Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities: "Cultural Roots"

Anderson's chapter "Cultural Roots" attempts to set out the foundations for the beginning of sociological entities, or groups of people to conceive of themselves as a nation. He does this through an explanation of how previous ways of thinking ended: Anderson uses the examples of languages as connected to religious systems (Divine Truth in ways of thinking, views of the world, cosmologies in general), an ending of Dynasties (meaning Monarchies and societies connected to specific families) and finally, through a disconnection between a cosmology and a notion of time (History), this is evident in a sort of "end of times" notion of the present.

All of these claims sound reasonable, and Anderson does well in backing up his claims through examples in literature as well as through history. However, in this blog, I want to raise some questions concerning the first point, and then briefly explain the others, finally ending up with some questions concerning how Anderson's chapter related to White, Hutcheon, Spivak, Norris and so on. I'll say this in my email to you as well, but I would like to be able to begin our conversation on Shadow lines (including roughly the first 100 pages).

What is interesting to me is the connection between a religious cosmology and a specific language. Anderson's connection of Latin and the Christian church and Arabic and Islam bode well. There is definitely a certainty that both Latin and Arabic were (and still are: Arabic especially) languages that hold special persuasion over the Divine or a connection to the Divine. The Qur'an specifically notes that the book is given in Mohammed in Arabic, and as such is a Holy language. Further, the Qur'an notes that there are other holy books out there that are not given in Arabic, and that this sort of linguistic plurality hints at the multiplicity of groupings that the Divine is capable of communicating with. Moreover, in the Catholic church, services were held in Latin for centuries, claiming that is was a Holy language. This produced interesting and troubling sociological effects (stratification of knowledge, religious truth, and value systems in both of those categories). Anderson does well in pointing out these qualifications both within Europe and colonial locations.

What is interesting to me, and possibly something that might break down through further questioning, is the idea that there are sociological systems that exist under these language boundaries; language as connected to religious truth seems to be an extremely broad notion, and could, through an equally common occurrence and prevalent notion be syphoned down. My proposition/question deals with ethnicity. Anderson notes the connection of a language system to a specific geographic location, and that each of these 3 means of organization operate within a specific geographic location, alternating (meaning England: Latin as Iraq: Arabic) systems per location. However, I am curious to the grouping effect of ethnicity. Primarily, ethnicity encompasses geographic location, a common history, similar cosmologies (related to location and history).

-initially, however, there is a difficulty in the specificity of ethnicity. Primarily due to the fact that in Anderson's literary examples he notes a sort of connectedness without acquaintance. He notes that as a United States citizen I will not come into contact with the majority of the other citizens, yet I have this "knowlegde" of their doings, the very idea that the others are moving, operating, living within similiar sociological structures and interacting with similar things that I am. Ethnicity, it may seem is too specific of a category.

The other two grouping techniques: a connection through dynasties and then an ending of "Messianic Time," in Benjaminian terms. Understandably, these grouping terms serve for collection methods in that once these systems break down, the identifier for sociological entities needs to grasp onto something other. Finally, the transition in from Messianic time to a sort of time in the "now," which Anderson describes as empty time is well summed up in his descriptions through literary texts as well as his connection to the Newspaper. Though I am interested in how the internet changes things in this note. The death of the newspaper, which is rapidly occurring through our eyes in examples such as assimilation of newspaper companies, the death of the small town paper, along with the increase of ad space and decrease of news space on a page all speak to this example in new and interesting ways.

What I am interested in, is a connection between Anderson and the other previous author's we've come across. Thinking back to last week and White and Hutcheon who spoke to the study of history and the academic field of Postmodernism, Anderson's work seems especially interesting. Anderson is speaking to the fact that groups of people are grouped together through a sort of imaginary plane and commonalities, located within a geographic space. White and Hutcheon seem to be looking at the thought systems that come out of these groupings (Nietzsche, Spivak, Norris all speak to the thought systems that come out of this as well). It would be interesting to look at the manners in which sociological entities group themselves and its impact on the thought systems: Hutcheon's comments on the PM's focus on the ex-centric, Spivak's comments on the subaltern, even Bhabha's hybridity (noting especially the interactions between the "nations" through colonialism).

This final paragraph sums Anderson's points up well, but also raises questions (for me especially between the supposed clear-cut line between secularism and a religious sort of way of thinking).

The slow, uneven decline of these interlinked certainties, first in Western Europe, later elsewhere, under the impact of economic change, 'discoveries' (social and scientific, and the development of increasingly rapid communications, drove a harsh wedge between cosmology and history. No surprise then that the search was on, so to speak, for a new way of linking fraternity, power and time meaningfully together. Nothing perhaps more precipitated this search, nor made it more fruitful, than print-capitalism, which made it possible for rapidly growing number s of people to think about themselves, and to related themselves to others, in profoundly new ways. (36).

I do question Anderson's supposed disconnect between cosmology and history. I am curious to what exactly he means. Does he assert that cosmology and history do not interact, interpret each other? If so, I disagree, and would aver that though institutionally, cosmology (as in the Catholic Church, or Christendom within monarchies has died out, but christianity, and especially Islam continue to and maintain a prevalent influence upon time (not messianic but "empty" time) and history (as in the events that occur within this time.)

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