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The Problem of European Identity: Are the Humanities a Factor?

by Jeffersonian Democrat Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 06:43:01 AM EST

While reading the diaries of Mr. Schnittger and the informative and insightful arguments of European Identity within, it dawned on me that there was no discussion on the role, if any, of my particular field of study: Literature.

Of course, on the surface, it doesn't seem something as abstract as literature would have anything to do with the person on the street identifying as a Czech or as a European.  Still, I ask, does someone like W.B. Yeats represent an Irish identity within the Irish national consciousness, and if so, how?  Or how about Balzac for a Frenchman?

I think Mr. Schnittger is on the right track in his argument, particularly a common denominator needed for identity, however I am not of the opinion that it is Christianity.  In fact, I believe that it may go deeper.  Because identity is so intertwined in the nation, the attempt to understand identity lies within a particular nation's culture.  I would acknowledge that Christianity is a denominator but I think we can go further and try to identify the lowest common denominator in which to measure identity.  Religion plays a distinctive role throughout all of humanity and its identities but I have to be careful here as to how I use the word religion.   Nikolai Berdyaev in his Origins of Russian Communism argues that the Russian people are very religious and the Bolsheviks understood this.  They merely exploited this belief system and replaced Christian Icons with Party portraits, for example.  Yet the functioning of a religious belief system remained though officially atheistic concerning the question of a deity.

Diary rescue by Migeru


First, I need to define a term that I will use as a basis of my argument.  My lowest common denominator here is the nation.  In particular, the Latin "natio" as understood as a group of people united by a common ethnicity, territory, and language.  I believe that this is an important concept and certainly a cornerstone of my argument.  Before I started on an academic pursuit, I had a long career in the US military.  I remember distinctly a strategy and planning conference that I attended on the FRY.  An outside academic was briefing us on the demographic problems in Yugoslavia.  The demographic map (unfortunately I do not remember the date of the demographics nor did it address immigration) clearly showed Europe's political boundaries coincided with demographic populations, e.g. the color pink for French fit neatly within the political borders of France.  However when we looked at the FRY, the colored demographic representations polka-dotted the entire geographic map.

This idea of "natio" is important, as the first time a "natio" took political power was the first Nation-State as the parliamentary French Republic.  This is why the United States does not fall into the category of being a "nation", rather it is a country made up of almost every nation on the earth.  And if you will pardon a little of my American patriotism (not nationalism), I find this is what made the United States one of the most beautiful experiments of the Enlightenment.  I will also return to this point in a moment in how the current political discourse in the US is a false narrative.

Here, however, I wish to return to the question of literature (and all the humanities also fit within the point, but particularly literature and language: a component of the natio definition I use) and the identity of citizens of the nation-state.  I would like to quote one of my former professors, Benjamin Bennett, from the University of Virginia in his book "All Theater is Revolutionary Theater" (an exploration of contemporary problems in Aristotle's Poetics, but this point is relevant):

[...] Literature in the modern sense was thus born in the lap of the development and establishment of the major modern nation-states of bourgeois-industrial-parliamentary Europe, and I do not think this circumstance was an accident.  The evidence after the fact is clear enough: the newborn concept of literature does not really begin to have an important function in the intellectual life until it is used to create the idea of national literatures, which in turn underpins the increasingly flourishing nineteenth-century production of histories of national literature and makes possible the increasingly common incorporation of national literature into school and university curricula, where it serves the nation-state by indoctrinating its young citizens with the idea of a cohesive and continuous national culture stretching far into the past.  Already at the beginning of the nineteenth-century, the notion of national literature as such is so well established that Goethe feels called upon to conceptualize its opposite in what he calls "world literature."

I speak advisedly when I say that the concept of literature is used to create the idea of national literatures.  For in reality, there is no such thing as a national literature except in the trivial sense of a collection of all the more or less poetic writings in a given language.  Poetry, of course, does have a history and a historical identity, as do all the extrapoetic forms later gathered under the heading of literature.  But these histories, to the extent that they are interesting in a "literary" sense, to the extent that they engage the evolution of genres and questions of hermeneutics, tend very strongly to develop across or between languages rather than within languages.  Critical historiography laughs at us when we claim that one particular narrative is the correct way of looking at this or that aspect of history.  But there are plenty of cases where we can assert confidently that a particular narrative grossly distorts history.  And one of those cases is the fairytale that shows us a national literature developing in accordance with its own inner principles and occasionally (so we say) responding to external "influences."

I do not mean to say that the nation itself - the natio, the people, the Volk, the tribe - does not exist and does not have historical identity in the form of a culture, although we must be careful about the form of existence we ascribe to it.  But precisely the main vehicle by which that culture is meant to be transmitted in the public schools of modern nation-states, the national literature, does in fact not exist in any relation to the technical concept of "literature" that would be deep enough to ground - precisely - a particular form of culture.

    As happens with many demonstrably false or misleading ideas, however, the idea of the national literature is remarkably tenacious - tenacious, I suppose, in proportion not only to its obvious patriotic usefulness in public education but also to the amount of desperate industry invested in it by its sincere proponents.  To this day, in the United States, the study of literature in broader than national terms is normally called "comparative literature," as if national literatures were the indisputably fundamental units of the discipline.  What we have, then, in literature, is a firmly established institution with an inherent conservative tendency which probably contributes - not directly, but in a way of an illegitimate and self-obscuring conceptual operation that makes it difficult to criticize convincingly - to the maintenance of existing national structure and ultimately of nationalism itself in some sense. [...] pp. 220-221

Keeping Mr. Bennett's argument in mind, I wish to consider a bit of research I conducted from earlier this summer on Heinrich Heine.  Heine illustrates Bennett's argument very clearly in his polemic Die Romantische Schule, as well as his essays Die Romantiker and Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland*.  Especially Bennett's mention of the Fairy tale above.  Heine rails against the German Romantics, authors like Novalis, Tieck, the Brothers Schlegel, et. al. for creating an idealized middle ages of the Catholic Church and aristocracy and purporting a myth of "Pan-Germanism" through their works: Pan-Germanism as an identity and a unification of Germans.  As we all know, there never was any such thing as "Germans" but rather a collection of very different Germanic tribes.  Germany, as a nation-state, did not come into existence until Bismarck.  The purpose of this false "pan-germanism" at the time was to extinguish any revolutionary fervor and unite the peasant with the lord as a reactionary force against French Republicanism.  Napoleon was exporting French Republicanism at the end of the bayonet and the aristocracy of all of Europe was threatened by its bourgeois revolutionaries.  Heine, and many of the Rhinelanders, had a very favorable opinion of Napoleon and it took the Prussians to occupy the Rhineland to suppress revolutionary zeal.  Heine, of course, spent a large part of his life in Parisian exile, where he made friends with and influenced a young Karl Marx, and died there.

Literature, here, as a "national" literature, is used to propagate a false narrative of what it means to be "German" - an identity.  Of course, this movement extended into the fine arts and music and we need not to look further than Richard Wagner to support that assertion.

Even today Das Nibelungenlied is considered the "national" epic of Germany.  However, there is no mention of Germans in that work.  What we have are Nibelungs, Saxons, Danes, Burgundians, Icelanders and Huns.  There is a scholarly argument that this identity with Gunther, Hagan de Troyes, the Nibelungs and their fate is directly related to the bunker mentality of Hitler and his die-hard compatriots holding out to the last man against the "Tartar hordes" of the east.  Surely, Germanic pagan symbols and ritual, rather than Christianity, were the cornerstones of National Socialist propaganda and a very logical outcome of what the German Romantics started in the late eighteenth century.  Let us hope that the false narrative of "Pan-Germanism" also died in the rubble of Berlin in April of 1945.

Nevertheless, the politics of identity is again at work today in attempting to rewrite history into a false narrative.  This time it is in the United States and concerns the effort to establish the United States as a "Christian Nation."  Clearly, the roots of the colonies in America are Christian in nature.  American literature and letters reflect this as well (The Scarlet Letter, for example).  This Christian nature was Calvinistic and is the source of the identity myths of America as "the shining city on the hill" and American Exceptionalism.  However, the United States was founded on the same Enlightenment principles igniting Europe at the time.  Most of those leaders, Deists and Freemasons, had no love of the authoritarian Calvinism of the colonies that led to such things as witch burnings.  They were committed to Mankind and its inalienable rights.  The Christian narrative is false.

