-como toda identidad- es un constructo imaginario
inacabado e inacabable." (Abril Trigo, Cultura Uruguaya,¿Culturas Linyeras?, p. 23).
"A geopolitical imaginary, the map of nation-states, dominates
ethical discourse at a global level". From this perspective
Michael Shapiro in Violent Cartographies puts into question
the official stories which permeate societies based on a representation of themselves,
linked to the belief in an objectivity grounded on narratives,
produced by historical and literary canons. These canons have been aiming
at building a monosemic consensual society based on the fact that
a People had mostly in common
what had to be forgotten, for instance the exclusion and killing of
thousands of Protestants in France after the nullification of
the Édits de Nantes. A new canon was put in place
at the time of the Révolution française
which tried to reject the dualistic paradigm French/foreigner,
but replaced it by barbary/civilisation.
Therefore, the attribution process, that is the attribution(2) of qualities determining
the essence of a person or of a society, was still operating in
reference to a stable monosemic world(3) which, as Karl
Popper has shown in The Open Society and its Enemies, is
the basis of the invention of the modern nation
of the modern totalitarians are quite unaware that their ideas
can be traced back to Plato. But many know of their indebtness
to Hegel, and all of them have been brought up in the close atmosphere
of Hegelianism. They have been taught to worship the state, history,
and the nation.(4)" The barbary/civilization
paradigm was the basis of a rationality excluding all those who
were not considered to be assimilable (S.
namely Blacks, most colonized people and Natives(5).
This paradigm coupled with the map of nation-states and the need to
forget is what allows to produce and disseminate histories of
countries such as France or England which are totally cut from
the histories of the former colonies, although these former colonies
were seminal in helping the colonial power to develop economically.
This development was based on the
availability of cheap resources and cheap labour and on the emigration
of numerous young people who otherwise would not have had any
suitable position at home. Moreover, the barbary/civilization
paradigm was based on the valorization of rational beings and
many people, among them women, were not considered
sufficiently rational. This is one of the reason why Olympe de
Gouges who saw the inherent flaws of the Déclaration
des Droits de l'Homme et du citoyen produced a Déclaration
des Droits de la Femme, and was beheaded.
This means that for more than a century and a half, European nations
refering to "universal" or republican ideals, and promoting
an ideology aiming at making believe in the natural consensual
link established between members of a nation state, denied
basic legal, political and often economic rights to half of their
This did not prevent these nations to repeatedly call for the
defense of the rights of their populations in the numerous wars fought in the XIX
and XXth centuries.
The ideology of modernity, originating in the bureaucratic, military,
and pedagogical worlds, strategically disseminated a notion of
space closely linked
to dualistic paradigms considered synonyms(6) such as self/other, within/without,
generating exclusion. The famous Droits
des peuples à disposer d'eux-mêmes was grounded
in this imaginary allowing states to exclude and
kill thousands of people particularly in central Europe, in places
such as the Bukowina(7) where this right was the right of many states
to deny the qualification of a People to many groups culturally
and often physically erased from the map. This geopolitical imaginary,
a typical Hegelian way of creating an identity, is based on topographical
amnesia. In the geopolitical imaginary, state's apparatuses control
the semantics and equate nations with territorial states, although
nations have often been suppressed by violent ideological and
physical means by these states.
This imaginary is based on a will to impose an identity, be it individual
or social, which denies any domestic fracture. This domestic fracture
has many faces. When one considers that the main revolution of
the XIXth century is the fact that poor
or landless people have been allowed to obtain titles and to
be owners, a dynamic which drew millions to the Americas, one
can see the contradictory dynamic of Modernity. Change was still
rooted in stable entities which led to seek a strong allegiance
to a national territory enclosed in geographical borders, while
simultaneously denying the possibility to become a legitimate
owner of a piece of a territory, as it was the case in many parts
of the world. Rootedness was political but not grounded in economic
The Hegelian imaginary, coupled with the metaphor of the state as
a spatial organism (Hepple:
and with a Darwinian view of life, became an important
part of the geopolitical literature of Europe at the end of the XIX
and at the beginning of the XXth centuries, and influenced the
invention of nations as far as in latin-America as it is demonstrated
by the recurence of the paradigm barbary/civilization in Sarmiento's novel entitled
Facundo. This imaginary hides under political strategies
to assert oneself by seeing alterity as a threat. Thus, the geopolitical
imaginary is based on a kind of panic: the vulnerability to alterity.
Nation-states try to control this vulnerability by presenting
ethics as a value experience, by defining these values, using
for this the force of arms, the power of the
attribution process (Imbert:
the aesthetic of literature (Readings: 1996) or particular hermeneutic processes.
