Provencial Cosmopolitanism

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted, but I hope to regularly add to this now that I’m sort of in a place where I sort of have some time to chew my intellectual cud and not just swallow ideas and hope for the best.

Recent events have me thinking about two terms: The provincial and the cosmopolitan. Both are probably drinks somewhere.

I used to understand these terms as opposites. The provincial is the local, unworldly, sheltered, static, closed and traditional.

The cosmopolitan is the worldly, open, fluid, experienced and new.

However, visits from some friends have made me reconsider the definitions of these terms, as well as reading the interesting yet poorly written book The World is Flat.

The interrelationship of the terms in a globalized field is complex. I got a glimmer of it today when to find something they wanted to go to Best Buy while in Manhattan.

The explanation: Since it’s in Manhattan, it is more likely to have New York oriented material, like theater DVDs.

This complicates and throws into strange relief my idea of these terms, for I’m the one who ends up looking provincial when I suggest local places to investigate. I lament that much of the touristy part of Manhattan is chain restaurants much like you can visit anywhere in the US.

I’m corrected: But it’s the one in New York, you see.

This has me thinking that the proper, or successful method of globalizing is to offer a cosmopolitan provincialism. That is, you can experience the traditional, comfortable and static in worldly, open and exotic places. I’m familiar and know what this store has, but also I am open to it having a different selection because it is in a different place. It's different via it's familiarity. The experience is familiar yet off-set, because it's in a new place. It adapts and adjusts, and so can I by doing the same thing I do at home.

McDonalds might be a good example of this.

This also connects with two other strands of thought. The idea of replication and distribution, such as Baudrillard, Virilio, etc. might talk about (not familiar enough with either to go into too much detail), and the psychoanalytic compulsion to repeat – for the known circuits of pleasure appear and re-appear no matter where the subject roams.

So the globalized cosmopolitan outlook is what I used to think was a provincial attitude, and the cosmopolitan attitude I championed is really a sort of provincialism. Perhaps, like many ideas, the kernel of the opposite lurks just beneath the surface. The people who live in the small cities of the Midwest are well-equipped to deal with the giant metropolis, for they have a ready-made list of places to eat and shop, and a framing for expecting difference within familiarity. The people who lament globalization do so through a rhetoric of multiculturalism and diversity, fighting against the homogenization of food and merchandise, but this defense is one of the local, older, traditional shops and restaurants.

Is this Hegelian globalization? Maybe that’s a bad or pretentious question. What I see is that the situation for both sides is a lot more complex than it appears to be. Large retail chains in food and merchandise are using the provincial frame to lay a cosmopolitan mindset. Resistance fighters are using a cosmopolitan frame to lay a provincial mindset. Neither is acceptable, but all I can do is kick up some dust about it at this point.

Back to grazing.