Furthermore, as I argued above, the idea of a "nation" is false.  The United States is a geographical political entity, a country, made up of almost every natio on earth.  It is dangerous too, as natio leads to such things as nationalism, not patriotism.  The identity of a nation, not to mention a Christian one, is a false narrative being propagated today within the United States.

Literature, too, is being used as the Romantics did in Germany.  Included in the definition of literature I add public school texts.  As Bennett points out above, public education serves the nation-state at a very deep level to indoctrinate its young into a cohesive idea of national identity and a single publisher in Texas publishes most textbooks in the US.  What goes into those textbooks is carefully vetted by many different organizations with different political and educational agendas.  A current example is the attempt to adopt the theory of "Intelligent Design" into public science curricula; clearly an attempt to indoctrinate the young with a Christian belief to further the false narrative of a Christian Nation.  A narrative, I believe, just as dangerous as "Pan-Germanism".

So what does this mean for a European Identity?  Should we promote "European" writers and other creators of art and culture? A "pan-European" system of public education to promote a European literature and culture?  A European anthem, for example?  It seems to me, developing a European identity would be difficult to do considering what I have argued here on the functioning of identity.  Nevertheless, it seems to have been done with Germany and is in an attempted process within the United States.  But is a European identity desirable?  Would it be a true identity or another false narrative?  We have seen the consequences of false narratives before.

Therefore I do not believe Christianity is the lowest common denominator of an European identity but I thought the argument was on the right track.  I think we have to examine the question of natio and how it is taught within national education processes and its literature.  Then, I believe, we can discuss whether the creation of a European identity is a noble and desirable goal.

[UPDATE]: Aw, shucks, now I am rescued - thanks. I feel both humble and guilty though. The better half is back from family visits while I had to stay home to take care of pets. Now I have "Komputerverbot" and I will spend quality family time with her. I will be able to comment off and on but I am afraid I will not be able to contribute anything substantial or well-thought out defenses to counter argument for the time being. I promise I will, though. And Happy New Year!

*Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, Deutscher Tashenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG München, 2005

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Have to run for groceries sometime today but will be here for most of it.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 07:02:54 AM EST
Many thanks for your erudite meditation and kind words towards my own earlier, rather crass efforts at discussing a similar topic.  I didn't touch on the topic of literature because I am not really qualified to do so, but also because I am not really sure we can speak of "a European literature"  in a very meaningful sense.  How for instance, is European literature different from e.g. American or Middle Eastern Literature?,  Clearly there are differences, but can we identify clear boundaries?

The development of "Classical" Music is closely linked to  the development of musical instrument technology - most of which happened in Europe - so can we call it European?  Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Bach - are they European or Germanic?

I think one of the main functions of an "identity" is that it defines boundaries - who is in, and who is out - and thus gives a sense of belonging to those within at the expense of a sense of distance from those without.  You are right to draw attention to the "false narrative" of the German Romantics, but is there ever such a thing as a "True" narrative?  Are not all narratives, whether national or not, social constructs, some more successful than others, written by certain movements in support of their perceived interests?

Thus Yeats attempted to create an Irish National Theater in contradistinction to the dominant British imperial one, the German Romantics sought to end the incessant warring between neighbouring German States, Heine supported the French bourgeois revolutionaries against German aristocrats, and predominantly white, protestant Americans are now seeking to forge a dominant "American" "Christian" identity in contradistinction to growing secular/liberal and Latino/catholic populations within, and a growing sense of alienation from European and Asian cultures without?

So in what sense can we talk about a European Identity and is one necessary for the development of the EU?  It only makes sense if we can, and want to draw boundaries in relation to what we then define as non-European.  Thus is we accept that, historically ate least, the EU is largely co-extensive with Christendom, does that mean that a major non-Christen state like Turkey cannot be included?  

If on the other hand, as many people argued, Christianity is now largely irrelevant to "European Identity" and that we should embrace secular, pluralist enlightenment values instead, that would allow us to include a secular democratic country like Turkey, but how does it distinguish us from the US?

Many would prefer us to have no national or regional identities at all, citing these as the source of endless wars, and emphasise our common humanity instead.  In a rapidly shrinking, globalising, and more interconnected world, this would appear to make sense.  But is this practical politics, and would people really be prepared to accept unlimited immigration from Asia, the middle east and Africa on the basis that we all share a common humanity?

The function of an identity (regardless of how true, false, natural or artificial it might seem) is precisely to define who is in and who is out, and what values and norms those inside are expected to adhere to.  The strength of that identity (and the loyalty it inspires) can determine the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the political structures built around it.  

Most political choices tend to favour one group or another and are determined by the dynamics and interest of those groups who make up the polity - hopefully with minimal safeguards for the weakest within - and a system of international law to govern the conduct of relations with polities without.  That is the essence of civilisation.  The question is, where do you draw the boundaries in a world that has yet to learn to live without them.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 08:21:22 AM EST
What about things like Poet Laureate? There is a National Poet for Wales.  Would you say they provide a sense of national identity through literature?

Literature isn't a topic I can talk about with any level of expertise!  I'd say for me that books such as On The Road would define a certain era of American life. But then do books define eras rather than solidifying any current sense of identity? Is it only when literature is in some historical context that we view it as being definitive in some way or another?  

Dickens would be a British writer who captured a certain place in his writing that described life in Britain during the Victorian times but very much bound up in class.  Jane Austen is another.  

I'm hard pushed to come up with contemporary writers but then again people who write about what they know will be focusing on their way of life/locality more than any national level view, perhaps. (I'm thinking in terms of good writers who include some kind of social commentary rather than trashy girl flick novels about shopping.)

What about non-fiction, newspaper, general media (which pushes the border of non-fiction IMO)? Straightforward social commentary, would that serve a purpose of bringing people together or is it more with the effect of turning people against another? As you say, defining who is in and who is out.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 09:46:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the literary creation of Britain is more implicit due to a history as imperial center for England (I make a conscious distinction -- methinks Scottish literary creation is more pronounced). Tolkien used to complain that Britain lacks a proper mythology, and The Lord of the Rings grew out from his idea to create one.

But say Dumas and Hugo did a lot to enhance a sense of French history. The same trend is even more pronounced for 19th/early 20th century national literature born on the remains of broken-up empires to the East from there, with heaps of popular books and high literature produced that re-interprets past events in a nationalist narrative.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 12:47:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, Tolkien is very dangerous ground on ET.......

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:28:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh oh, because he is part of my focus for my dissertation, if my new Doktorvater accepts me, that is.  Working topic:

"The Role and Function of the Dragon Slayer in Medieval Germanic Literature and Contemporary Interpretation: From Beowulf and Siegfried to Bard and Túrin Turambar."

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:32:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What are you talking about, Chris?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 11:21:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My pleasure, you and everyone who commented really started me to think about the question.  I also think the question is inherent to the EU experiment and so must be addressed.

As Bennett points out, national literatures really only exist in a trivial way and there truly, in a literary sense, is no difference between them.  However, they are an instrument by which national identity is transmitted, even though they are artificial constructs.

This is why I refer to the concept of natio as the lowest common denominator of identity.  Identification, I think, is by nature a group activity of comparison and setting boundaries.  People think of identifying themselves as "I am an Irishman, I am a Catholic, I am a human"; all progressively larger social groups.  I suspect no one really thinks of themselves as a noumenal subject and everything else, including other people, as a phenomenal object.

So, ok, the question is know what is European identity? Can we create it and then by creating it having an artificial construct?  We would have to adapt our thinking, including educational system via literature, to fit this larger and more inclusive construct.

Literature, of course, is not only the great classics of a canon.  It is also judicial literature, medical literature, political literature, and so forth.  I could not grasp identifying myself as an American without considering The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Both obviously non-fiction works.

Perhaps, like the idea of America as a country, Europe will have to settle on a geo-political construct made up of a plethora of natio's.  I do not think the is a much better solution at this stage of our development and evolution of human society.  That is, unless we are all prepared to move to one language and one system of governance.  I think that will take centuries if not millenia - if we survive that long.

Also a Bennett points out, it is foolish to look at history through the lens of one narrative but there are plenty of narratives that have distorted history to suit someone's political purposes and power.

