Unreal Nature

September 25, 2018

Possession in Common

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… a nation is necessarily an imagined community …

This is from the essay ‘National Park Landscapes and the Rhetorical Display of Civic Religion’ by Michael Halloran and Gregory Clark, found in Rhetorics of Display edited by Lawrence J. Prelli (2006):

… J.B. Jackson, a cultural geographer and American cultural historian, has noted that when we refer to a “sense of place,” we mean not just atmosphere but also influence. As he put it, when we view or visit a symbolic place,

the experience varies in intensity; it can be private and solitary, or convivial and social. The place can be a natural setting or a crowded street or even a public occasion. What moves us is our change of mood, the brief but vivid event. And what automatically ensues, it seems to me, is a sense of fellowship with those who share the experience, and the instinctive desire to return, to establish a custom of repeated ritual.

… Rhetoric is at work whenever people interact using symbols and are influenced by that interaction to understand themselves and their relation to each other differently. That different understanding prompts a change of identity, and this change “may involve identification not just with mankind or the world in general, but with some kind of congregation that also implies some related norms of differentiation and segregation.” [Kenneth Burke]

… From the beginning, American national parks and monuments have been “made to mean” something more to the American public than mere pleasure. Stephen Mather’s rhetorical project was to prompt citizens to invent for themselves the sort of identity from which national purposes would follow.

[line break added] Mather was the first of many who worked to make the national parks and monuments places where Americans would learn who they are as citizens of a nation, members of a “congregation” that, in the modern era, has shaped individual and collective identity in the same ways religion did in premodern times. Benedict Anderson observes that the “dawn of nationalism at the end of the eighteenth century coincide[d] with the dusk of religious modes of thought.” And yet, as Ernest Renan has put it:

A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.

As Benedict Anderson has explained, a nation is necessarily an imagined community realized in shared symbols. What those symbols display is an ideal human identity that encompasses values and beliefs, desires and commitments of the people that community comprises. A nation’s officially designated public places display that identity. Individuals may encounter those places separately, but the meaning they encounter is collective — it is the soul of the nation they share.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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