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Anderson and Chatterjee Lecture F2012

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tore holst

on 10 November 2016

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Transcript of Anderson and Chatterjee Lecture F2012

Nationalism as an -ism is far more inconsistent than, say, Marxism and liberalism, but also far more successful. Everyone today 'has' a nationality, almost as everyone 'has' a gender. It is a primary identity marker, i.e. a category that for many people comes prior to such markers as class, generation, etc.
A nation is not just something many people in the 19th and 20th C has been willing to fight for – it's something that a huge number of people have been willing to die for, in the belief that future generations were left with a better world.
The nation is a
modern phenomenon
. But most people who truly believe in their nation deny this and tries to trace its roots back to ancient times.
However, the nation as a concept is problematic.
Minorities in postcolonial India
Nationalism is
an unscietific -ism
. The enormous political power of the nation thus stand in opposition to how little it has been examined by great thinkers.
All nationalisms insist on the
of his or her own nation although nationalism is a universal concept, since virtually all geographic areas of the world are divided into nations.
Imagined – not invented
Anderson tries to bridge the gap between the popular and the scientific perception of the nation by calling the nation an
'imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign'
It is
because no member knows all members of the community. This has been a feature of most societies since the time when there were no larger political organisational structures than the village, where everyone knew one another.
That a community is imagined does not make it 'untrue' or even purely 'fictional'. Anderson rejects Ernst Gellner's formulation that nations are 'invented' because the term has a connotation of being less real.
Anderson thinks rather of nations as 'created'.
The nation is
because it has final – though elastic – borders outside of which there are other nations. Often, the nation is actually articulated in contrast to other nations.
The nation is
because it rules within its territory. Aristocracies, monarchs and religions are understood by Anderson to be the nation's forerunners, but they were never as hegemonic in their grasp of power as the nation.
The nation is a
because it binds people together. The sacrifices made for the nation suggests to Anderson that the nation's community is imagined horizontally, ie as if everyone within the nation are equal.
Marx of course would say that in wars where nations battle other nations, the working class is in fact fighting the wars waged by the upper class. Thereby the exploitation of the factory can be seen to continue on the battlefield. Anderson's point is not that this is false, but rather that the populations of nations probably wouldn’t sacrifice themselves if they held this view.
Benedict Anderson,
Imagined Communities
Partha Chatterjee’s heterogenous space and time
Identity over time
He agrees with Anderson here, who also problematises this.
Chatterjee believes that the idea of empty homogeneous time gives a sense of history and the passing of time, which is too uncomplicated. As if the nation stayed the same over time. As if we were connected in a unproblematic way to past generations – or even to ourselves, when we were younger and the world was different.
The sentence 'Denmark 2000 years ago' imbibes this sentiment, because it presumes that Denmark actually was Denmark 2000 years ago, even though nobody knew it yet.
Anderson: the members of the imagined community of the nation
themselves as existing within this simultaneous, homogenous timeframe. It might not necessarily be the case in a strictly logical sense.
The question then is if the different stratas of postcolonial societies imagine themselves as being part of the same community – and thereby timeframe?
These workers are laying down fibre-optics cables with pick-axes.
Do they even encounter the same fictions as the it-workers who uses the internet?
Do they read the same newspapers?
Are they up-to-date in the same way?
Do they watch the same TV?
‘…One India is straining at the leash. The other India is the leash.’
Amitabh Bachchan.
Mumbai is the capital centre of India. It holds 22mi. people, 1 mi. cars, 2 mi. two-wheelers and 100.000 taxis.
Are the people people who don't own cars
'the leash'
? is Bachchan talking to them?
This video is producing a collective vision for what India is supposed to become – and perhaps already is to some.
The space portrayed there is a bridge far removed from any of the ‘slum’, which might otherwise encroach on the image of the ‘empty homogenous space of middle class India’.
Almost anywhere in India, a flyover becomes a makeshift shelter for homeless people even before it is built.
And as they collapse, there are often more people under it getting hurt than on it.
Looking at the video, we have to agree with Anderson that some sections of Indian society is struggling to imbibe India with a sense of a shared, homogenous time and space, free from the clamour of the parts of Indian society that doesn’t fit into this vision. On other hand we might also agree with Chatterjee that a heterogeneous perception of time and space might be efficacious, if we want to examine the part of India that doesn't fit the middle class' ideals.
Chatterjee’s critique of bound and unbound serialities.
Anderson argues that within the nation state – which rests on universalist ideas and thereby individual rights – markers of group identity (ethnicity, ‘race’, gender, language, class, etc.) need not become static (what Anderson terms ‘bound serialities’).
Chatterjee’s critique of Anderson is this: If you are a third-generation squatter or earn your living by an illegally erected stand, then your only way of getting rights is by legalising your status. In India, this can only be done by collective action. The mebers of castes, gender groups, unions, political associations join ranks in order to get recognition and in the process unbound serialities become bound.
To explain this concept, we might turn to the concept of caste. In India caste identities are still strong. In Anderson’s terms, caste is a ‘node’ that enters a ‘seriality’ consisting of other nodes (political affiliation, ethnicity, class, religion).
By defining themselves as a moral group they gain the ear of the local electorates. They are not even considered citizens in the proper sense if they are only individuals. They must have some sort of voice as a community in order to assert their rights. Rights that supersede the normal laws of the society.
Chatterjee writes about how marginalized groups in Kolkata try to enter political society. What we see in the case of the slum dwellers in railway colonies is that they’re trying to petition different people in the local political set up to recognise their status as at least semi legal. Chatterjee notes that they cannot do so by referring to existing laws – as they are there illegally – and must therefore turn from the language of bureaucracy and legislation to the language of politics and empathy.
They gain these rights by pointing to the fact that they exist outside society, not out of choice but because society has made no provisions for them when they first came. That they had no legal way of joining, and dwelling in, the city.
Anderson sees himself as a
analyst – not a
Both Marx and Chatterjee might be right, but Anderson's point is that the myths of nations persist because people believe in them – even though they might be factually wrong and have internal inconsistencies. In our critique of Anderson I believe it is thus important to be conscious of whether we are critiquing him or the practise and beliefs he is describing?
In deCerteau's text on, 'Walking in the City' he comments on the urge to be
'seeing the whole'
(p127). To perceive space from on high.

