intellectual, and aesthetic’.7Ibid., p. 100. For example, the Tang-Song empires were both large-scale cosmopolitan societies fuelled by a plethora of national and transnational trade routes, which underwent major social, cultural, technological, economic and political transformations that included novel kinds of legal reforms and women’s rights, new credit and tax systems, major advances in industrial production and manufacturing, a plethora of innovations within the areas of navigation and warfare (including gunpowder and the compass), increased book production and the emergence of novel prose and poetic forms. And while transformations such as these normally are associated with the West, their earlier emergence in a distinctively modern China – and other places as well – prompts Friedman to suggest undermines the very idea of modernity as an inherently Western phenomenon.8Ibid., p. 101-105. Furthermore, she also argues (and demonstrates throughout the book) that the same can be said about modernism as well, insofar as modernism – defined by her as the aesthetic register of any modernity – also has appeared in numerous other places and times than Europe in the early 20th century, and thus must be expanded beyond the European canon to also include other kinds of formal aesthetic innovations emerging in the contexts of periods of intense modernisation all over the planet.

Friedman thus proposes a globalisation of the concepts of modernity and modernism – or a provincialisation of their Western versions, if you will – which expands these concepts spatially (i.e., to other areas of the planet) and temporally (to the present and far back into the deep time of human history). This stands in stark contrast to the idea of modernity and modernism as exclusively Western phenomena oriented around uncomfortable binaries such as Western/non-Western, or civilised/non-civilised. Even the work of someone like Immanuel Wallerstein, who is critical of the West’s position as the core of the global world system, suffers from similar limitations according to Friedman, insofar as he still considers Western modernity to be the centre around which everything else – that is, the so-called geographical peripheries and semi-peripheries – must orient themselves. Hence, despite his critical perspective on Western modernity, Wallerstein remains fundamentally Eurocentric according to Friedman.

Contrary to the core-periphery model and others that see modernity as inherently linked to the West as the global centre (regardless of whether this is understood as good or bad), Friedman thus constructs a polycentric theory of modernity/modernism oriented around the idea of a planetary network of multiple modernities that all share some fundamental qualities – such as rupture, speed and circulation – even though they have been actualised at vastly different geographical locations throughout the deep time of human history (e.g., in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Arab world and Europe and the US as well). For Friedman, the idea of multiple modernities across planetary and deep temporal scales is thus the proper post-colonial way of overcoming the ideological construction that is Western modernity – or, its myth, as Dussel would say. That is, not by simply critiquing modernity as an inherently Western phenomenon, but rather by expanding the very idea of modernity by explicating its multiple non-Western implementations.

While there certainly is plenty of overlap between Friedman’s conception of planetary modernities and Dussel’s idea of transmodernity, there are also important differences that I would like to bring up here. In particular, Friedman’s critique of Wallerstein (who also has influenced Dussel’s thinking on transmodernity), since it allows us to pinpoint a similar problem in how Dussel conceives of modernity. For despite his trenchant critique of it, Dussel nevertheless subscribes to the Wallersteinian concept of modernity as a global core located in the West within the world system that gradually was established after the discovery of the New World in 1492 – which thus ends up with the same kind of dichotomy between a modern Western core and various non-modern, non-Western peripheries. Needless to say, Dussel is a strong advocate for the peripheral regions and their global recognition as important actors in world history. But he nevertheless seems to reserve the concept of modernity for the West as such – which, if we are to follow Friedman, indexes a Eurocentrism of his own insofar as he accepts the idea of modernity as synonymous with the emergence of Western hegemony. Of course, transmodernity is conceived by Dussel as modernity moving beyond its Western frontiers – but even here he seems to structure this process in terms of what Friedman calls a diffusionist model wherein a distinctively Western modernity is distributed from its core to its various peripheries, in terms of the transmodern process wherein the best of Western modernity is spread to the peripheral regions and vice versa, as opposed to a networked process of circulation between different planetary modernities both within and beyond the West.

