Nation and Narration: From the Imagined Community to the European Union
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Nation and Narration: From the Imagined Community to the European Union

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Recent attempts by the European Commission to foster a pan-European nation among ...

Recent attempts by the European Commission to foster a pan-European nation among
linguistically diverse peoples have demonstrated the problematic theoretical relationship of
nation with narration. In examining this relationship, Cris Shore’s anthropological study of the
European Union sidesteps the oft-discussed political and economic facets to look at the cultural
politics of European integration. While Shore notes that many EU policymakers accustomed to
technical matters found his anthropological study of “the tribes of Brussels… rather odd or
faintly amusing” (Shore, 10) his study is actually far from novel, drawing on a rich pedigree of
cultural theorists that have attempted to map the relationship between nation or narration.
Indeed, much of theoretical basis of Shore’s critical analysis of EU cultural politics is
remarkably similar to the writings of Benedict Anderson and Susanne Zantop.

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    Nation and Narration: From the Imagined Community to the European Union Nation and Narration: From the Imagined Community to the European Union Document Transcript

    • GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY NATION AND NARRATION: FROM THE IMAGINED COMMUNITY TO THE EUROPEAN UNION GERM 510: THEORIZING CULTURE DR. KATRIN SIEG BY SEAN P. MCBRIDE WASHINGTON, DC 22 FEBRUARY 2010 AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM
    • McBride, 1 Recent attempts by the European Commission to foster a pan-European nation among linguistically diverse peoples have demonstrated the problematic theoretical relationship of nation with narration. In examining this relationship, Cris Shore’s anthropological study of the European Union sidesteps the oft-discussed political and economic facets to look at the cultural politics of European integration. While Shore notes that many EU policymakers accustomed to technical matters found his anthropological study of “the tribes of Brussels… rather odd or faintly amusing” (Shore, 10) his study is actually far from novel, drawing on a rich pedigree of cultural theorists that have attempted to map the relationship between nation or narration. Indeed, much of theoretical basis of Shore’s critical analysis of EU cultural politics is remarkably similar to the writings of Benedict Anderson and Susanne Zantop. While Benedict Anderson has dominated much of the theoretical discourse on this relationship, it is important not to inflate his theoretical significance. Works such as Jonathan Culler’s “Anderson and the Novel” have questioned the broad and uncritical adoption of Anderon’s concept of imagined communities given certain problems in the literary basis of his theoretical arguments. This has made it important for scholars to approach Anderson with a more critical eye. Thus, while Chris Shore’s work quotes Benedict Anderson and borrows his concept of imagined communities, he does selectively, primarily drawing from Anderson’s implicit comparison of nation to empire. In order to understand this theoretical linkage between Anderson and Shore, this paper argues that for the use of a cipher. Because Zantop’s analysis of the German Krusoe saga explicitly explores the impact of colonialism on the relationship between nation and narration, this work clarifies many of the theoretical undertones in Anderson and Shore. The product of this decryption is an implicit comparison between EU cultural policy towards the nations of Europe and the German Krusoe’s education of the “savage” Freitag.
