Wednesday, December 9, 2009

IN THE NAME OF PATRIA: Nationalism and Modernity as Haunted Romance

We agree that modernity, in its basic structurization of its understanding of history, is predisposed to deny the propensity of man to revert to an understanding of time as somewhat without bounds, determined by the seasons, without predictability and therefore should be viewed with caution and preparation whenever possible. Modernity, in seeking to make history its pet, has sought to fetter it with countless chains (reminiscent of Rousseau’s fatally misguided description of what supposedly the state of man is) to make it more understandable, more easy supposedly to understand, and to put it to its logical extremes, deploy it as a means of controlling warm bodies for the purposes of fevered brains. And it is in these fevered brains that are born the notion of a community beyond the local, what the national is deemed to be. Benedict Anderson opens the second chapter of his seminal Imagined Communities thusly (2006, 9):

Why this harkening back to the images of the spectre? Why, one might ask, should we characterize the discourse of nationalism (or nation-building, for that matter) in terms of its ability to inspire feelings of hallowedness or haunted-ness? Perhaps we can take the argument of Rolando Tolentino, in his essay Pitong Welgista ang Napatay, which puts into question the sensitivity of love and hatred as being conflated already, the intensity of such emotions so equal in its capacity to imbalance and violate the normal, natural existence of the lover and the beloved that its ambiguity inspires simultaneously, though unconsciously, tremendum et fascinosum which cannot be identified whether it be because of orgasmic pleasure or of horrifying terror. And it is in this light, we shall see, that the spectre that haunts national imagining is that same phenomenon of conflation that presupposes and blurs the dichotomy of love and hatred, this time confusing creation with destruction and how it consists the struggle of the post-colonial being in striving to claim one’s own space in the world.

Using spectres as a metaphor or a conduit of human desire for expression when communication seems impossible is among the characteristics of subversive and emancipatory movements. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels opened the Manifesto of the Communist Party with a foreboding that seems to have been only imagined, conceived and given life in the depths of the hell where the proletariat has been kept bound, “the spectre that haunts Europe, the spectre of communism.” Even our own prime Filipino patriot, Jose Rizal y Mercado, in illustrating the anguish that is experienced by the Creole displaced in mainland Spain and even in the Philippine colony, has chosen to show Ibarra as haunted by the spirit of his wronged father at the throes of mortality, and then later being torn giving the presumed primacy of Madre Patria between Spain and what he feels is his true homeland, the Philippines.

The mirage that is projected through the spectre reeks of something unwelcome, something that has been forcibly eliminated yet is now governed by its own will to return, to manifest oneself once more, and therefore seek to actualize its presence despite its limitations, its non-corporeality. The spectre is there not to simply communicate a message, but seeks to bend the will of those who see it to its bidding, as might be gleaned from the evolution of Hamlet to an incomprehensible, therefore un-“decodable”, and therefore invincible being after conversing with the presumed ghost of his father. As a somewhat perverse embodiment of the Spirit that G. W. F. Hegel has defined as Phenomenon, the person that embodies the blurring of distinction between the world of ideas and the concrete world, the spectre seeks to actualize where it came from, what it is now, and how it shall be in the future in the futility of no longer existing in time but is now one with time. Its desire for communion can no longer be adequately satisfied by finite means, being in a sense going towards the infinite already.

Nationalism as sought to be achieved by former colonies, as a product of modernity, is a rejection of traditions past, traditions which they claim to have been determined for them by their colonial masters. They are operating under the presumption that they, progressing towards an inevitable flow of history, were interrupted in their potential evolution by the meddling of colonial masters. Thus, select emancipatory movements would seek to restore the pre-colonial being that their people have supposedly been in, the pure native condition (again, harkening back to Rousseauvian hallucinations). Yet as Nick Joaquin in Culture and History would argue, the act of intervention, that moment of contact is already an irreversible phenomenon, history being a sequential abstraction in flow with time, which moves forward towards eternity. To claim and attempt to restore the pre-colonial is as presumptuous as Lucifer’s ambition to displace the Creator: the finite attempting to conquer that which is beyond their capacity to even comprehend. Nationalism, therefore, is also haunted by the desire for articulation of an identity, one which, like innocence, once lost, can never be reclaimed in its purest form. One could only seek to renegotiate the relationship between those nationalities that have been “tainted” by the domination of other nationalities, mutually reinforcing their evolution without the certainty of their paths diverging. In a somewhat mundane insight, one could pick out the scalding verses of performer Stefani Germanotta (better known as “Lady Gaga”) as illustrative of a society’s haunted desire to reclaim itself from those who have crossed their way:

I want your ugly, I want your disease
I want your everything as long as it’s free…

I want your horror, I want your design
‘Cuz you’re a criminal as long as you’re mine…

I want your love and I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your love and All your lover’s revenge
You and me could write a bad romance…

In seeking to recognize itself through consciousness, the nation as a corporeal, imagined body is therefore assaulted as well of the inherent trappings of imagined bodies. Despite seeking to establish itself as the patria grande, one can only do so with the grudging tolerance of the patria chicas, the local hometowns. This fiction has been established through the romanticization of natality and even the romanticization of the tomb, and thus can only borrow its hallowedness from the fiction of tombs.

No comments: