Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Language and Nationalism

In the chapter, “Patriotism and Racism,” Anderson argues that nationalism is produced through language, a structure “rooted beyond anything else in contemporary societies” (145). Anderson’s reading of nationalism in this chapter is interesting when thinking of the production of national identity in terms of the performative versus pedagogical. If we can think of a subject in-between the two discourses, the pedagogical being the ‘image’ of the nation and its fixed identity and boundaries of that identity and the idea of a performative identity through the signification of the self, it would seem that Anderson’s analysis falls under the pedagogical. For example, Anderson seems to ascribe language and identity as pre-given and continuist to the national subject:

“what the eye is to the lover – that particular, ordinary eye he or she is born with – language – whatever language history has made his or her mother-tongue – is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed” (154).

However, it is the very act of imagining a community that requires a constant re-imagining or reproducing of that signification. It is this fixity that I find to be too reductive and problematic in Anderson’s argument. I would argue that if we think in terms of the performative, there lies a potentiality for the subject. If national identity and consciousness must always be reproduced and performed, then each (re)production continually erases that previous presence. I would like to emphasize the moment when Anderson discusses the role of songs and poetry and their importance in creating community, through language, as pointing to a performative potentiality:

“Take national anthems, for example, sung on national holidays. No matter how banal the words and mediocre the tunes, there is in this singing an experience of simultaneity... The image: unisonance…the echoed realization of the imagined community”(145).

Although Anderson comments on the unison of voices as realizing community, it is important to emphasize that it is not merely the songs that creates nationalism, but rather the utterance of the anthem, it’s continual reproduction through the act of singing. To go even further, at each enunciation, as it reaffirms the nation, does it not also create a sort of Derridean différance (if we think of each enunciation as caught up in a deference of meaning through a chain of signifiers)? What potential does that unlock and how does that play into or critique Anderson’s argument? How does this performative identity reproduce the nation and to what extent can this potential be used for subversion or even resistance? Can this vision of the nation-state as flowing in an out of pedagogy and performance be seen as somewhat fundamental to the imagining of communities?

Monica Garcia

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