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Customer Review

on August 23, 2001
Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson seeks to explain the seeds of what he terms "imagined communities," which are for the most part "nations". It is also a careful chronological account of how these seeds grew into actual policies through the breaking apart of the Latin language, the dissemination of mass-media into new ideas of national history, and ultimately how history and language served to preserve national identity. In the first chapter, "Cultural Roots," Anderson claims that the birth of the imagined community is directly linked to Industrialization and its two byproducts, the novel and the newspaper. The novel and the newspaper first made the public aware of simultaneous experiences that allowed them to conceive of themselves as not alone, but rather an entity that worked together. The concept of time as a linear, progressive notion was another result of Industrialization, and Anderson argues that this "calendrical" way of looking at the past was another important factor in imagined communities as it allows groups of people to think of a historic root in national identity. In the following chapter, "Origins of National Consciousness," Anderson takes his point further by arguing that print-capitalism and capitalism in general sought to benefit from growing literacy among "laypeople." In this way it was self-perpetuating in that it created more of a consuming public that, because of its expansion, began to create and shape a national consciousness of its own. Growing population in general led to the development of new languages from Latin, and the new languages thereby helped shape national consciousness as well. In the fourth chapter, "Creole Pioneers," Anderson explains how colonialism, particularly in respect to the United States of America, also contributed to growing populations who were a mix of the colonized and the colonials. In addition to expanding the public further, these "Creoles" also developed separate understandings of nationalism based on the model those who first came to the colonies. From here, author Benedict Anderson explains how, once established, new colonies such as the Americas "pirated" ideas of modernity and antiquity and used them for their own distinct national purposes. Languages were no longer the basis of national identity, but rather these pirated models gained momentum through administrative and educational institutions. In the chapter "Official Nationalism and Imperialism," Anderson explains how this idea of individual/national antiquity and modernity was adopted as a policy for the first time by various ruling classes: "Such official nationalisms were conservative, not to say reactionary, policies, adapted from the model of the largely spontaneous popular nationalisms that preceded them." (110) In the chapter "The Last Wave," the idea of this centralizing or "Russifying" of schools and administrative facilities is presented as already established within most of the European and colonized nations, and is shown as well underway in the case of Indonesia. This chapter also explores how "Russifying" of nations also led to another unintentional but financially beneficial necessity, bilingualism. Bilingualism was important at this point because it further explained how language was not the sole root of national consciousness, and also because it allowed for the proliferation of more print-capitalism (and at this stage, other new forms of media) which led to a wider understanding of nationality on the part of the reader. At this point, the idea of nationality and the implementation of imagined communities were firmly in place, but policies were necessarily shifted in order to preserve national identity. In "Patriotism and Racism," Benedict Anderson seeks to explain what motivated already-formed imaginary communities was the future. This look toward the future of individual nations in part explains the use of racism in nationalism, because "The fact of the matter is that nationalism thinks in terms of historical destines, while racism dreams of eternal contaminations." (149) Alongside racism, patriotism was also necessary to ground national consciousness, and only at this point is language instrumental in preserving national identity because it is now the link to the past and is a vehicle for people to understand the history of their nationality. The last three chapters of Imagined Communities explain how nations preserve their histories in different ways. Benedict Anderson shows how the legacies of dead regimes are actual models upon which revolutionary governments take over and continue to use. In "Census, Map, Museum" we are shown how each of these ways of classifying different nationalities in physical terms "illuminate the late colonial state's style of thinking about its domain." (184) And finally, in memory and forgetting, Benedict Anderson explains how staples of the "imaginary community" are further preserved by the illumination and glorification of certain aspects of history, and the deliberate "forgetting" of incriminating remnants of the past (i.e., the Civil War in America.) Imagined Communities is an straightforward account of how ideas of nationality were first born through print-media and language, how they later became policies, and how they ultimately sought self-preservation through different means.
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