Dussel’s account of the transmodern thus remains a bit too narrow and must indeed be augmented through Friedman’s polycentric notion of planetary modernisms. Although one could then of course ask the question of whether the link between transmodernity and post-capitalism is too narrow as well, since, according to Friedman, something like transmodernity has in fact already been around for a long time (as indexed by her idea of planetary modernities and modernisms). However, while there is some truth to this, I also think that it exposes what I consider somewhat of a weakness in Friedman’s commitment to polycentrism. More specifically, I believe that Fridman’s model of polycentric modernities – in contrast to the more familiar core-periphery model – threatens to paper over important political struggles over the concept of modernity. For even though she certainly is right to expand modernity beyond the Western world, it nevertheless seems to me that her rejection of core-periphery relations in favour of polycentrism risks undermining the very real kinds of power relations explicated by the former. Indeed, the processes described by the likes of Wallerstein are not so easily dismissed as Friedman seems to suggest, because they index global power relations of a Western-centric kind that ultimately must be practically disassembled, as opposed to rejected only at a theoretical level. For the West continues to be a global hegemonic force – ideologically, militarily, economically, culturally, and so on – and while this certainly is not the whole picture, as Friedman convincingly argues by highlighting the singular creativeness of various non-Western modernisms and modernities, I nevertheless think that true polycentrism only can be achieved once core-periphery systems of domination have been practically eliminated. Accordingly, it is only then that transmodernism as conceptualised on these pages truly could emerge.

This is why transmodernism as envisioned here remains a future potential, as opposed to a fully matured existing phenomenon, insofar as its complete realisation requires abolishing global power relations that Friedman’s analysis both undermines and also seems to somewhat take for granted. For example, she argues that one of the constitutive features of any modernity is a dialectics of utopia and dystopia that comes with periods of rapid and intense transformation fuelled by large-scale empires. In other words, according to Friedman, progress and emancipation are always accompanied by oppression and destruction. And, rather than taking a particular side in these conflicts or speculating on how to maximise emancipation in the present – for instance, by considering an alternative image of modernity not orchestrated by massive empires – her interest is simply to pinpoint and analyse them and the sites in which they have occurred as indexes of the ‘quintessentially modern’.9Ibid., p. 178. Her approach is thus distinctively academic – as opposed to Dussel’s more political perspective – which, along with her particular kind of polycentrism, I think ends up with a too flat image of global power relations that also lacks visions of how to transform them for the better.10Friedman is not unaware of this limitation, as she points out that the many modernities that appear in Planetary Modernisms are ‘insufficiently analyzed in the specificity of [their] political, economic, and cultural power’, and that her approach is not meant to whitewash or disregard all the power and oppression mobilised under the aegis of modernity (Western and others). See Ibid., p. 337. In contrast, this is what the present account of transmodernism and transmodernity is striving towards: a global image of modernity emancipated from large-scale forms of oppression.

It thus seems to me that a certain degree of what Friedman considers to be Western-centrism is necessary – simply because our present reality is Western-centric – although not to nurture it, of course, but only to actually get rid of it. Because, as Fredric Jameson puts it: ‘[…] the United States is not just one country, or one culture, among others, any more than English is just one language among others. There is a fundamental dissymmetry in the relationship between the United States and every other country in the world […]’.11Jameson, F. (1998) ‘Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue’, in Jameson, F., and Miyoshi, M., eds., The Cultures of Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press), p. 58. While this may seem like an incredibly Western-centric statement, it would be a mistake to read it like that since what Jameson is saying is not that American culture is the best culture in the world – but rather that it has become the most dominant cultural nexus in the post-war world system. And if this system is ever to be dismantled, it must first be recognised as a system – such as by overcoming what Jameson refers to as an ‘American blindness’12Ibid., p. 59. that tends to take American culture to be a universal culture above others – which is where I believe that the core-periphery perspective continues to be of value.