But if we create a new narrative, then we must recognize it as such.  But my question, which probably cannot be answered, is such a thing actually desirable?

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 10:36:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jeffersonian Democrat:
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Both obviously non-fiction works.

Could have sworn some of it has become fictional!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 10:54:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are right to draw attention to the "false narrative" of the German Romantics, but is there ever such a thing as a "True" narrative?  Are not all narratives, whether national or not, social constructs, some more successful than others, written by certain movements in support of their perceived interests?

Heh. I needed several paragraphs forwhat you so nicely capture in two sentences...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 12:35:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
The development of "Classical" Music is closely linked to  the development of musical instrument technology - most of which happened in Europe - so can we call it European?  Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Bach - are they European or Germanic?

The Fortepiano was invented by Cristofiori, who was Italian. In fact there was regular mutual influence between England, France, Italy, Austria and Germany, and many of the forms used in classical music were invented outside Germany. The first Viennese school - which is most of the heavy hitters - took them and ran with them. But Baroque, which laid the foundations for what's known as classical, was originally an Italian invention.

There's certainly a Germanic strand in classical music, but there's also a French strand and an Italian strand, and even an English one. It might be interesting that the other strands don't get quite as much attention, but they're certainly equally influential.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:27:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
There's certainly a Germanic strand in classical music, but there's also a French strand and an Italian strand, and even an English one. It might be interesting that the other strands don't get quite as much attention, but they're certainly equally influential.

There may be strands, but of all the art forms I think that "Classical Music" most closely corresponds to a uniquely "european" production centred around the royal courts that interbred, churches than were Pan european and salons that were quite cosmopolitan in nature.  There are of course the occasional "anthems" to particular national identities, but the overall structure of the discourse transcends those nationalisms.  Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is effectively the European National Anthem even though it owes little to (say) Spanish musical tradition.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 01:10:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree with one of your fundamental notions, the existence of false and true national narratives. I would claim that all national narratives are made up, and thus equal in truthiness. Some are more succesfull then others, and the failed narratives shows a lot about their succesfull counterparts.

The pan-german narrative is one of the succesfull ones, strong enough to carry over 45 years of separation in the 20th century. The contents was renegotiated after the second world war, some was kept, other thrown out, but the narrative remained.

My favourite example of a failed narrative is the Scandinavist movement. The Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark (including Iceland)) was to be united and the Finland liberated (from Russia, to become part of Scandinavia). There was common ethnicity, territory, and language, or rather language was mutually understandable, territory was contionous and ethinicity - well, what is that anyway?

Ethnicity (Yanni album) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ethnicity, is Yanni's 13th studio album, released in 2003, (see 2003 in music) extending his "One World, One People" philosophy.

or

Ethnic group - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An ethnic group or ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry.[1] Ethnicity is also defined from the recognition by others as a distinct group[2] and by common cultural, linguistic, religious, behavioural or biological traits.[1][3]

Well, hm. Maybe it is sufficient to say that other ethnicities (french for example) has more variance within then there would have been within the Scandinavian ethnicity.

But there is no Scandinavia on the maps today and I am sure your military briefing had maps of Sweden, Norway and Denmark with nationalities corresponding to borders. So why is that? In short: the same politics and war that created Germany with a German nationality  instead of Prussia with a Prussian, Bavaria with a Bavarian and so on.

The seperate states of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finladn then went on to create their own nationalities, with the program of common schools, a national literature, standardisation of language and of course oppression of troublesome and weak minorities. And always an eye of formulating the nationality so that it clearly seperates people from the others across the border.

Then on to your core question:
European Tribune - Comments - The Problem of European Identity: Are the Humanities a Factor?

But is a European identity desirable?

A national identity? No. I would go so far as to claim that any national identity is undesirable, as it puts borders between people. Unless the national identity is worldwide, but that will not happen unless we get some freaking aliens (the extraterrestial kind) to show up and misbehave.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 06:40:23 PM EST
I guess this is where I jump in and say that the nation is a social construction.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 10:17:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And in Wales you are still working on it?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 10:32:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Other people are saying things better than I can right now. My head is drowning in chemistry and my brain can't change geared to social policy at the moment!

Only one thing comes to mind really. Nations have borders.  A sense of place, as well as things such as narratives is involved in constructing the nation.

I don't know anything about the pan-Germany narrative but it is interesting that it constructed a space that at the time would have been fragmented by a number of separate borders within.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 10:40:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I began to see this problem with a comment up thread.  I hadn't worked out the clarity for the idea well enough.

I do not claim that there are true narratives.  That is unclear because of my poor choice of the word false which indicates that there is something equally true.  That is not something I meant to imply.

I guess I was attempting to criticize a narrative purposely and consciously created to propagate, in this case, a political agenda by convincing people it is their nationality.  Despite my unclear writing, I assure you that I am not arguing any true narrative in any form.

It is interesting, I believe I find that definition of  ethnicity problematic as I think it creates too many factors that still can be broken down.  Including religion, for example.  While they may seem to work there is always something to counter its premise.  For example, Judiasm is interesting as a religion in how it crosses over into tribal/natio spheres and would seem to support that definition until we begin to consider, at least at first glance (I am no expert here), Ethiopian Jews.

The Scandinavian example is good too and it seems to have the same problem as the German example.  Yes, Sweden is mostly (excepting immigration for the moment for the sake of argument) Swedes, but there were others too, such as Geats.  Linquistically, we refer to ya'll up there as Northern Germanic, what is now Germany, Holland, etc West Germanic, and the East Germanic is now extinct.  These groups derived from proto-Germanic and before that Indo-Germanic.

Tangently related, I used to have a problem with the term Indo-Germanic as opposed to Indo-European until I found the reason.  There are several language groups in Europe not connected at all, such as the Basque and Turkic languages, in fact contemporary scholarship believes it may have found a link between the mysterious Basques and the Georgians of the Caucases but it is still very sketchy.

Finland is interesting in your example since, by my definition of natio they really are separate from the Germanic Scandinavians.  That whole language group coming from the Urals and splitting into modern day Finnland, Estonia, and Hungary.

My whole consideration in this question is breaking down, as far as we can what constitues a group of people, cutting away the chaffe.  Then looking at how those people identify and I am stressing language and linquistics and their child literature that reenforces those beliefs and attitudes.  And considering that, how to we form larger, more inclusive groups into the whole, how do they merge?  It has happened before when the Indo-Germanic tribes migrated out of southern Asia and assimilated with indigenous "Hügelgraber" culture in Northern europe and it seems to be a two-way assimilation and not so bloody as certain narratives would have us believe.

In fact, it is argued here too that that event is reflected in literary narrative in the old Sagas of the Aesir overtaking the Wanen.

I do not want to confuse the true/false paradigm again here; perhaps a better suggestion would be to use natural/artificial.  Yet I see that may also be problematic in their use as well.

I think it is clear that the basic block of the natio can expand over time, but it seems to me that this evolution happened from certain historical events over a period of time.

What we have here with a European Identity to fit within our construct of the EU is a conscious effort perhaps to force it into being.  And if we agree on my definition of natio, there is no logical way of a European Identity being national in character.  It will have to be something new in our evolution of civilization.

I wholeheartedly agree with an eventual world-wide human  identity and why I stated it would be centuries before it would be thinkable and my reasoning was again language - but extraterrestials would probably speed things up a bit ;-)

I still wonder, however, whether or not a European identity is desirable and noble as a significant step towards that evolutionary goal?  I do not have an answer.  Perhaps it would be good and humane or perhaps it may go astray and become very dangerous, I do not know.

However, that people are speaking about it now peaks my interest.  I may take a citizenship and become an EU citizen, and thereby becoming a part of that project, the experiment, and so I should voice my opinion and ideas on the subject but I will always be an American and there isn't anything I can do to change that even if I wanted to.

My children, however ...

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 04:27:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
guess I was attempting to criticize a narrative purposely and consciously created to propagate, in this case, a political agenda by convincing people it is their nationality.

Further to what I wrote in my top-level comment: (1) the claim is that allnatio-narratives did that, (2) you have to consider that Heine had his own agenda while writing that (a separate narrative, which at the time served imperial political agendas emanating from Paris).

Finland is interesting in your example since, by my definition of natio they really are separate from the Germanic Scandinavians.

Don't you realise that given that national narratives are fictious, that doesn't really matter? The pan-German narrative was strong enough to look over the assimilation of Western Slavs and Baltic people (Prussians!) when positing ethnic separation, what's more, AFAIK the Nazis' blue-eyed-blonde ideal was in truth Baltic genes in origin. The Polish identity also absorbed Baltic people to the North. And then there is the French identity... absorbing a lot more than Galls. If we are here, I am reminded of a genetic study of Japan's population -- in Japanese nationalism, there is emphasis on separation from continental neighbours (Chinese, Koreans), and historical theories to that tune, but genetics found a lot closer relationship than expected.

My whole consideration in this question is breaking down, as far as we can what constitues a group of people, cutting away the chaffe.

I posit if we really do it, nothing remains: in truth there are only trends, and beliefs - differing beliefs -- in people's minds about what characteristics and which individuals are and are not encompassed by "Bavarian", "German", "European", "Serbian", "Montenegrin", "Slav" etc.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 01:07:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jeffersonian Democrat:
Finland is interesting in your example since, by my definition of natio they really are separate from the Germanic Scandinavians.  That whole language group coming from the Urals and splitting into modern day Finnland, Estonia, and Hungary.

Hungarian came with the magyar nomads, that much is clear. Finlanders and Estonians are a bit unclear, as far as I know, the archeological findings do not support an out of Ural hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that they and their uralian co-language groupists are language pockets left by the advancing indo-european languages.

Leaving that aside, yes if the Scandinavianist project had succeeded finnish speakers would have been a large and thus complicated minority. That Finland and its people was part and parcel of Sweden was in no doubt among swedish upper class in the 19th century, it was the eastern part of the core of the realm. The upper class in Finland used swedish, russian, french and german up until the finnish national project got going in the late 19th century (and that project might have taken a different route had there been a Scandinavia). My guess is had the Scandinavianist project succeeded and incorporated Finland there would be much fewer finnish speakers today, although finnish would still be a large minority language and a one of the resurrecting identities demanding autonomy.

Sami people would be the second largest minority and would no doubt been oppressed very similar to what actually happened.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 10:26:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
as far as I know, the archeological findings do not support an out of Ural hypothesis.

Could you bring more about this?

I do think that in most cases, the truth is that influences traced as ancestral were at best dominant, but there was a lot of cultural/language/genetic mixing. For example, there is the recent genetic finding that the Anglo-Saxon's didn't replace the Romano-Brit-Celtic population to form the main element of the ancestors of today's Englanders, but rather mixed with it. (E.g. the elite was Anglo-Saxon, but the peasants in large part the original population.)

So I could imagine an Uralic migration towards Finland that produced mixing locally. Also, I note that the Uralic in today's Hungarian is a few hundred word roots and grammatical structure, the bulk has been imported (or is 'import' even the right word here?) from Turkic-Bulgarian, Slavic, Germanic languages and Church Latin.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 10:39:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw a pretty good documentary that posed the question "Where did the finns come from?" and went through the origins of the question (19th century racial theories) as well as answers provided along the way. One of the funnier theories was that it was an israeli tribe that kind of wandered of and ended up in Finland. Mostly based on having a people wihtout history and a bible with peoples that just stops being mentioned.

The out of Ural theory is based on language and litterature studies and goes back to the 19th century. I think Kalevala was part of the literature:

Kalevala - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Kalevala is an epic poem which the Finn Elias Lönnrot compiled from Finnish and Karelian folklore in the 19th century. It is held to be the national epic of Finland and is traditionally thought of as one of the most significant works of Finnish language literature. Karelians in the Republic of Karelia and other Balto-Finnic speakers also value the work. The Kalevala is credited with some of the inspiration for the national awakening that ultimately led to Finland's independence from Russia in 1917.

At the time the battles and such was interpreted historically, now it is more interpreted theologically.

However archeology has found no traces of a great migration. As far as I know there is neither any tradition pinpointing when this would have occured. At the time that written history (~1200 AD) starts in Finland, it is sparsely populated, polytheistic and has a tribal political structure. The history is written by the conquering states of Sweden and Novgorod.

Of course at one point the ancestors of the people now living in Scandinavia must have migrated there, though what language they spoke is unknown. This is a combated territory mainly among linguists.

Finland - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The time of the arrival of the Finno-Ugric languages is subject to different theories. These theories range from suggesting their arrival even as early as 8,900 BCE during Kunda culture[10] to more recent theories according to which the theories of a Finnish presence of thousands of years is a myth used in Finnish nationalism, and that Finnish arrived at about the same time as Swedish and spread in Finland during the last thousand years.[11]. Likewise, there is no consensus on when Swedish speakers first arrived, their arrival has been suggest both to coincide with the arrival of Finnish or to arrive later. When Finno-Ugric and Finnish languages arrived in Finland, they replaced earlier and now extinct languages.[12]


Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 11:08:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course at one point the ancestors of the people now living in Scandinavia must have migrated there

You seem to fall off at the other end, assuming people living in one place for long with only cultural imports. What about several successive waves of in-migration (as well as out-migration, see Geats-Goths)?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 02:03:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I see now that what I wrote could very easily be read as all the ancestors moving in at one specific point. I did not mean that. I just meant that since Scandinavia was quite recently defrosted (just 10 000 years or so ago), we have a limited time span to look for the introducting of the current languages, presumably with some sets of ancestors.

When it comes to pre-christian age (about 1000 AD) migrations we do not know much about how people moved about up here, except when it comes to people from here raiding more writing cultures. My original point was that the 19th century theory of an Uralian original home of the finno-ugric peoples is contested and there are other theories. I do not favor any one in particular, nor (given the sketchy evidence) do I see a point in doing so.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 03:20:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All nations were constructed at one time or another. Cultural concepts like a national myth, the development of a preferred dialect for the national language and a shared heritage of literature are an important part of nation building.

England has been working on the national cultural projects for more than a thousand years, so it may not be as obvious as with some other nations which started more recently.

The English national myth is ourselves alone against the rest of the world. The preferred English dialect was that of the Royal court (the Queen's English) - a south eastern dialect. There is a tale from Chaucer's time about travellers from northern England going through Kent and not being able to buy eggs because the dialects were so dissimilar that communication was impossible. Iconic authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and so on, created a recognisable house brand of literature.

I am wondering if this national branding has not been somewhat diluted by mostly American tv and film productions. We can use English to project our national iconography, but so can other Anglosphere societies. A shared language makes us more vulnerable to eacher other's cultural productions, than if we spoke different languages.  

by Gary J on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 02:42:23 AM EST
I believe there's a flaw in Bennett's idea:

To this day, in the United States, the study of literature in broader than national terms is normally called "comparative literature," as if national literatures were the indisputably fundamental units of the discipline.  What we have, then, in literature, is a firmly established institution with an inherent conservative tendency which probably contributes - not directly, but in a way of an illegitimate and self-obscuring conceptual operation that makes it difficult to criticize convincingly - to the maintenance of existing national structure and ultimately of nationalism itself in some sense.

The first statement is incredibly reductive. Offhand, I can name about a dozen rubrics in which the study of literature beyond the national level is not one of comparative nationalities. I can speak of literature in the realms of psychoanalysis, poetics, philosophy, languages, transnational politics (i.e. globalism and postcolonialism), etc. Nor do I agree with him that the study of literature assumes a division of literature by nation. Rather, it seems to me that the units are divided by language. Thus, the study of English literature can encompass all Anglophone societies and cultures, many of which differ radically in terms of literature's contribution to a national identity or ethos. The fact that I disagree with Bennett's first two propositions necessarily means that I also disagree with his idea that literature contributes to a  conservative nationalism.

One might begin by asking, for instance, what was the impact of literature on resistance movements, on the Paris Student riots, on countercultural movements in the US in the 1960s, etc.? How does literature enable forms of resistance today?

For me, the mere mention of a nationalist identity is a supremely reductive enterprise. Literature, in my mind, largely exists to trouble this constant reduction of identity into easily understandable (and perhaps marketable) constituent parts. What we consider a normative personal or national identity is constantly under attack in literature, as writers attempt to insinuate an ethical resistance to so-called common conception.

In practice, one might argue that the conservative bent toward static literatures that create national literatures are much more common than the resistant kind. Three examples I would give are, first, the UN's attempts to eliminate Serbian poetry in Bosnian Serb schools because of its nationalist associations (associations that are quite apart from the actual poems themselves), and second, the adoption in German schools of the Paul Celan poem, Todesfuge, which served to inculcate students with a profound resistance to Nazi thinking, a poem which was subsequently disowned by its author precisely because it hypostasized as a tool of instruction, and third, JG Ballard's, Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan (written in 1968)--a fictional treatise about tests which gauged women's erotic responses to images of Ronald Reagan--was passed out as an authentic scientific study on the floor of the Republican National convention in 1980. Here we see that even the most radical literary texts (Celan's and Ballard's) come to serve a nationalist impulse. But there are just as many practical examples in which the "meaning" of a text avoids and evades such crass reduction, and comes to serve a resistant countercultural impulse. For three decades torn copies of Naked Lunch could be found in the back pockets of 18-22 year olds on any college campus. It's this tradition that I believe is invoked when we think of literature at all.

by Upstate NY on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 01:31:18 PM EST
I think he acknowledges that critique, even in the quote above he states he speaks advisedly.

Nevertheless, his premise is that there is a "politically "conservative tendency" that has to do with the way literary genres are established and recognized and used".  Further he states "One form of the book's main question, in fact, would have to be: Where are the deepest and best anchored liberal possibilities in literature to be found, and how are they constrained, given what I think we still have to admit is the undeniable conservative tendency associated with literary genre."

Of course, if there is no conservative and national tendency concerning genre and even canon, then my entire premise here falls apart.

But thanks, very nice counter-point!

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 01:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would have to see it to understand exactly what he is talking about in terms of rubrics within literary disciplines being constrained by nationality. In the US, this hasn't been the case since World War 2. It was the case prior to that. clearly, the philologists were interested in national identity.

Today, even the language/translation barrier is under attack especially in transatlantic studies precisely because so many authors have multiple languages. How would the French discuss Paul Auster when he is fluent in English and French. What can we do about Vladimir Nabokov who reads Russian literature in Russian and then writes about it in English? Some authors traverse multiple languages. Finally, reading literature in translation is becoming more acceptable in the academy, and thus even the borders of literary study which have been defined by language (mostly) are crumbling.

In English literature, there has been a division into British and American literature for many years, but that began to fall away about two decades ago. Contemporary Literature spans all English Lit. Then you have Global English Lit, Irish, Caribbean, South African, Phillipino, etc. Then there are studies in Poetics and Literary Theory. In my own Dept, the British and American division is present only under Historical Fields, which itself is but one of four departmental divisions in the field of English literature.

by Upstate NY on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 02:09:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank below nails it, funny for someone who is self-described non-qualified.  It is more about how the genre is established and used.  Like you pointed out here we have Eng. Lit yes, but those sub-catagories are still Irish, Caribbean, what have you.   I think that is what ties into the idea of identity and a canon, that by nature preserves that identity as a conservative function.

Nabokov is a good example and I am finding something similar with Beowulf.  English canon, to be sure, but West Germanic language and themes.  Those are good carry overs that present problems with classification.  It seems almost as though long ago the English canon simple claimed that text simply for geographic reasons or perhaps local lords.  Surely, there is some scholarship about its appropriation for political purposes and uniting AS lords on the Island.

But you have brought us a problem here that I think I need to work out a little further in order to sufficiently answer that problem.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 03:16:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Without a doubt, interests in something like Irish Studies have the formation of national identity as a focus. I was simply trying to point out that this focus exists within a certain subset of the discipline as a whole, so while it's entirely valid to study how literature contributes to and/or resists the formation of national identity, I was simply making the point that this is not the dominant manner in which literary study takes place. When it comes to the Caribbean, such study becomes decidedly anti-national and instead focuses on post-colonial movements, diasporas, and globalism in a third world context.

Again, I simply feel that people currently invested in the study of literature at an academic level (which may or may not transect with how literature is disseminated and validated at the cultural or political level) are much more interested in questioning and subverting something like the formation of national identity, but also questioning the very notion of identity itself.

In the US, we most often here from conservatives that those who study literature are involved in a radical politics which even puts into question gender and such. Clearly, we're not talking about identity as a fixed function here, nor any canon either.

by Upstate NY on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 04:48:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
exactly why I offered this, Frank generated some very interesting discussion on this topic.  Most of it generated around geo-political considerations.  I wanted to put forth the question of influence of the humanities as I feel that should be considered in the discussion.

This is not to say that literature and genre are conservative, the most we can say is that it has conservative tendencies despite whatever liberal or even revolutionary works are produced.  I think it was Adorno who stated that  art is in a sense fundamentally opposed to society and hence the opening of possibility and a tension in radical critique of society.

Yet genre is itself a set of rules and constraints and even an institution.  My argument is that this institution follows through in educating the young, an institution that has conservative tendencies by its own nature.

One last statement from on this institution from Bennett "In the case of an institution, however, a comparable internal tension, the tension of of contradiction [which I believe you are illustrating above], becomes negative and ultimately destructive.  The more nearly material quality of an institution's existence, and the need for its conceptual aspect to have chronologically plausible history, cannot tolerate illogic.  Therefore when an institution like literature, characterized at its origin by illogic, is nevertheless favored by historical accidents that establish its existence more of less permanently - as literature is favored by the usefulness of the fiction of "national literature" in forging cultural shape for modern European bourgeois nation-states - then that institution, from the moment of its birth, is corrupt and self-deceived."

This is what I was referring to, wrongly, above as false narrative.  That as you point out as is above written in the diary, that in reality there is no such thing as a national literature, yet genre is useful for purporting such an idea to indoctrinate a narrative of culture to it's group of people in which I refer to as natio.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 05:30:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is not to say that literature and genre are conservative, the most we can say is that it has conservative tendencies despite whatever liberal or even revolutionary works are produced.  I think it was Adorno who stated that  art is in a sense fundamentally opposed to society and hence the opening of possibility and a tension in radical critique of society.

I still can't say that I understand how literature has a conservative tendency. I'm not trying to be obtuse. I simply am having difficulty understanding.

Yet genre is itself a set of rules and constraints and even an institution.  My argument is that this institution follows through in educating the young, an institution that has conservative tendencies by its own nature.

Any given genre has the same constraints on it as any form of thinking or any form of language. In other words, it's simply a proscription for reading and recognizing how a text may operate. Genres really don't do much beyond allowing the reader to initially recognize what they might be reading. So, as a collection of rules, genres do set certain limits. I agree with you there. But these limits are by their very nature and definition meant to be subverted and contested. Jacques Derrida's essay on genre in fact shows that the dissolution of such laws is implied by the very definition of the word genre. So, while I agree with you that genre is all about setting rules or constraints (inevitably broken) I believe this is no more significant than pointing out that language too is subject to rules and constraints, in terms of grammar and syntax. I don't believe that a literary genre ever becomes so institutionalized so as to have that kind of impact on a political level. I do agree that certain texts do have that kind of institutionalized and political impact, but I would be hard-pressed to argue that any given genre is more conducive to this kind of usage than any other.

I can't really engage the Bennett quote as I'm not sure what he means by "origin by illogic."

From my sense of your reading of Bennett, he feels as though certain literary genres are more given to a conservative tendency which is used/abused in the formation of nationalist ideologies? Is this correct?

by Upstate NY on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 06:35:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Upstate, I want to answer this but please give me time.  My fiancee is back from her mother's place and still has a week or vacation.  So I have Komputerverbot and quality time commitments.  I may comment here and there but this deserves a pretty details answer.

PS, actually thought this topic was dead, heh

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 06:37:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think a better case could be made thus: national literature could be considered the 'revolutionary' product of earlier ages (challenging then existing identities/narratives), and their framework is now institutionalised not by current writers but education.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 01:19:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not really qualified to comment but I think we might be talking about two radically different activities here.

  1. The creative or artistic spirit which writes out of love for the medium and the subject and which is not overly concerned with categories or movements or politics - it has a value and a process in itself.

  2. The instinct, primarily amongst critics, librarians and educators to categorise everything, to "contextualise" , and to assign deeper meanings or purposes of which the writer may or may not have been aware.

The latter tendency creates "schools" of literature, it identifies "movements" (little matter that the alleged protagonists might never have met), creates "canons" of key works and uses these works for the edification/indoctrination of the young, for the creation of political movements, for the marketing of books and genres etc.

The actual intent of the author, or content of the work may be only obliquely related to all this, if at all, but it services the larger social, political and commercial purposes of others.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 02:22:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think we're talking about two different things.

Whenever we talk of literature as readers/critics we're always talking about #2 precisely because we are not the writers. And so, what we're really discussing is whether educators and/or readers use literature to "indoctrinate" the "young" into an assumed national identity, or else whether educators and/or readers consider that literature actually serves to contest and resist such normative categories in the first place.

The only way to answer this question is to determine how the disciplines of reading/criticism are categorized and whether these categories correspond to an overarching national project.

I'm saying that the primary focus of literature study today is in the latter and not the former.

by Upstate NY on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 04:40:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's late and I need to go to bed.

But sheesh, I can tell that I will be lying in bed trying to work this out further all night without a wink of sleep!  Thanks!!!!!  -really, I enjoy your input and it helps, thanks for real.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 05:37:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going to set you literary folks an exercise that I am completely unqualified to undertake.

Consider the three great Irish authors of the first half of the twentieth century. George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and W B Yeats.  Two were from the small protestant minority generally categorized as the Anglo-Irish, two spent most of their adult lives abroad, in London and Europe.  One (Yeats)explicitly sought to create an Irish Theatre.  Another (Joyce) wrote in a unique style about Dublin but most of his influences were "foreign".  The third (Shaw) was arguably far more Influential on British rather than "Irish" society.

In what way can they be regarded as creating an Irish National literature?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 07:50:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
may be able to answer that more validly as I.  While I am trying to explore functions of literature overall, specific English Lit. canonical figures are not my specialty, I am a Germanist.  He/she would probably be better to ask than I.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 06:43:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I also disagree with his idea that literature contributes to a  conservative nationalism.

I think you focus strongly on 20th cetury high-arts literature here. I think for that trend, you better look at popular and 19th-century literature. Tho' even today, I'd say books by Tom Clancy fit the trend.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 01:12:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When we speak of the literary today, I believe we are speaking of high arts. I'm simply making the distinction there. Clancy's may be a form of literature (in the US, it's known as genre fiction or mass market, and in the UK, railway fiction) but it is not literary.

The names that Bennett invokes are certainly of the literary type.

by Upstate NY on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 10:20:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It uses words. That makes it literary.

And it's hugely influential. There's a very obvious ideology and set of common assumptions linking Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, and other people working in that genre, and it's very paternal and nationalistic.

That's why it sells so well - it plays to the idealised truthy world view that conservatives have of themselves and of the US, in which they're the winners and everyone else is sleazy and untrustworthy. There may be an adversary who's corrupt, even an American adversary, but The System itself is sound and always wins in the end, and the people who make it win are its white-bread products.

If I wrote a book about a corrupt president and secret service who are irrational sadists, I'd almost certainly never get it published in the US, because it would be subverting the narrative in a shocking way.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:20:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have different definitions of the literary. Using words is a broad broad broad definition. Is advertising literary? Is any use of words literary?

A basic definition for me would be: communication in uncommon terms. Clancy doesn't qualify.

by Upstate NY on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 11:18:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Was Shakespeare really different from Tom Clancy for his time? What about Molière? I think your notion of literature is too restrictive.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 05:26:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well he certainly was a propagandist for the Tudors.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 05:36:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Molière wasn't worth Tom Clancy as he didn't write anything.

As for Shakespeare, there was some blockbuster, lowbrow appeal to some of his work, but he grew beyond that, too. As for the public perception - I'd compare Clancy with Alexandre Dumas, more probably.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 06:09:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, he was. Shakespeare's appeal was vast and broad, even for his time. There's enough extant material about the actual staging of his plays and their impact to show that he not only had common appeal, but his approach to character and conflict redefined our conceptions of the human. Even on so seemingly simple topics as sympathy and generosity, he had an impact that was profound and pervasive.

Clancy hasn't done anything to redefine our conceptions of the human. In fact, I would say his audience is not nearly as broad as Shakespeare's was say 100 years after his death. Which brings us to the question of, will Clancy be read at all in the next few decades?

What is your definition of the literary?

(By the way, I would note that Bennett does not reference mass market writers such as Clancy in his book, but rather he too is looking at writers such as Joyce.)

by Upstate NY on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 07:15:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If anything, I think you and Bennett don't go far enough :-) I think all national identities are false.

Starting with Bennett, he seems to see more reality to the nation itself than national literature -- which only shows that he is more familiar with literature than history, population genetics or cultural diversity. In truth, the nation in those other fields 'exist' mostly on the pages of literature Dennett deals with. Yes, I mean: the concepts of what constitutes "ethnic Italian" (choosing from regional and local variation, underplaying migration history), how common was common French history (over-emphasizing common parts and under-emphasizing local units and periods of separation), and what's Polish in Polish culture (as opposed to more local or more wider features), may actually differ depending on whom you read, and were created in no small part by literature. Meanwhile, this literature contributed to more than just false concepts of literary and social past: the emergence of 'national languages', of broadly spoken languages that water up and suppress 'dialects' (for example, Hochdeutsch).

Continuing with Heine, I think you identified Heine's own bias, but didn't made much of it. Heine commented pan-Germanism from the viewpoint of pan-European-French republicanism. That in itself is an indicator that the "German" identity wasn't a pre-existing constant over centuries in most Germans.

However, on one hand, it is only arguing in the name of another to-be-created super-identity, which failed. Unlike pan-Germanism, which did succeed broadly, as evidenced by the broad use of the "German" self-identifier today -- even if say "Bavarian" is still rather strong, and "Austrian" was excluded by most after some historical turmoil. (This doesn't mean that pan-Germanism didn't re-create the history of its past, but other identities would have done too.)

On the other hand, Heine's criticism isn't necessarily fair or covering all. Pan-Germanism got a major boost just in reaction to Napolean occupation and language suppression, and it developed rather anti-powers-that-be versions: on one hand, there were the liberal reformers who wanted revolution, on the other hand, there was the concept of "Provinzialism", that the ruling elites of the distinct German statelets keep back development by defending their rule on a small range. (All this doesn't mean that Nazism wasn't an off-shoot of early pan-German tendencies, but all nationalisms got more or less ugly off-shoots by their nature -- you can't have the nice without the ugly.)

To close off the Heine stuff, he or you may under-play the validity of pan-Germanistic claims of the past. Even if overlapping with the influence of absolutist France (and the memory of Karl the Great's wider empire) in the Rhineland, the 'Holy Roman empire of German nation' and successor political entities did exist.

Where you talk about US identity, I find you show a strange combination of awareness and unawareness of US national identity having been engineered and invented and history-rewritten, like all others. The Founding Fathers' Enlightement state was a narrative of its own, not to mention the later narrative of the "Founding Fathers" as quasi-saints whose legacy should be kept to, who should be the framework of thinking. Or retroactive re-writing. What is forgotten that the 'Founding Fathers' were a colonial elite from a dozen separate colonies at a time of no universal suffrage (not to mention respect for Native American sovereignity), who by no means were all Enlightement (also see slavery), and after agreeing on something themselve, got the general population to follow their narrative. Which then developed further. (See for example the emergence of bipartisanship vs. preference for no parties at all, the rise of industrial capitalism vs. the original agrarian ideal.) It beat out other nation ideas, be them that of individual States, or the Confederate one.

The country of immigrants is one of several American national narratives. There is a real difference with other nationalisms more in the narrative: in reality, other countries have a long history of migration and mixing, too. Meanwhile, in the US, a WASP culture was long dominant despite immigration, and even today, immigrants are expected to conform to a lot of norms.

* * *

Now, on your main question: a national literature for Europe?

I think for lack of a common language, no European (EU) literature like French, German or Russian can develop. Though India might be more like it.

As for desirability, I myself desire weakened sense of national identities, and a sense of European (EU) identity no stronger than them :-) What I find most desirable is a conscious sense that one can have different levels of identities without making one level all-important, a federal sense of collective identity.

