Daily Archives: April 8, 2007

Scandal, Print, and Performance

I had originally framed this discussion as a reflection on the difference between thinking about print capitalism and performance as shaping forces in nationalism (we’ll get to the Scandal part later).  As Roach suggests, one of the most forceful claims for turning to performance is that it broadens the idea of nationalism.  All cultures, as he suggests, in some ways perform their identities.  By looking at performance, we can think about the way groups without print cultures (enslaved African, native Americans) expressed collective identities and evoked cultural memories.  Rituals around death, then, take on a particular importance because of the ways in which they connect the past to the present.  While one kind of historical narrative might propose the transition from performance culture to print culture, Roach instead shows their overlap. In some ways this reminds me of the way Marx utilizes the fetish: Just as fetishism is not abandoned with historical “advances,” so performance does not give way to print. (Might we also say that theater and even other narrative forms, such as romance, do not actually give way to the realist novel?) Cities of the Dead, then, shows that Imagined Communities only addresses a certain kind of nationalism.

            On re-reading
Anderson last week, however, I was struck as well by how much they share.  One extremely important idea that they both develop is the significance of both remembering and forgetting. 
Anderson develops this idea from a statement by Ernst Renan, who wrote that French citizens are “obliged already to have forgotten”– “doit avoir oublié la Saint-Barthélemy.   “In effect, Renan’s readers were being told to ‘have already forgotten’ what Renan’s own words assumed that they naturally remembered!” (200). For Roach, I believe, the eighteenth century developed a very special knack for forgetting.  In both Cities of the Dead and Imagined Communities, both remembering AND forgetting become crucial in the formation of national identity.  But while Anderson focuses on the formation of nation-states as well as personal identification with such institutions, Roach follows out in more detail both the thread of forgetting (commitments for liberty in an age of enslavement, for example) but also subaltern strategies for collective consciousness through memory.

            What do others think about these two (overlapping) models? How have either of these important and fascinating works influenced the way you think about and/or teach the eighteenth century?


Laura Rosenthal