For example, whereas Jamesonian analyses of present times as postmodern certainly run the risk of simply projecting a Western conceptual framework upon the rest of the planet, as Friedman points out13Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms, p. 87. – because of postmodernity’s genesis in the Western world, whose trajectory from modernity to postmodernity cannot simply be applied to all other cultures on the planet – I believe that the postmodern, along with its closely associated concepts such as neoliberalism, globalisation and Americanisation, remain important precisely insofar as they pinpoint the present Western-centrism that must be overcome if we ever are to realise something like transmodernism and transmodernity. This is not the only struggle, yet I believe that it is particularly significant to address – not because of some kind of inherent value of Western culture that other cultures do not possess, but because of the global cultural power of Western postmodernism thanks to the systems of globalisation set in motion and orchestrated primarily by present forms of Western neoliberal capitalism. For these are very real systems of global power, which cannot simply be theoretically bypassed but must be overturned through actual political struggle. Although this ambition, at the same time, does not exclude explicating modernities beyond the West – in other words, I think that core-periphery perspectives do not have to be as incompatible with polycentrism as Friedman seems to suggest – which means that what is advocated here is a combination between a commitment to a struggle for polycentrism with a critical core-periphery perspective. Indeed, it seems to me that only on the back of this approach could true polycentrism, or transmodernism, become possible.

One cultural example that illustrates this power nexus of postmodernism, globalisation, Americanisation and neoliberalism, while also serving as a useful bridge to the final section of this essay, is the global power of the post-war American film industry, as discussed by thinkers such as Jameson and the film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. More specifically, in an essay on globalisation as a philosophical issue, Jameson uses the American film industry’s ambition to not just appear alongside – but rather outmanoeuvre and ultimately obliterate – various national film industries according to the impetus of neoliberal ideas on free trade and movement, as an example of the immense global power of American postmodernism and neoliberalism (and there are of course many others as well).14See Jameson, ‘Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue’. As Bordwell and Thompson discuss in a section on the same topic: the American film industry’s global outreach increased significantly during the 90s and 2000s, at the cost of other local ones, thanks to the transnational presence of major multimedia conglomerates as well as the trade association MPEAA (the Motion Picture Export Association of America) that lobbied politicians and other decision makers to open up local markets to the American film industry by removing various protectionist measures.15See Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2003) Film History: An Introduction, Second Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill), p. 706-710. In other words, this is not just an example of the massive cultural, social and economic power of the American culture industry, but also of how the cultural imperialism of American postmodernism has threatened the flourishing of alternative cultural expressions all over the world – which Jameson associates with what he refers to as ‘a certain modernism’ economically sustained by various state subsidies (e.g., the funding of independent cinema in West Germany, France, Canada and the UK – all later targets of American free-trade lobbyists) and driven by the ambition to create new aesthetic forms as a means for ‘imagining radically different social alternatives to this one we now live under’.16Jameson, ‘Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue’, p. 62.

Although Jameson’s essay was published in the late 90s, it continues to be of relevance today because the system it analysed back then still enjoys global hegemony in the present, through power operations such as the one just described. It is thus indeed a key antagonist to transmodernism as envisioned here, insofar as it is fundamentally incompatible with the transmodern commitment to cultural polycentrism. What is needed is thus a different conception of the global compared to that of neoliberal globalisation – an ‘alter-globalisation’ organised around a vision of global social equality and transcultural exchange. The full scope of such a vision is obviously vast – too vast for covering on these pages – so I will rather close this essay with some brief reflections on the cultural implications of it.

