Tuesday, September 18, 2012

national identity and the selective past

I’m interested in the idea that revolutionary leaders in postcolonial nations, in order to instill nationalism, must take responsibility for and claim “dynasts who knew nothing of” the tenets of their new nationalistic regimes. What makes these historical leaders necessary to a newly independent nation’s pride and conception of itself? What are the criteria for admission into the canon of the new nation—must a retroactive folk hero and source of national pride be defined by rejection of or difference from the ideals of the ejected colonizer? And if so, to what extent do the cultural or political values of the colonizer shape the ‘new’ values and definition of the nation? As Anderson points out in chapter four, Bolivar himself initially spurned the involvement of “Negros” in his nationalist uprising as “a thousand times worse than a Spanish invasion.” And on the other hand, infighting in Indonesia from 1950-64 did not attempt to create its own new nations or political systems or groups within the disparate archipelago—the colonial state had instilled imagined wholeness and national unity.

So what, then, is the criteria for a new state’s nationalism, and what factors underlie the inclusions that construct the new historical narratives created within it? Certainly, the Angel of History looks selectively backwards. What are the mediators of its selection—technological, political, and cultural…? If the marker of the print-capitalist formulation of national unity is the presence of 'empty' time, in which anything can fill up a limited top-fold of a paper, or homepage of a news website, I am intrigued by the factors that influence this filling. Divine intervention connected time, history, geography before print. But now something else connects ancient dynasts to new revolutionaries, and Bolivar to the defense of the whole of Spanish America. What motivates this sort of supratemporal connection? What drives its selections? In part the answer is geography/location of the leaders and stories now brought to the forefront... But this very bringing has to happen on the plane of historical homogenous empty time, does it not? These stories have to be reincorporated into news articles and cultural production, placed into educational systems, brought to the forefront in daily and incremented and subtle ways... So what (who) drives the particular selections?

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