Cosmopolitanism in the Temporal Layers of Life: Cosmopolitan Ethics in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty

Document Type : Original Article



Drawing on the twenty-first century theory of critical cosmopolitanism, this essay contends that in her third novel On Beauty (2005) Zadie Smith depicts two kinds of cosmopolitanism: critical versus intellectual. Through the non-elite characters On Beauty (2005) presents the lived cosmopolitan experiences arising from active practices at local, microcosmic level in the ordinariness of everyday life which can be conceptualized as situated cosmopolitanism. However, through the Wellington university intellectuals, Smith reveals the failed cosmopolitanism of elitist cosmopolitans operating primarily on the abstract level. In Smith’s characterization of Wellington, racial hierarchy, stereotypes about Black and labor migrants, and institutional racism continue to push minorities to margins and limit their life opportunities. As an attempt to address the problems of exclusion and inequality associated with racial inferiority discourse the study will explore how critical cosmopolitanism succeeds in substituting these conflicts with cosmopolitan ideals based on individual responsibility and ethical engagement with diversity. Accordingly, this paper will illustrate ways the individuals choose to engage with and act towards others with reference to points such as gender, socio-economic status, and history. The paper will conclude that the situated cosmopolitanism of non-elites, not the intellectuals, becomes inherently cosmopolitan.