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Updated Up To 23/01/2018
Volume 13, Issue 2 (June 2015) : 311-336
Nicotine Cosmopolitanism
From Italo Svevo’s Trieste to Art Spiegelman’s New York
Jeffrey Clapp
Rubric A: Literature and the Visual Arts
Rubric B: Then and Now



Cosmopolitanism need not always be a duty, an identity, or a condition; it can just as easily be a moment or a memory, an experience that can vanish in a puff of smoke. This article explores the surprisingly similar ways that Zeno’s Conscience (1923) by Italo Svevo and In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) by Art Spiegelman imaginatively reframe cosmopolitanism through the figure of cigarette smoking. In particular, it expands attention to No Towers past the discourse of trauma and connects the new graphic canon to a canonical work of literary modernism. The chain-smoking figures at the center of these two texts give us an image of the cosmopolitan which is reducible neither to the Enlightenment ideal of the supranational liberal citizen, nor to its contemporary idiom, the fluid and flexible post-identitarian subject. Instead, both writers use cigarette smoking to delineate an apt cosmopolitan resident for two cities on the verge of being transformed by warlike nationalisms. Where Svevo uses nicotine addiction to connect his twitchy protagonist to prewar Trieste, Spiegelman insistently, but ironically accumulates forms of memory and identity around smoking, from his image as human and as “Maus,” to the smoke of the ovens at Auschwitz, to the burning of the Towers themselves. But this work of belonging is interrupted in No Towers by the New York City smoking ban, which displaces an apoplectic Spiegelman from his briefly “rooted” cosmopolitanism. Ultimately, this article explores an unlikely seam of detail, and a consistent image of the cosmopolitan, which persists across the borders between the twentieth century and the twenty-first, between the modern and the postmodern, and between the First World War and the War on Terror.

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