“Issues Are Color-Blind” : Cosmopolitanism as a Cultural Identity in Lisa Ko’s The Leavers



Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description This paper explores how cosmopolitan cultural identity/worldview is formed in the main character of Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (2017) and what elements the novel connects it to, including education, wealth, self-worth and the city. The paper also analyses two possible interpretations of cosmopolitanism, one portrayed through the main character and the other through his foster parents. Cosmopolitanism has been employed and explored by humans as a cultural identity strategy for thousands of years. Recently, it has been gaining popularity in Western societies again because of its association with openness and broad-mindedness, and often also with being well-travelled and well-rounded. Cosmopolitan cultural identity has started getting in the center of focus, with scholars such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Camilla Fojas pointing out positive as well as negative aspects of the worldview. This paper argues that in The Leavers (2017) by Lisa Ko, cosmopolitan cultural identity correlates with several key areas – education, wealth, stable self-worth and identity, and the city – which suggests that cosmopolitanism can be linked to a rather specific group of people. As the main character, Deming Guo Wilkinson, moves and negotiates between different cultures, between different economic and social classes, between different families, between the city and the countryside, and between countries, he meets different approaches to cosmopolitanism until his own cultural identity is formed, based primarily on the community of people he cherishes and on the city of New York he adopted as his own. The cosmopolitanism he arrives at stems from the heterogeneity of people he encountered but also from the opportunities he has been given. The comfort he reaches in terms of his identity is closely connected to his ability to accept people from various backgrounds and with diverse dispositions. The paper also traces two attitudes to cosmopolitanism in the novel – one basing its acceptance of people on color-blind and classes-blind attitude and assertion of sameness, as depicted in the main character’s foster parents, and the other attitude accepting differences of individuals’ situations and hence the difference of their needs.
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