Synthetic Cosmopolitanism

Central to debates about globalisation is the extent to which it has acted as a standardising or enriching force worldwide. And while it obviously would be absurd to claim that globalisation has not brought plenty of good things with it, this essay nevertheless sides with those thinkers who see it as something highly negative. Although, to be clear, this negative stance towards globalisation has nothing to do with nativism or xenophobia, but is rather related to its functioning within neoliberal capitalism and its neo-colonial impetus to integrate all forms of local human activity into a global free market – an impetus which has ‘led to economic stagnation and increased unemployment, income poverty, economic vulnerability, and environmental destruction’,17Guttal, S. (2007) ‘Globalisation’, in Development in Practice, Vol. 17, No. 4/5, p. 527. as well as deepened rifts between the rich and the poor and between the Global North and the Global South. As the scholar Shalmali Guttal observes:

Globalisation has integrated rich, affluent, and educated classes, but has fractured working classes and marginalised the poor, who do not have the skills and economic clout to profit from open markets. While trade and financial liberalisation and privatisation have devastated the livelihoods of farmers, fishers, workers, and indigenous peoples in the South, the North too is facing globalisation-induced troubles. The subcontracting and outsourcing of industrial production and services processing to developing countries has created unemployment in the home countries of some of the world’s largest TNCs such as the USA, the UK, and France. Contrary to the rosy predictions of its proponents, globalisation has not created a flat, harmonious world with economic prosperity for all. Instead, it has bred imbalances and contradictions that capitalists themselves are hard put to explain.18Ibid., p. 529.

Hence, as Guttal argues, globalisation under neoliberal capitalism ‘is not an inclusive or progressive form of internationalism. Rather, it is the successful expansion on a world scale of particular localisms of social, economic, and political organisation’.19Ibid. And these localisms are Western, and American, in particular, as the philosopher Edouardo Mendieta argues. More specifically, Mendieta sees globalisation as a contemporary extension of European modernity – with the US having taken on the role of the globally dominating force in the present world system:

[G]lobalization has taken over the tasks that modernity used to perform. Like modernity, globalization is a term that helps us order societies in hierarchical and invidious ways that always put the United States and the so-called West, or Occident, in enviable and also unattainable positions. Like modernity, globalization is a theoretical grid that distorts the world, as it reveals aspects of it, while also distorting our place as epistemic subjects and objects. If modernity was the avant-garde position of the West – the European West – globalization is the avant-garde position of the United States, which has taken over the mission civilisatrice of the West.20Mendieta, E. (2007) Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latinamericanisms, and Critical Theory (Albany: State University of New York Press), p. 1.

Important to take away from the critiques of globalisation of writers such as Guttal and Mendieta is that globalisation is not some kind of neutral or natural process, but rather ‘the result of specifically conceived, planned, and targeted neo-liberal policy and structural measures that [have] sought to bring all aspects of social, economic, and political life under the rubric of market capitalism’.21Guttal, ‘Globalisation’, p. 525. From a cultural perspective, this process has mainly taken forms such as of what was discussed at the end of the previous section: aggressive global expansion of American postmodernism for hardcore economic reasons – which not only has benefited the American culture industry economically, but also has had culturally homogenising impact worldwide through the global diffusion of American tech- and pop culture at the cost of other cultures (most recently in the form of social media). And while one certainly is correct to argue that things such as global travel, the Internet and digital media and communications technologies also have benefited various cultural underground communities globally, the position maintained in this essay is nevertheless that – good as that has been – it is merely fortunate side-effects, as opposed to the main driver, of globalisation in its current form, which remains distinctively capitalist.

However, globalisation does not only have to be synonymous with ‘neoliberalism’, ‘postmodernism’, or ‘Americanisation’ – as Mendieta suggests when he argues that there are already many competing globalisations at work in the world today, which not only are based on destructive systems of inequality.22See Mendieta, Global Fragments, p. 3. This is why left critiques of globalisation should be alter-global rather than anti-global – insofar as they are not against the global per se, but rather the particular form it has taken under neoliberal capitalism and postmodernism. The left impetus should thus be to create a different kind of globalism – which I believe is where the transmodern emerges as a crucial conceptual resource in terms of post-capitalist globalisation.

