Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tell Them They Want Silence: Problems with Nationhood

In reading this week's texts and considering the remarkable political, social and cultural closeness of the discussed ideas of repression, silence, power and secret, I am drawn to the very notion upon which our class, in many ways, is grounded: nationhood.

The nation, a body of people, thought, and feeling, stems as Benedict Anderson described, from an art of "mass ceremony" and simultaneous reading. Whether this ceremony is fortuitous or premeditated, even controlled, is what i'd like to investigate.

As Americans, we are proud of our nation, our unity and our heritage. Barack Obama's recent award of a Nobel Peace Prize highlights just this. He was awarded the honour due, in large part, to his strengthening of the American people as a whole. He is putting our nation back on track, say those who offered him the award. He is strengthening the peace and prosperity of American nationalism.

Yet perhaps these fervent feelings of nationalism, stoked first by our bureaucrats and leaders and then by citizens, might be contributing to the immense repression and compartmentalization of American people.

What is it that makes us content to live in country where about "five times as many pages are being added to the classified universe than are being brought to the storehouses of human learning..." (Galison 230)? It seems largely antithetical to the founding notions of the new and open frontier the American dream once held.

The issue of national security -- a term most likely invented, as was "official secret", by bureaucracy -- certainly plays a part (Weber, as quoted by Paglan, 15). Yet again here, we see the resurfacing of the term nation. It is in the interest of the nation, of the whole, of all partaking in the ceremony, that "security" be maintained.

What if the maintenance of the nation, of security does more harm that good?

The power rituals of America's leaders are indeed, as Foucault describes, "so visible, and it's instruments ultimately so reliable" (86). This reassures us. As long as we know that the Patriot Act is in place, for example, most Americans are content to live without the privacy we were once promised.

We are interested in the surface value here -- the mere acknowledgment of such an invasive act -- but not in its ramifications -- warranted searches and undisclosed investigations of private life. We know of the knowledge available to us, but few actually venture to uncover what is at stake in the legality of such an act.

It is the interest of the nation, say leaders, to investigate the individual. Thus if I, Citizen A, disavow my nation's right to investigate my life, then I betray my community. I lose my power (or the illusion thereof) and my voice to protest the nation. But did I ever really have it?

The questions I posit here, then, are what rights and agency is at stake in our imagining of the American nation (a cohesive whole), when more knowledge is private (in the hands of few) than public?

How to issues that Paglan raises (those of the blank spots) problematize Anderson's nationhood?

What do we risk in accepting our part in nationhood, especially with the knowledge (albeit not common knowledge) that " exercised in the same way at all levels. From top to bottom, in its over-all decisions..." (Foucault 84)?


Perhaps we need the silence, the hidden, the secret elements in our nation to legitimize that which is public and common knowledge. What I believe, however is that the "many silences" our nation allows for, those which "underlie and permeate discourse" ultimately distract from the reality that the American people are promulgating the codification of a whole rhetoric (Foucault 17). Just as our 18th century European ancestors, we are letting ourselves be imagined as a whole, all the while losing sight of the American individuals who make it.

No comments: