Reading Reflection for:
Imagined Communities and Ghosts of Berlin
Thoughts on Imagined Communities:
This topic of “nationalism” is particularly poignant in today’s political climate especially in the United States (for me, as an American.) I have taken a few classes recently where the concept of national identity and rootedness has been a topic and I’ve always felt that I don’t agree or even identify with this idea of the American national identity. In fact, I find it frustrating to be told that I share an identity with people who have such a vastly different belief and value system as I do but since we happened to be born in the same country, therefor we somehow share something such as a national identity. There were a few quotes that really stuck out to me, to this point:
“It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion.”
This quote also stood out:
“No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind. The most messianic nationalists do not dream of a day when all the members of the human race will join their nation in the way that it was possible, in certain epochs, for, say, Christians to dream of a wholly Christian planet.”
Nationalism is extraordinarily exclusionary (not a value that I hold dear!) and I find it absurd that nationalists think we should all come together simply for the sake of being born in a country, by sheer chance. And on the other side of it, that we should EXCLUDE everyone who hasn’t had the fortune (or misfortune or something else) to be born elsewhere. I am what we could say is a 4th generation American – my great grandparents were born in Scotland, Ireland, Germany (through somewhere in Eastern Europe) but my great grandparents apparently came over here long enough ago and at the right time that I get to be considered “American”. Yet we have several people born in the US whose families came from Mexico, China, Syria, etc or the Turkish in Germany whose families have been here for quite a long time who are still not considered “German enough” or whose American-ness is constantly in question. So this issue of national identity / nationalism becomes even more baffling to me.
I am glad that the author brought up monuments and memorials such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – I remember being taken to see this particular one as a child. It makes no more sense to me now as it did then! But I enjoyed the absurdity of this point:
“The cultural significance of such monuments becomes even clearer if one tries to imagine, say a Tomb of the Unknown Marxist or a cenotaph for fallen liberals.
I don’t have much commentary on the theory that capitalism – specifically within book publishing and also the Reformation – played a large part in creating nationalist, I just thought this was a really fascinating point to think about!) There are some interesting issues surrounding the Arabic language related to this idea – in a sense that there is “nationalism” among individual Arabic countries (and several political issues surrounding the dialects) but there is also a sense of “pan Arabic” identity. There is a heated debate among these communities in regard to MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and it’s usage as a form of Arabic to tie them all together and a fear that some dialects will evolve too far beyond MSA and recognizeable as an Arabic dialect.
Thoughts on Ghosts of Berlin:
I read this piece after reading Imagined Communities, so rather than particular points standing alone, I read it in comparison to the other. I’m not sure if this will be articulated well, but it felt like Ghosts of Berlin was describing something – a shared history and experience – that Imagined Communities describes as something Nationalism is trying to force among it’s “members” or an experience it wishes that it had. Imagined Communities uses the particular example of the empty Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as this kind of made up memorial to inspire Nationalism and then Ghosts of Berlin details the many actual, meaningful memorials and spaces that the people of Berlin are trying to reckon with (how to deal with these spaces and objects). This second reading explores this idea of dealing with real issues and experiences that isn’t focused on creating an exclusionary group, whereas the first reading is about groups (countries / “nations”) somewhat “making up” these experiences as a shared thing to create exclusionary groups.