Although other conceptual resources are necessary as well. Here, I would thus like to introduce another concept – that of cosmopolitanism – which I believe may similarly be utilised as a means for constructing an image of the global different from that of current globalisation. At its most basic, cosmopolitanism is referring to the idea of global citizenship, or a universal community, that encompasses all humans on earth. It should, however, not be understood as erasing the existence of local and national communities, but simply indexes the stance that, in a world that has become massively interconnected through processes of communication and globalisation, we must recognise that we also have certain obligations to everyone beyond those that are closest to us because of our common humanity and collective existence on planet Earth (something that the current climate catastrophe, for example, has made abundantly clear). Yet this also entails recognising that another central thing that we have in common is our differences. In other words, while it is the impetus of cosmopolitanism to view humanity through a global and universal lens, it does not attempt to do so by erasing local or regional difference – but, on the contrary, by nurturing it through the explication of a universal axis that allows sociocultural diversity (or, freedom, more generally speaking) to thrive globally.

Exactly how this should be articulated is an open question – yet one of the upshots of the cosmopolitan perspective, as Mendieta puts it, is how it aims to make visible the many people that have been rendered subaltern by the capitalist/colonial/neoliberal matrix23See Ibid., p. 10-11. precisely insofar as it entails a globalism that orients itself around difference, or diversity. It is indeed in this sense that it may be understood as indexing a globality beyond neoliberalism, insofar as it does not entail a conception of the global organised around the dominations of particular locals at a global scale – that is, in terms of core and peripheries – but, on the contrary, views the global in terms of polycentric networks of different communities, with their own agency and autonomy, that at the same time form a larger global whole.

This idea obviously converges with the sentiment that we should avoid thinking of modernism, or modernity, as a monolithic entity exclusive to the Western world, and instead think of planetary networks of local modernisms and modernities that, similarly, synthesise into a larger global whole. For otherwise, we risk turning what in fact is a particular (Western modernism and modernity) into a false universal and again repeating the shortcomings associated with previous Western calls for the universal. For the formal innovations of Western high modernism, for example, only constitute parts of the modernist aesthetic battery, which exist alongside the many formal innovations by all those artists who fall outside of this canon.

Although it should be mentioned that cosmopolitanism also has been utilised as a means for characterising the globality of capitalism. However, I am wary of such a use of the concept, since I believe that it goes against the communal register of cosmopolitanism. Simply put, from my perspective, the idea that all humans are members of a global community cannot easily be squared with the global inequalities of capitalism as outlined above – where some clearly are benefitting significantly at the cost of the suffering of others – insofar as a proper community is one in which all its members genuinely care for each other through mutual respect. Indeed, crucial to cosmopolitanism’s global integration is how its universal axis cuts across boundaries related not just to nationality – but also to others like class, as well as ethnicity, gender and sexuality. It would thus be a mistake to view cosmopolitan integration as simply encompassing integration of peripheral geographic regions. On the contrary, it must ultimately be understood as encompassing all kinds of previously neglected communities – regardless of geographical location. And then there is of course also capitalism’s tendency towards large-scale homogenisation, which similarly goes against a basic communal premise of cosmopolitanism: that difference in various forms is enriching. From this perspective, cosmopolitanism is thus incompatible with the global ‘pseudo-community’ of (neoliberal) capitalism and its large-scale forms of inequalities and homogenisations.

The importance of cosmopolitanism, accordingly, lies in how it allows us to navigate between the dual pitfalls of a false universalism, or flawed globalism, that simply wants to model everything into its own image (such as capitalism), as well as localisms or relativisms that refuse to rise above regional concerns. Contrary to these positions, cosmopolitanism synthesises the global with the local in terms of an ambition to construct a global and universal image of the human without eliminating particulars or local differences. This is why I believe that cosmopolitanism could be utilised as a conceptual resource for constructing an image of the global beyond capitalist globalisation – insofar as it is one that must be based on global social equality and cultural difference, in contrast to the socially hierarchical and culturally homogenising characteristics of the former.

