Thinking the Nation Out
Some Reflections on Nationalism and Theory
There is a sense, faced though we are with ever more complex characterizations of what is at stake in a cultural politics of the post-colonial situation, that we might be taking the very first confident strides on the firm ground which emerges as the last swampy marshes of liberalism are drained. No one can describe what is emerging as anything but awesome in its proportions. If Said's Orientalism took the last ten centuries and the eastern as well as the western world into its draconian grasp, Foucault's later work exposed a micro-technology of power so subtle that its effects are 'in the blood7. We are up against systems of domination-exploitation more extensive and more deeply embedded than anything we might have suspected, let alone taken cognizance of before. Familiar objects split open and disperse to reveal wild genealogies and strange-hued architectures. An instability, Foucault once wrote, has been created at the bedrock of things. For him an instability, for us a foothold; a sense that we have arrived and are at the same time beginning. We can set aside the juggling with quasi-mystical, quasi-ethical solutions as we engage anew with a whole range of questions. And in the very process of unmaking, of resisting, of rewriting the old tales we discover new solidarities, new possibilities and sometimes find that imperceptibly, without quite knowing it, we have actually come some distance on journeys we had not set out on. I am interested here in one such journey: that of translating theory for our use.
A major issue 'released' for fresh investigation is nationalism. In the last decade and a half several studies have opened dimensions of nationalism hardly touched on earlier. The nature of the national bourgeoisie, subaltern movements, the recovery of self, nationalist historiography, nationalist aesthetics, messianic movements, the woman question, Indian film, art and literary history have each come in for scrutiny. In the process theoretical frameworks have been proposed and new strategies evolved to transform existing frameworks for other uses. One might broadly describe the studies as marked by:
(i) the sense that nationalism (its emergence and development, its contemporary presence) is a more complex, contradictory and shifting phenome-