Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Filling up empty time

The concept that I found myself returning to again and again was that of Walter Benjamin, borrowed by Anderson borrows, of “homogenous and empty time.” The birth of simultaneity and imagined linkages between strangers based on corresponding temporalities—two people reading the same New York Times are both included in the same community that the NYT readership implies—but I struggle with the concept of time as empty.
            The key point seems to be the filling of this empty time with calendrical moments that repeat annually and serve to remind of a past that is not empty, but that gives meaning to the “here-and-now.” Nationalism itself, according to Anderson, depended on this idea of history. While the American colonies seemed to have muddled through a modified present with the emergence of the nation as concept almost unavoidable as part of this combination that Anderson refers to as necessity/chance, the spread of nationalism stems from the preexistence of nationalism in a historical perspective: once disconnected dates in history now aligned with the agenda of the present. Thus, the historical perspective with which Anderson approaches the subject (called “overly historical” by another commenter) is necessary because he is viewing “the nation” not as a big N ideology that exists as a given, but as a historical product, that arose out of and because of history. The specific circumstances of colonialism, the presence of a bilingual intelligentsia, the invention of print all caused the rise of the nation as much as they helped to propagate it. I am especially interested in the concept of bilinguals communicating ideals and historical awareness to monoglot populations. In choosing that which was was deemed worthy of translation, what was left out? 
           Anderson states in the introduction that today nationalism is by no means dead, but “Indeed nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time.” Are the sub-nationalisms that are still invoking the powers of nation simply riding the wave to its conclusion, a metaphor he engages in the Last Wave chapter? How did this imagined community of the nation expand into imagined networks that transcend nationality? In order to understand the international communities that exist regardless of vernaculars and borders, must we return to the models of religion that joined distantly separated people? What are the pilgrimages or icons of today’s imagined communities? 

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