    • McBride, 2 These theoretical similarities ultimately suggest that EU community building efforts represent a sort of "colonization of Europe by itself" (Shore, 27). Benedict Anderson characterizes the relationship of narration to nation as causal, resulting in the formation of an “imagined community.” He identifies the development of “national” literary languages as an important prerequisite by providing a unified written field of exchange below universal languages such as Latin or classical Arabic and above spoken regional vernaculars. Consumption of narratives (print media such as newspapers, novels, histories, etc) within this field of exchange trained the literate bourgeoisie to envision an imagined community. Anderson explains that, for the bourgeoisie reader, observing “subway, barbershop, or residential neighbors” reading the same print media acted to reassure that “the imagined world is visibly rooted in everyday life” (Anderson, 36). These cultural practices tied to print media thus created a feeling of solidarity between fellow readers based around the unified field of exchange of vernacular print language, which eventually formed the basis for the imagined national community. Despite the seemingly organic nature of this causal relationship, Anderson importantly notes that the formation of imagined communities was not necessarily populist or democratic, as it simultaneously enfranchised national elites and disenfranchised others. Expanding on Anderson, David Lloyd colorfully wrote that “nation apes empire” when describing the role of the Irish novel in the imagining of the Irish nation (David Lloyd, Anomalous States, 154). Thus, the formation of nationalism appears related to colonialist and imperialist ventures. According to Anderson, Creole elites played a leading role in this process in South America, redefining themselves and the indigenous populations as Argentinean, etc. However, shifting the metropole from Toledo to Buenos Aires altered the reality for disenfranchised indigenous tribes little, as
    • McBride, 3 their overlords simply became “fellow” Argentineans. Processes such as hispanization apparently proceeded apace, but they were now internal matters among “fellow nationals.” For indigenous peoples, full integration as an “Argentinean” required participation in the Creole unified field of exchange based on Spanish print-capitalism. In contrast to Benedict Anderson, Susanne Zantop’s study of Campe’s Robinson novels depicts a differing relationship between nation and narration. Rather than merely serving as a means for imagining solidarity with fellow readers, Zantop portrays the German Krusoe narrative as explicitly serving a top-down pedagogical function. By likening the education of German youths to colonization or "the domestication of little savages" (Zantop, 105), Zantop brings the argument that “nation apes empire” to the forefront of the relationship between nation and narration. Zantop’s depiction reflects a later evolutionary stage of the imagined community, under which the qualities associated with the nation became canonized and imposed on society as a “national pedagogical tradition” (Zantop, 105). This concept of a “national pedagogical tradition” suggests that the role of print media had changed. Enabled by Robinson’s ability to "serve as foil for the projection of any national, regional, or personal interest," Campe’s Robinson serves as an archetype of the German nation: frugal, industrious, pious, Protestant, and craving "neither material gains and luxury, nor sex and power." (Zantop, 119). In an interesting reversal of Anderson’s causal postulation that narration causes nation, Campe’s process of making Robinson fully eingedeutscht suggests that in later periods, a more rigid and normative definition of Deutschtum and other imagined national communities actually shaped the formation of narratives. Print media thus assumed a more imperialistic role, seeking to impress normative nationalist values rather than simply building solidarity.
    • McBride, 4 This normative process of becoming eingedeutscht is exemplified by Krusoe’s patriarchic and one-sided education of Freitag. Krusoe stands as the archetype of the German Landesvater, representing "enlightened bourgeoisie paternalism, Protestant ethic, religious and cultural tolerance, and the perfectibility of all humans" (Zantop, 117). By presenting Krusoe as “a literary figure whose adventures would entertain and stimulate the youthful readers into complete identification and imitation” (Zantop, 103) Campe seeks to subject his audience to a pedagogical process similar to Freitag, through which the reader transforms from Unmensch to Untermensch to Untertan to Krusoe’s equal as an Übermensch. Zantop classifies this process of Germanification as “thinly disguised cultural annihilation," in which Krusoe's actions result in not just "the erasure of the Savage... but the erasure of the individual, his conflicts, passions, and aspirations" (Zantop, 117). Krusoe and Freitag therefore lose their individuality, becoming subsumed into the German nation. Zantop’s analysis of Campe’s work suggests a far more hierarchical and static conception of an imagined German national community. In contrast to Anderson’s characterization of the literate classes communally participating in the imagining of one’s nation, Campe’s work suggests that the process of accepting Germany as Vaterland is much more demanding on the individual. Equating individuality to savagery, the creation of an Übermensch ultimately requires the subordination of individual conflicts, passions, and aspirations to the needs of the national community. In contrast to Benedict Anderson and Susanne Zantop, Cris Shore depicts the relationship between nation and narrative as fundamentally different due to the multilingual nature of the European Union and the modern technological advances in visual media. Challenging the applicability of Anderson’s presupposition that nation-building requires linguistic unity, Shore downplays the importance of print culture by adopting a wider anthropological view of symbols