Coming back to literature, I am content enough with the diffusion of literature (and other works of art, say films) across the continent. Say, Umberto Eco's historical fiction (f.e. Name of the Rose), Michael Ende's fantasies (f.e. Neverending Story) and Astrid Lindgren's children's books (f.e. Nils Holgersson) being read widely.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 12:33:13 PM EST
Wonderful reply.  As I stated to Upstate above: My fiancee is back from her mother's place and still has a week of vacation.  So I have Komputerverbot and quality time committments.  I may comment here and there but this deserves a pretty detailed answer as well as Upstate's.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 06:39:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fantastic comment...

The history of the narratives is not known enough ; most people go along the currently favoured narratives, not knowing how much they have been invented and manipulated. I don't know many who put into question the historicity of Jesus, or the exactitude of the Koran...

The current national narratives have been one of the most successful success of propaganda, a collective work of the elites which has now been assimilated and accepted by whole populations.

It is interesting that the formation of those narratives was definitely a pan-European movement ; but that nowadays the formation of a European identity, and of an European community, needs to undo the work of those narratives.

Chopin, Brahms, Verdi where pan-European celebrities, yet claimed to build up national musical cultures (see the Hungarian Dances, the Polish airs...). Similar trends can be detected in the formation of national literatures...

Another point I'd like to make is that those national narratives are presently enforced and maintained mostly in early education. The formation of a group of people in their 20's with more or less European identities is caused by the Erasmus exchange programs ; but this exists only for the upper middle class and upper classes (the latter never had much of a problem with pan-European identities, thank you very much).

As long as similar exchange programs aren't developed for people without access to university, the history courses in primary and secondary education need to be de-nationalised. Teaching European history rather than national history. (which would be closer to the truth anyway. Much of society developed either at the sub national or continental level until 150 years ago... Even such recent events as the 1968 upheavals where at least European in their scope). Trying to find a way  to develop a teaching of European literature rather than purely national (I'm disgusted at the way English teachers in France are teaching from bland Newsweek and Times papers rather than extracts of literature) would help too.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 08:50:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo:
Pan-Germanism got a major boost just in reaction to Napolean occupation and language suppression, and it developed rather anti-powers-that-be versions: on one hand, there were the liberal reformers who wanted revolution, on the other hand, there was the concept of "Provinzialism", that the ruling elites of the distinct German statelets keep back development by defending their rule on a small range.

The Revolutions of 1848 in the German states is an interesting example. Nationalistic and democratic forces against the old guard of provinsial monarchs. (The link goes to a not particularly good article, but it is an intro for those who wants to know more.)

DoDo:

Astrid Lindgren's children's books (f.e. Nils Holgersson)

Bit of nitpicking here. Nils Holgersson was written by Selma Lagerlöf. Lindgren is internationally famous for Pippi Longstocking, Karlsson-on-the-Roof and other stories.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 10:11:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
D'oh... I keep confusing Lindgren and Lagerlöf and their work ever since I knew of them (film/animation versions of Ronia the Robber's Daughter resp. Nils Holgersson I first saw in then West Germany).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 10:18:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nationalism, Democracy and Progressivism, the three heirs of Rousseau, where tightly linked in the earlier 19th century...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 10:30:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have an anecdote which I think pertains to this issue of (supra)national literature. Maybe you can take it and run with it.

My mother has a degree in Spanish Philology and teaches language and literature in secondary school in Spain. Many years ago we were having a conversation and she said something to the effect that a "world literature" curriculum mentioned mostly "the literatures from our neighbourhood". There was something very suspicious about that so I asked why Portuguese literature was nearly absent and German or American (or Latin American) literatures weren't, since Portugal is our closest Neighbourhood. This uncovered the circular nature of the concept: a literature is "in our neighbourhood" if it is "known", it is "known" if it is in the standard curriculum, it us in the standard curriculum if it is "important", and it is important if it is known.

Since then our family's "literary neighbourhood" has expanded substantially, bur we still use the phrase "countries in our Neighbourhood" as a sort of in-joke to signify culturally transmitted affinities and blind spots.

This didn't come out as ckearly as I hoped, but anyway...

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 06:56:23 AM EST
seems to be what Goethe wanted when he realized what a "national" literature would mean.  He was afraid that a lot of small and localized culture would be swept up and lost in a larger meaning of literature.  His idea of world literature was inclusive and celebratory of small and large.  More cosmopolitan than national.

I wish I had the source here in my own library but sorry I do not.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:02:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Goethe... was afraid that a lot of small and localized culture would be swept up and lost in a larger meaning of literature.

That's interesting. Could you quote something on this?

I add that those who felt like challenging the ruling order in the 19th century weren't much aware of how their ideas would play out, how they would end up in contradiction or bloodshed, it was a bit vague for them.

Take as example poet Sándor Petőfi, died young in 1849. He was of Serbian and Slovakian descent, but was a Hungarian nationalist in language and pursued policies (and became a mainstay of 'Hungarian' national literature). But that went along with other, wider ideas from Paris, of overthrowing feudalism, of World Freedom, of intolerable poverty, seemingly unaware that the Peoples freed from kings and bishops might get on each other's throats while deciding in what units to 'govern themselves'. The inspiration of both liberalism and emerging communism/socialism is obvious in his work (Marx published the Communist Manifesto at the start of the 1848 revolutions across Europe), but not that these ideologies can come in conflict. As a consequence (hat tip to UpstateNY) virtually all later political forces in Hungary could claim Petőfi their own, picking and choosing from his views.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 08:03:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Try finding David Barry's "Faustian Pursuits: The Political-Cultural Dimension of Goethe's Weltliteratur and the Tragedy of Translation"  The German Quarterly 74,  2001

and Fritz Breithaupt "Jenseits der Bilder: Goethes Politik der Wahrnemung" Freiberg im Breisgau 2000

and Bennett again in "Goethe as Woman: The Undoing of Literature", Detroit 2000

That should provide more info, sorry I don't have them with me here in Europe to quote precisely.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 08:45:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ooooh, I am not sure I am scholarly enough for these... I would be more than served with of a short review in your own words :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 09:15:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think Europe needs a national identity. I think it needs a post-national one, based more on an affirmation of Enlightenment ideals than strict nationalism.

The Enlightenment made Europe what it is - eventually, after a few wars - and in a softer form it's what gives Europe its unique flavour.

There's no mystery about Europeanism - it's a kind of urbane, modestly intellectual cosmopolitanism that's less noisy and more restrained and civil than its US counterpart.

'Parks, hotels, and palaces' as Kraftwerk said - and if anyone is culturally European, they certainly are.

Most of the palaces are open to the public now, and that's also how it should be.

I don't think we should be worrying about a European literature because far more people listen to music than read now. More Kraftwerk-a-likes - and we have them with Eurotrance and other genres - are going to do more to create a common identity than books chewing over What Does It Mean To Be European?

Also - sport. As kcurie suggested, one or more explicitly European sports teams would be a very simple and easy way to build a 'national' identity.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:34:36 AM EST
Europeanism includes alcohol as a complement to living, rather than an escape from living...

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:50:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't mention this in Finland...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 12:15:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The book to read is the incomparable John Hale's Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance.  

It begins "When in 1623 Francis Bacon threw off the phase "we Europeans", he was assuming that his readers knew where `Europeans' were, who they were, and what, in spite of national differences, they shared.  This was a phrase, and an assumption, that could not have been used with such confidence a century and a half before.  It was during the period covered by this book that the word Europe first became part of common linguistic usage and that the continent itself was given a securely map-based frame of reference, a set of images that established its identity in pictorial terms, and a triumphal ideology that overrode its internal contradictions."

As the date suggests Europe is not the older Christendom- as much as the current pope would like it to be- but a manifestation of the humanist tradition that came to replace it.  The European Union is the Civilization of Europe. The common bond is 'civilization' as Europeans have created it.

The contemporary emphasis by American conservatives on America's Christian identity is merely a nationalist affirmation of Southern Culture.  When Mike Huckabee says the US must not embrace torture because it was founded on honor, he is referring to the culture of the Southern US not to the principles of John Locke.  Along with honor and proud militarism goes the church and the family.  But this has nothing to do with Pilgrim Puritanism per se or the civilization of Europe.  It is kirk and clan Scots-Irish Calvinism mixed with the values of aristocratic planter culture.

by bellumregio on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 09:23:23 AM EST
Why Literature?

As far as I am concerned, the BEST examples of the manifestations of a cultural identity are demonstrated when the culture attempts to build difficult things.  For example, automobiles.