He writes:
'The desire to see the city preceded the means of satisfying it. Medieval or Renaissance painters represented the city as seen in a perspective that no eye had yet enjoyed. This fiction already made the medieval spectator into a celestial eye. It created gods. (p127).'
The early production of maps served different purposes than that of demarcating territory. They would have distances – days on foot, days by ship from a to b – drawn onto them because they were meant primarily for travellers.
Anderson has a very similar point in terms of how we were taught to imagine the space of the nation.
The majority of people living then would never need to have any other perception of space than that of deCerteau's urban walker, experiencing the world as a series of embodied spaces.
Spaces perceived through the body, rather than an abstract image of how it might look from above.
The Power of Maps
Today, we are used to seeing maps where territory and nation are one and the same, often in a colour that physically separates one nation from another. One of Anderson's main points is that the bird's-eye map imbibed the physical image of the nation as a logo in our consciousnesses via these maps but also via stamps, logos, letterheads, coins and other carriers of the nation's symbols.
How many of you know Denmark's outline, even though you have never seen it with our own eyes from the air?
For many years it was used, for example as the logo of the Danish TV News, signifying the outlook of DR...
Anderson believes that the precursors of the nation were the
religious community
and the
dynastic realm
religious community
extended beyond modern day nation states – just think of the spread of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
But the literate people who enforced the power of the church in Europe were spread thinly. The monasteries who preserved books and learning were islands of literacy and learning in a sea of illiteracy.
Anderson and Space
dynastic realms
on the other hand were geographically located certain places – often around a certain castle, fortress, city or cluster of habitation – but the further away you came from this centre, the less important it was.
The precursors of the nation
If you were to live in the southern part of Jutland on the present border between Denmark and Germany in the beginning of the 18th C., the difference between one side of the present border and the other wouldn't have been very big.
The national languages wouldn't have been standardised to the extent they are now, which means that Danish wasn't the only language of Denmark and it wasn't the same all over. Even the laws wouldn't have been so clear as to be either one nation states' or the other. Rather the power of the centres (castles, fortresses, cities) would recede the longer away from them you got.
The vision behind the bird's-eye map changed this and the bird's-eye map also helped imbibe this idea into the inhabitants of the territories that were delineated on these maps.
As Anderson writes, France on the bird's-eye map was as much France at the German border as in Paris. The brown colour that demarcated the area that 'was' France on the map was no less brown at the border, although for many years it was the ground reality, and perhaps still is.
Anderson: the nation's censuses and the registrations of its citizens (in Thailand for example), coincided with the nation's registration of territory. This meant that one could document which territory belonged to the ruler and which people belonged on this territory – and especially who did not.
In these censuses, ethnic identities were established, although the parameters that constituted these were ambiguous. Till date, language-based groups are confused with racial- and religious groups and it shows that this equation is problematic. Especially in the territories where diversity was so great that one could not force the public to adopt linguistic, religious or cultural homogeneity.
The power of the census
In India, the ethnic groupings
are based on the language and territory, but these appeared alongside such categories as
which is based on religion and territory.
A similar problem occurred in ex-Yugoslavia after the civil war of the 1990ies, where the two dominant ethnic groups in Bosnia were called, respectively.
'Bosnian Muslims'
'Bosnians Serbs',