From the cultural perspective outlined here, cosmopolitanism thus encompasses the idea of modernism as a popular world culture. In other words, transmodernism as a global popular culture that cuts across national borders – both in contrast to a Eurocentric high modernism operating on the back of capitalist industrialisation and colonial domination, as well as an Americanised postmodernism mobilised through neoliberal global market dictums. What we therefore have is no longer a modernism, or postmodernism, of a certain Western kind, but on the contrary several modernisms distributed all over the planet and that constitute a synthetic world culture oriented around the abstract, revisionary-constructive vector of formal experimentation that articulates itself differently depending on its geographical realisation. Hence, according to the framework introduced in this essay, the global implementations of transmodernism may also be understood as augmentations of a universal space of formal possibilities – and the formal alienations at work in various transmodernist artworks as local syntheses that populate this abstract space and that, ‘instead of being posited against the open universe from which they have been excised, […] bring the unbound relation of the universe to itself into focus through regional horizons’.24Negarestani, R. (2011) ‘Globe of Revolution: An Afterthought on Geophilosophical Realism’, in Identities #17: Heretical Realisms (Euro-Balkan Institute), p. 6. The transmodern production of formal alienations – its shock of the new – is thus akin to putting together pieces of a puzzle with no definite edges, and with alien motifs that we do not know of in advance. And the navigational project of constructing this space must indeed be understood as a genuinely global project – as opposed to something exclusive to, for example, small elite cultures of white, heterosexual males – that not simply is open to, but rather requires, the collective participation of all kinds of cultural, ethnic and gender sociocultural ecologies to fulfil its cosmopolitan and universal premises.25While I have omitted it from here, I believe that transmodernism as a cultural concept could and should be expanded to also integrate gender and sexual minorities similarly to the many national and ethnic minorities that has been its main focus. This is obviously in line with its cosmopolitan premises. Indeed, another upside with these concepts is that they underline the importance of the popular in terms of the ambition to construct a culture that genuinely belongs to everyone.

Additionally, in a post-capitalist world, cultural cosmopolitanism would not only encompass various expressions of modernism taking different forms depending on their geographical locations – while sharing the abstract qualities of formal experimentation – but also other kinds of non-modernist aesthetic forms. For it is crucial to not pit transmodernism against supposedly ‘inferior’ cultural expressions of different sorts – which simply goes against the cosmopolitan programme and also will establish novel kinds of cultural elitisms – but rather look at it as one potential post-capitalist cultural form among others. For if a world that would provide the conditions for transmodernism as envisioned here to be realised would ever come into existence, it is certainly not the only form of culture that could establish itself on the back of it. It is rather more fruitful to imagine the cultural cosmopolitanism of post-capitalism in terms of the coexistence of many different kinds of cultures – a bit like different national cultures and subcultures already exist alongside each other today, although with the crucial difference that they would no longer need to operate at the margins of the commercial mainstream juggernaut that is the late capitalist culture industry.

Thus, rather than the paltry image of capitalist universality acting as a pseudo-unifying global force, it would be an abstract space of aesthetic possibilities (formal and others) that operated as the truly universalising matrix of this global community – that is, one which everyone participated in constructing, as opposed to a pre-designed construction imposed from above – with transmodernism being the cultural strand that oriented itself towards augmenting this abstract space through formal experimentation. This is accordingly how the modernist trajectory of open-ended development becomes unmoored from its colonial underpinnings: through the transmodern augmentations of polycentric networks of planetary modernisms (Friedman) operating through transcultural communication with each other and with other forms of cultures (Dussel) all emancipated from major social oppression.

