Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I swear, officer, you got the wrong nation here!

The Sticky Note of the Angel of History as quoted on page 165 (woah, I now see why RISD didn't give me a call back).

N.B.: I was absent Tuesday due to the flu, so please excuse anything in this post that was made completely obvious or obsolete by Prof. Chun's lecture.


Prof. Anderson's ideas on nation-ness allow us to answer some difficult questions regarding the nation, namely, why do people die for a nation? Andersen notes these "colossal sacrifices" are on account of our "shrunken imagining of recent history" (7).

This shrunken history allows us to see the nation as "interestless" (144). In this scenario, we assume that nation-ness is related to "skin-colour, gender, parentage and birth-era- all those things one can not help" (143). Although Anderson notes that nations are created by the bonds of a shared language, we as citizens don't think we die for our country that we chose, but rather, we die for a country we were naturally bonded to at birth. A nation is biological here, it is like having a blood relation in a family, and thus you have to die for what is a part of your self-identity. In summary, we forget that nations are not natural.

We can use this idea to interpret Raven from Snow Crash, a character that troubled me last week. One sees the "Aleut" as a native of the Alaskan Islands that are a part of the USA. Thus, we can try to think of Raven as a part of Prof. Anderson's second wave nationalists, when Russification occurs in the African and Asian continents and the colonies assert their nationhood using the same modular nationalism that their metropole's implemented back home in the previous generation. Raven is just trying to get back at the USA for nuking his home that they invaded in the first place, he is asserting his communities independence.

Once we apply Prof. Anderson's theory to this fictional realm, we encounter a few problems, namely, Raven now lives in a world where nations are no longer the source of power. Thus, we are unsure of why Raven spreads Snow Crash to the hackers in the MetaVerse as revenge for what the USA did to his parents and community.

While one can try to understand Raven's actions as an illogical assertion that globalization is Americanization (i.e., the MetaVerse is now America), this doesn't add up. What is the MetaVerse then? It is a rigid, global time, and Anderson can describe it perfectly as a "a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogeneous, empty time" (26). In it's essence, it is a new way to link "fraternity, power and time" together (36), where the world's elite meet in a simulated community 24hrs a day- literally an imagined community where all events are related through the network. Does that make the MetaVerse a nation? Does the organization of society go religion -> nation -> MetaVerse?

But nobody is born in the MetaVerse, right? Do we have people who are "irredeemably" a MetaVerse creole, biologically/naturally part of the MetaVerse like I am "biologically" an American? By being a member of the MetaVerse, you aren't revoked of any other status. For Prof. Anderson, the creole, "born in the Americas, could not be a true Spaniard; ergo, born in Span... could not be a true American" (58). This does not seem to apply to the MetaVerse, thus it can't be a new America- they share a language but their sovereign territory has no limits. Attacking the MetaVerse is like Raven attacking a Pepsi-Cola employee to avenge his family; the Pepsi-Cola worker chose to work for Pepsi-Cola, she wasn't forced.

Then again, we do have this idea of pilgrimage within the MetaVerse. Like the Indonesian school children who traveled to Batavia/Jakarta from all over, the hackers of the MetaVerse made their way like "tender pilgrims made their inward, upward way, meeting fellow-pilgrims" (121). Thus a community is formed here, where the new vernacular is code, where the outsiders are those who don't have access. The hackers = citizens? the MetaVerse = nation?

Perhaps the problem of who Raven wants to kill deals with this universalized time within virtual space (he's just as confused as the rest of us!); maybe he's doing his cognitive mapping this way, by destroying the MetaVerse?

Ok, enough, we're done with Snow Crash.


I found the pages on 135-136 provocative in terms of multilingual nationalism:

Prof. Anderson firmly states that nations comes from imagined communities that share a common language, regardless of whatever language the community uses:
"If radical Mozambique speaks Portuguese, the significance of this is that Portuguese is the medium through which Mozambique is imagined (and at the same time limits its stretch into Tanzania and Zambia)" (134).

This even allows for polylingual imagined communities, as long as the bureaucrats know all the languages:
"The only question-mark standing over languages like Portuguese in whether the administrative and educational systems, particularly the latter, can generate a politically sufficient diffusion of bilingualism" (134).

He goes on to further say that anybody can join this community by learning the language:
"Language is not an instrument of exclusion: in principle, anyone can learn any language. On the contrary, it is fundamentally inclusive, limited only by the fatality of Babel: no one lives long enough to learn all languages" (134).

And finally, with modern tech/communications, the people of the same community don't even have to share the same language:
"In a world in which the national state is the overwhelming norm, all of this means that nations can now be imagined without linguistic communality - not in the native spirit of nosotros los Americanos, but out of a general awareness of what modern history has demonstrated to be possible" (135).

"Language" is a malleable term in the above quotes. While Prof. Anderson is obsessed with the nation that shares a common linguistic imagined community (via the print-capitalism of books, newspapers), language doesn't matter in some of these scenarios, but is superseded by the imaginations of the community. Let us suppose we have two case in points: the U.S. citizen that does not speak English and the non-US citizen living on the opposite side of the globe that watches every single U.S. network TV show and believes they are an "American." Are they both part of the same imagined community of U.S.A. nation-ness? These aren't necessarily the best examples, but these two examples do raise questions in terms of how important language is in regards to nationalism today.

I understand Prof. Anderson writes these two pages to show that nations are constructed rather than natural entities, but just what would construct a new nation in our present day?


Brian Barker said...

I see that President Obama wants everyone should learn a foreign language, but which one should it be?

The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish.

Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese out of the equation.

I think its time to move forward and teach common language, in all schools, and in all nations.

Your readers may be interested in

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

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