which mixed religious and national affiliation in a confusing way, when describing the two groups' ethnic affiliation. None the less, these groupings became what people killed and died for during the war and to rectify this misnomer,
'Bosnian Muslims'
were renamed into
thus creating a new ethnicity.
Nations always try to legitimize their rule over territory and people with a cartographic and cultural regimentation and this enters into the general narrative of the nation. Anderson shows that maps in the 1900th C. were constructed that retrospectively affiliated territories with nations that had not previously existed, but the same thing happened in Yugoslavia, because the 'invention' (or exhumation) of
'Bosnian Serbs'
was intricately linked to a war over territory.
Anderson: nationalism in the colonies – especially in the Americas – preceded nationalism in Europe. The precursors of the nation were stronger in Europe than in the 'New World', where the aristocracy was not as strong, and where persecuted religious denominations would travel to get away from the power of more established and thus powerful systems of belief.
In South East Asia the story is slightly different.
Here, the colonial impulse to map the colonies' territories (in order to establish the colonisers' claim to it), paved the way for national visions within the former colonies.
The nationalism of the colonies
In cases like Thailand, the different tribes living within the territory of present day Thailand did not perceive of themselves as 'Thai' before it was put under the administrative unit of the colonisers, where maps were drawn and censuses taken to determine the colonial territory and the subjects rightfully inhabiting it.
Similarly, in Indonesia and in India for instance, it was the coloniser's urge to impose a common language (in which they could order the natives around), that paved the way for native elites within different ethnic groups to be able to communicate with each other.
Even today in India, Tamils and Bengalis usually communicate with each other in English, because their languages are as far from each other as Danish and Arabic, and none of them typically are very good at Hindi, which is now the official administrative language along with English, and which are predominantly spoken in the area around Delhi.
Anderson names the temporality of the nation as what Walter Benajmin calls
'empty, homogeneous time'
Within empty, homogeneous time, we move forward together in
calendrical time
ad infinitum. Monday the sixth 2012 at 9.15 occurs only once in history and this point in time occurs regardless of whether we are conscious of it or not.
The challenge is to understand the opposite of
empty, homogeneous time,
which is
messianic time.
It is a time that leads to something. A time that is foretold, planned by fate, God or both.
The time of the nation
The time of the nation is 'empty' because it contains no apocalypse at the end and it is not cyclical. But is only 'empty' 'vertically' speaking – it is not connected to a higher plan. It is however, anything but 'empty' on the horizontal level. Here, it is populated by the nation's members in a simultaneity.
The grave of the unknown soldier is the monument for those who died for 'us', without us knowing it. It is a reminder that someone apparently gave their life so that we could live like we do.
The fact that it is anonymised means that we cannot question the motives of the particular soldier. Did he really sacrifice himself so that Hitler wouldn't rule Europe and his nation would be free? Did he have any other choice? What about the people on the other side? Did they do the same? Did they all have God on their side, as the Bob Dylan song goes?
Memory and forgetting
Authors of national narratives in the 19th C. speak for the dead and make their deaths into sacrifices for the nation
'...even when these sacrifices were not understood as such by the victims'
(Pp. 198).
Another consequence is that the soldiers are connected beyond their death to the nation and citizens inhabiting it. In this respect, it
religion, in that it gives meaning to the death of people.
It does
not supplant
religion, because religion lives on in the nation. Some nations – like Denmark – even have a state religion.
This is also what makes Anderson write that nationalism is more closely connected religion than to other -isms.
Fratri = 'Frater' in latin = brother