    • McBride, 5 as the dominant element of nation building. Likening the EU’s use of visual media to the medieval church’s use of stained glass to communicate religious stories to linguistically diverse audiences, Shore suggests that the European Commission uses images like the Euro to communicate common narratives of European progress across a unified symbolic field of exchange. Nevertheless, by quoting an EU official charge that “Europe must speak with one voice," Shore emphasizes the difficulty of creating a unified field of exchange across linguistic barriers. Expanding on Anderson’s comparison of nation and empire, Cris Shore characterizes the cultural politics of European integration as "the colonization of Europe by itself" (Shore, 27). Theoretically and rhetorically, Shore’s analysis thus resembles Zantop's equation of a national pedagogical tradition to colonization or "the domestication of little savages." Considering the similarities of the new EU transnational elites to the Creole elites in South America, such a characterization is apt. Anderson demonstrates that the creation of national imagined communities in South American empowered the Creole elites vis-à-vis the peninsulares, which in turn transformed the colonial process of hispanization into a domestic process between “fellow nationals.” As Zantop showed through the Robinson saga, this process was later replicated in Europe. Just as natives were forcibly transformed into members of the imagined community of Argentineans, the education of German youth was likened to the “domestication of little savages.” Natives became nationals under pressure of the Creole elites just as German youth became eingedeutscht through emulation of Krusoe. This analogy with colonialism causes Shore to express concern about the European Commission’s cultural policies. Zantop classifies the sort of Germanification expressed in the Krusoe stories as “thinly disguised cultural annihilation" that seeks "the erasure of the Savage...
    • McBride, 6 but the erasure of the individual, his conflicts, passions, and aspirations" (Zantop, 117). Is this analogous to Europeanization? Shore indeed identifies similar strains in the EU’s cultural politics. By characterizing “the continuing presence of the nation-state and its allied ideology of nationalism” as “the antithesis of peace,” (Shore, 16) nationalism seems to be to the EU technocrats as “the savages” were to the European colonialists. Shore’s further discovery that Commission officials liken the argument for or against European integration to a choice between “civilisation [sic] or barbarism” (Shore, 100) further seems to confirm this suspicion. Concepts such as the white man’s burden postulated that colonialism (and slavery) was necessary to protect natives from their savage (and possibly cannibalistic) nature. Do EU technocrats envision carrying out similar heavy-handed measure to ensure the destruction of “savage” nationalism? After all, even genocide is considered “an exercise in community building” (Philip Gourevitch, We wish to inform you…, 95). This analogy is clearly overblown, but by quoting EU officials saying “the view is that the dogs may back, but the caravan will move forward regardless“ (Shore, 106), Shore appears vindicated as characterizing the European Union as having a “cavalier disregard for public opinion” (Shore, 101), suggesting that European integration represents yet another form of “bourgeoisie paternalism.” The conceptual evolution between these authors ultimately demonstrates that nation and narration have a Janus-faced relationship. For elites, such as the Creole administrators, the German author Campe, and EU technocrats, narration initially serves the democratic function of allowing a communal national imagining within a unified field of exchange. Concepts, such as Deutschtum, are more conceptually fluid and contested, allowing the elites to participate in a conceptual give-and-take over the process of constructing “imagined communities.” As this process calcifies, the other face of “imagined communities” emerges in attempts to impose
    • McBride, 7 normative cultural values on others through colonialism or top-down pedagogical exercises. The elites communally realize Deutschtum through print-capitalism, but thereafter the others must be eingedeutscht through the national pedagogical tradition. The intensity of this imposition can range from “bourgeoisie paternalism” to “thinly disguised cultural annihilation." Cultural practices, such as the reading of novels or newspapers, move from being part of a debate over public opinion to being an imperial tool aimed at the “domestication of little savages.” Cris Shore accurately identifies similar trends occurring within the cultural politics of the European Union, begging the question: At what cost Europeanization?