Indeed, if one component of the modernist cosmopolitanism sketched out here is the global recognition of modernist cultural expressions beyond the West, the other one is surely their transformative encounters with each other and with other cultures. For, as Susan Stanford Friedman argues, transcultural contact has been a crucial driver of modernist innovation throughout history – wherein various cultural expressions have mutually amplified each other through meetings of different kinds.26See for example Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms, p. 167-172. Take, for example, the many kinds of modernist music that have emerged through what the philosopher Paul Gilroy famously has referred to as the ‘Black Atlantic’:27See Gilroy, P. (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso). the African-American-European transcultural assemblage that emerged on the back of the horrors of the Middle Passage, but which came to spawn some of the most innovative forms of popular modernist music in the 20th century – such as jazz, hip-hop, house and techno – when descendants of the enslaved Africans began to synthesise sonic elements of African, American and European national origins into distinctly novel, transcultural sonic forms. Indeed, rather than being some kind of derivative of the ‘real’ modernism associated with Western composers of the early 20th century, the music of the Black Atlantic constitutes some of the most important forms of sonic modernism (popular and trans) from the previous century and may in that regard be understood as unintended transmodern effects of the horrors of the colonialism of Western modernity. Hence, the vision for post-capitalist, transmodern globalisation should be a world where transnational encounters between different modernisms as well as other cultural expressions are at the forefront of a truly polycentric world system – as opposed to mere side-effects of vastly oppressive core-periphery relations. This is accordingly what the ‘synthetic’ in synthetic cosmopolitanism refers to: the transformative potentials of transnational encounters between different modernisms and other forms of cultures. In other words, it is not simply about the coexistence of various thriving cultures all around the world – but also about their many meetings and its impact on sociocultural networks and aesthetic production, particularly in terms of how new aesthetic forms often emerge thanks to the meetings of cultures of different national origins.

Modern electronic dance music is certainly a great example of this take on transmodernism and its features as outlined here – not just because of its Black Atlantic origins, but also because of its subsequent global expansion. In an article discussing the development of electronic dance music during the previous decade, the music writer Steph Lee argues that one of the key changes was a focal shift away from North America and Western Europe to other locations.2830. See Lee, S. (2020) ‘2010-2019: Fresh Sounds from Around the Globe’ Lee highlights the emergence of new forms of electronic dance music – like Tanzanian singeli, Angolan kuduro and South African gqom – as examples of this global cultural-synthetic network that to a significant extent is fuelled by the novel sonic forms of artists located in the Global South, or poorer locations within the Global North, which then not seldom are taken up and transformed in different ways by other artists around the world. Additionally, Lee also brings up various transcultural musicians whose work very much crosses the North-South divide in that it synthesises established dance music tropes in novel ways and not seldom with sounds from their respective homelands in the Global South. These ‘liminal’ artists may indeed be understood as transmodern agents – operating in those anomalous zones between disparate cultural-geographical regions that tend to be fruitful sites for formal innovation.

The cartography outlined by Lee is an extension of the global sonic cartography sometimes referred to as ‘shanty house theory’ (Mat Ingram) or ‘global ghettotech’ (Wayne Marshall),29 Unfortunately, both Ingram’s and Marshall’s writings on the topic are somewhat difficult to locate. However, there is a useful discussion of this global sonic network – which incorporates both their theories – in a chapter of the musician and sonic theorist Steve Goodman’s book Sonic Warfare. See Goodman, S. (2009) Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge: MIT Press), p. 171-175. which indexes the fact that, since its emergence, most forms of new electronic dance music have emerged from poor urban locations of Afro-diasporic kinds located in the Global North (whose existence is obscured by both the core-periphery model and the division between the Global North and the Global South), as well as within their counterparts in the Global South. These underdeveloped areas are, on the one hand, urban peripheries located beyond, and within, the developed cores – whose existence explicates the grim history of colonial rule and the brutal underside of neoliberal globalisation – and, on the other hand, nodes within a planetary network of modernisms that, in contrast to a dystopian present and past, also could be read as prefiguring a different and better transmodern future of the kind envisioned here. It is this more utopian angle that I want to emphasise, which should be understood as an extension of the utopianism associated with the sonic strand of Western popular modernism of the post-war decades (including that of the Black Atlantic).30See for example Fisher, M. (2013) ‘“A social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”: Popular Culture’s Interrupted Accelerationist Dreams’ The present text should thus be read as a testament to the fact that culture still is capable of producing these kinds of utopian images that may be different in context, for example from their Western predecessors, but that nevertheless form the rudiments for a similar kind of model of a different and better world. In this case, a transmodern world fuelled by global social equality and cultural exchange.

Image credit: Pixabay
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