These processes lead to self-fullfiling prophecies and to a dangerous
paranoia such as the one which is caricatured in the novel of
the Argentinian novelist Marcos Aguinis: La conspiraciòn
de los idiotas.
Historically, intellectuals, professors and
critics, following a European
tradition originating in the XIXth century, have been almost totally
engaged in the promotion of national literatures and in a conception
of the literary text as limited by territorial boundaries(8) (Anderson: 1983). Until recently,
the practice of comparative literature has emphasized
comparisons between national literatures. However, recent researches
tend to go beyond these a prioris in that they either disclose
the narratological elements transcending national boundaries and
periodization(9) (themselves used in pedagogical
manuals in order to foster a territorial agenda linked to monotopical
hermeneutics (Mignolo: 1999) avoiding spatial conceptualization
open to a transcultural or hybrid imaginary), or that they focus on ironic dissimilarities
which escape the ontological anxiety linked to a national culture.
They are able to point out the disjunctive relationships between
place and nation and emphasize questions linked either to diversity
or difference such as ethnicity(10), class or gender.
However, in order to succeed in transcending the Hegelian imaginary,they
have to escape from a reterritorialization or from a re-essentialization
of ethnicity, a common feature linked to a subtext full of nostalgic
overtones from which few researchers of ethnic
postcolonial literatures escape.
The consciousness that the equation between nation and state is
the basic principle of the modern state and of its capacity
to generate both genocides and oblivion leads nowadays to a renewed
critical understanding of relations of domination (Soja:
1989) and of locatedness,
and its correlated terms: position, mapping, liminal space, spaces
of contention, centre/margin, global/local(11).
Research Chair Holder: "Canada: Social and Cultural Goals
in a Knowledge Based Society." Director of a SSHRC funded
project (2002-2005) (program
of the new economy)
with D. Castillo-Durante (Ottawa), A. Colin (Pittsburgh, USA), A. Rizzo (Rìo Cuarto, Argentine): «Les discours économiques
transnationaux et la mondialisation dans les médias et
les textes de vulgarisation au Canada en comparaison avec l'Amérique
latine: déplacements culturels et économiques»
web site: http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/lettres/imbert.html
(2) "Le processus d'attribution",
in Les discours du Nouveau Monde au XIXe siècle au Canada
français et en Amérique latine/Los discursos del
Nuevo Mundo en el siglo XIX en el Canada francofono y en América
latina,Ottawa, Legas, 1995, p.43-60.
(3) Except in the United States as it is exclaimed by Sarmiento,
the Argentinian writer who visited europe, Canada and the USA
in 1848 and who later became president of Argentina: "The
Yankee is a born proprietor... he does not say that he is poor
but that he is poor right now or that he has been unlucky, or
that times are bad." (M.A. Rockland, Travels, p.166).
(4) vol. 2, p. 31.
(5) Shapiro gives examples of this situation when showing the
transformation of Wampun into money and the influence of the
Dutch on intertribal Indian commerce in the Americas (10), a
transformation which led to the denial of Indian collectivities
as legitimate, because they did not recognize property as a sedentary
way to use space. This denial, which has been regularly uttered
by J. S. Mill, Lamartine and Sarmiento, demonstrates the participation
of literatures in the constitution and displacement of nations
and in an imaginary based on dualism and exclusion.
(6) It is this very synonymity which is at the root of exclusion.
If self/other and within/without are not synonyms such as in
a Levinasian perspective, otherness can be set within, a dynamic
which changes the relationship towards alterity.
(7) Amy Colin, Im Gegenlicht des Todes: Poetik der jüdischen
Identität in der multikulturellen Bukowina, München,
Fink Verlag, 2000.
(8) A reason why nobody mentions Amadis de Gaule as the most
important book of the time in literary anthologies.
(9) See: P. Imbert, «Sémiotique, littérature
et politique: pauvre mais propre», Semiotica, 67, 3/4,
1987, p. 245-263.
(10) See for instance Romain Gary, La vie devant soi, or a recent
autobiographical essay entitled Nord perdu, written by Nancy
Huston, an Anglo-Canadian bilingual (French/English) writer who
lives in Paris with her spouse Tzvetan Todorov.
(11) See: M. Grillo, S. Berti, A. Rizzo, Discursos locales: lo
nuevo y lo viejo, lo público y lo privado, Universidad
Nacional de Río Cuarto, (Argentina), 1998; and also Keith,
Michael and Pile, Steve (1993) Place and the Politics of Identity.
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