-cide = murder/extermination, as in 'Genocide'

Fratricide = brother-murder.
As Renan writes approximately 150 ago: the nation needs to not only remember a common history but also to forget things that drove them apart. He mentions the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre as something
'every French man is obliged to have already forgotten'
The reassurance of fratricide
What Anderson seizes upon is Renan's formulation: on the one hand the reader is obliged to know what Renan means when he refers to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, on the other hand he is obliged to forget it.
From this Anderson concludes that the founding bloodbaths of nations are reiterated in school books, while they are paradoxically not seen as instances of strife between nations but as strife of brothers internally within nations. As paradoxically reassuring fratricides.
William the Conqueror might be the founding father of England, but the act of violence that made him this was perpetrated against the people, who lived in the territory of present day England. He was a conqueror and if he is to be understood as a founding father we must concede that Hitler might be seen as the founding father of Poland, France and Denmark, if he had won WWII.
The war between the southern Confederate States of America and the United States of America is often referred to not only as 'a' civil war but as 'the' civil war. If the southern Confederate States had succeeded in the secession from the United States of America, it would not have been a civil war. It would have been a war between two nations.
Similarly Mark Twain's novel, Huckleberry Finn represents an image of brotherly love between Black and White in a time when slavery is a present fact, but written from a perspective where slavery is abolished precisely because the United States won. He is thus retrospectively constructing an image of a black and white nation, which was one nation, even when white people were enslaving black people.
The good and bad old days
A current example of how some try to relegate social practices to this archaic ‘before’ is found in the rhetoric of Dansk Folkeparti, who tries to relegate ‘Muslim’ laws directed against ‘modern’ women to this abstract time-space.
But the image of the present where we inhabit the same time-frame is also problematic.
To call something antiquated, out of date or obsolete, is to relegate it to an abstract time-space preceding the present, which is defined negatively.
The case of universal suffrage is one such. That not all inhabitants of a society regardless of class, gender, ethnicity, race, etc. should have equal voting rights were constructed – by the people advocating universal adult suffrage – as a practice belonging to this abstract, negatively defined time-space. We might call it the ‘bad old days’.
Simultaneously with the abstract 'bad' temporality, we also find 'the good old days' being relived – often by the same people, who call whatever they don't like pre-modern. One of Dansk Folkeparti's founding ideas is that the Danish nation is age-old and this is paradoxically understood as something good.
In Chatterjee's opinion, Anderson's idea that we imagine ourselves as living in homogeneous empty time does not take this into account. If we see the members of the nation as living in a simultaneous time-frame, how can some practices that are clearly taking place right now be relegated to an abstract time space of the past – whether positive or negative?
Heterogenous time in India
This problematises:
the historicist notions that the ‘world’ is progressing uni-directionally towards a better, more modern future
the idea that everyone within the imagined community of India occupies the same temporality.
Chatterjee: how can India exist within the same timeframe, when ideas, practices, beliefs, technologies, and modes of production, which have their origin in a pre-modern society exist happily side-by-side with so-called modern ditto.
We live in a
not homogeneous
- time.
»Vi har en religion i Danmark i det 1000-årige rige, som Danmark er, og det skal vi holde fat i. Og derfor er det væsentligt, at islam ikke vinder frem i Danmark.« (Pia Kjærsgaard, Politiken.dk, 26.1.2010).
»De ville nemlig ikke i deres vildeste fantasi have kunnet forestille sig [i 1900], at store bydele i København og andre danske storbyer, i 2005 ville være befolket af mennesker på et lavere civilisationstrin. Med medbragte primitive og grusomme skikke, såsom æresdrab, tvangsægteskaber, halalslagtning - og blodhævn. Det er nemlig lige præcis det, der er sket. At titusindvis og atter titusindvis af mennesker, der tilsyneladende civilisatorisk, kulturelt og åndeligt befinder sig i 1005 - i stedet for i 2005 - er søgt til et land, der for århundreder siden lagde middelalderen bag sig.« (Pia Kjærsgaard, Ugebrev, 13.6.2005).
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