Is there any reason to believe that a Ferrari could be built anywhere except Italy?  Or a Porsche or Mercedes-Benz in Germany?  Does anything demonstrate Sweden to international audiences better than Volvo?

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 12:04:26 PM EST
And that would put Finland where? ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 12:14:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That would put Finland near the top.  Those folks are some of the HIGHEST practitioners of the "the most ethical way to get rich is to do something VERY difficult VERY well" philosophy.  I once wrote an essay on the subject.  I'll see if I can find it.

In economic terms, Finland punches FAR above its weight and size class.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 09:55:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So the best example of British culture was British leyland?

Allegro or Princess?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 12:20:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think so.

When I was an underclassman in college, I was a hopeless Anglophile.  I wore tweed jackets, smoked a pipe, and would actually quote Shakespeare in attempts to get laid.  I drove a bright yellow '64 Austin Healy Sprite (this worked MUCH better than Shakespeare.)  

It was terrible car and built by British Leyland when I bought it.  Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electronics.  Long-stroke, three main bearing engine that shook like crazy, etc. etc.  But the moment of truth came one day it twisted off the rear axel because the steel had crystalized.  I went to buy a replacement part and the dealer had dozens on hand.  Apparently this was a common problem.

In one day, I learned all I needed to know about the Anglo disease that Jerome writes about.  This steel problem was a reoccurring thing that had plagued the Brits for over 100 years when my car had been built.  It had never been fixed because the greedheads who owned British industry had never bothered to invest the money necessary for a fix.

I stopped being an Anglophile over that Sprite.  I no longer take the Brits seriously because they cannot organize themselves to do difficult production well.  It demonstrates serious social problems from their ridiculous class system to their pathetic educational institutions.  As you can imagine, I wouldn't buy another British car with a gun to my head.

Jerome is correct.  The Anglo disease is a dangerous problem that literally threatens life on earth.  An economic system that cannot produce quality steel cannot produce something as difficult as a green society.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 10:24:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
National literature does not exist without a national language. Therefore one cannot speak of national literature without speaking of national language first.  You are concentrating on the word NATIONAL, taking the sintagm NATIONAL LITERATURE out of its context, and thereby decontextualizing or even politicizing the subject matter.

Therefore, if we start from the source of this paradigm, we shall find that Herder and others were primarily interested in language itself. They found that the people who are today called Germans speak a common language i.e. they understand each other. When their national or ethnic or tribal narratives are written down, you get something which is called literature.

They became fascinated with the concept of "the noble savage." When they discovered that "primitive" people have actually very complex communicative capacities, as for example epic poetry of the Serbs which was written down at the time. It was equivalent to the discovery that the human genome can be written down and VISUALLY presented. If you like, national literature,  is only a visualisation in book form of national, tribal or ethnic narratives. Before that time, books were rare and reserved for the few.

With the rise of wealth and printing technology, literature became an important method of sharing the national, ethnic or tribal narratives. Universities also flourished as wealth accumulated making national narratives even more important factors in all aspects of life, business and career opportunities.

Apart from the fact that the newly formed states imposed linguistic unity over its territories to various extents depending on the case, there remains a fact that there existed a language and more or less developed national literatures depending on the wealth of the ethnic, tribal or other entity in question.

Happy New Year!

by igor vincha (svjeronimatgmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:03:30 PM EST
They found that the people who are today called Germans speak a common language i.e. they understand each other.

Wrong. They merely spoke similar languages ('dialects'). These were quite different among themselves. Literarists propagated Hochdeutsch to unify language, but it didn't start to really threaten the 'dialects' until the age of television. And even today, say Bavarian and Saxon are alive and well, not to mention the Austrian and Swiss versions. Swiss German is usually subtritled on German television.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:11:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You wrote:

Wrong. They merely spoke similar languages ('dialects'). These were quite different among themselves. Literarists propagated Hochdeutsch to unify language, but it didn't start to really threaten the 'dialects' until the age of television. And even today, say Bavarian and Saxon are alive and well, not to mention the Austrian and Swiss versions. Swiss German is usually subtritled on German television.

The experts, I believe, say the threat is an old one, with a number of layers, appearing  long before television. As the Middle Ages were drawing to a close on territory that now makes up Germany, German kings and princes began to feel the need for communications and proclamations in the vernacular and started switching from Latin, the literary language of the day. Various styles of German came into being. One of the most widespread ones was the Sächsische Kanzleisprache, which can be translated as Saxonian official style or officialese. This was the style Martin Luther chose as the foundation for his translation of the Bible into German, which was a translating masterpiece. In his writings about translating, which are also available on the Internet, Luther explains why he chose that style.

The language of Luther's German Bible soon began to influence the daily language of Germans living in what is today northern Germany, where Lutheranism had spread rapidly. The influence was slower in German areas under control of the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, it was Luther's language that was finally generally accepted as the starting point for a German standard used in communications among all Germans. Ages before radio and television, as public education was introduced and expanded, northern German dialects started giving way to Standard German in daily life.

Catholic Bavaria, however, held on to its southern dialects of German on a large scale for a long time. The major turning point was the population upheaval as a result of the Second World War when millions of Germans poured into areas to which they were not native. Before the war, for example, Munich, the Bavarian capital, had its own dialect, which was widely spoken by people in all walks of life -- butchers, bakers and candlestick makers as well as doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. After the war, with the huge influx of people from other parts of the country who did not speak the local dialects, the Munich city dialect began dying. Right in front of your eyes! It was not a pretty sight to watch. Standard German now rules in the city.

Bavarian Radio does surveys from time to time to find how many people can speak the Munich dialect properly. Their numbers keep dwindling. In fact, the experts tell us that only one major city in all of Bavaria has retained its city dialect intact, Regensburg. Dialects are full of the very life blood of the nation, and Bavarian ones, fortunately, are alive and well in much of the Bavarian countryside, although Standard German is a reality there, too.

This is just one small corner of the rich tapestry that is Europe.

by Anthony Williamson on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 09:15:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Luther was certainly the turning point. With the domination of Prussia, it also started to become common in the southern (catholic) parts. But dialects are still strong.  For example, I can only say "ich habe kalt" (I have cold), the correct form "mir ist kalt" (I'm being cold) sounds like fingernails on a blackboard to me. French influence I guess, in this case.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 09:51:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ages before radio and television, as public education was introduced and expanded, northern German dialects started giving way to Standard German in daily life.

In newspapers and offices, yes. Elsewhere, the process was more a new mixing. For example, in Hessen, there were old dialects that are almost incomprehensible to me, but for common usage, some characteristics survived even into the TV age (above all the frequent use of the sch sound [English sh] instead of the ch or even h).

Still, it isn't just Bavaria where a strong dialect survives. In general, if you go to villages, you hear more of it. And there are some strong dialects in Saxony, Baden and (separately) Württenberg, and Saarland -- the latter I understand even less than Swiss German! And the funny thing is that despite the widespread use of Hochdeutsch, it is my personal experience that speakers of some dialects (especially Saarland, but strangely not Swiss German) seem incapable to switch to Hochdeutsch even when requested.

Having mentioned Swiss German, there is also the thing that despite joint guarding of Hochdeutsch, German dialects spoken in other countries de-coupled in effect, and IMO TV had influence there, too. There is Swiss German (itself a super-language above various Cantonal or even single valley dialects), various Austrian dialects, Luxemburgese (which is effectively a post-Lotharingian mid-point between French and German), and if we expand the timeframe a bit, even Flemish.

Munich, the Bavarian capital, had its own dialect, which was widely spoken by people in all walks of life -- butchers, bakers and candlestick makers as well as doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. After the war, with the huge influx of people from other parts of the country who did not speak the local dialects, the Munich city dialect began dying.

There are interesting contrasts. There is the alive and well Berlin dialect (nanne should know more about it), which weathered quite some upheavals. And in Austria, there is the Old Viennese dialect, another I find barely comprehensible (I even had problems with stuff as simple as asking the toilet lady for change!), which is also widespread, and its speciality is in the import of a lot of non-German words from across the old Habsburg Monarchy (something true to a lesser extent to other East Austrian dialects, too).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 5th, 2008 at 07:54:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
there remains a fact that there existed a language and more or less developed national literatures depending on the wealth of the ethnic, tribal or other entity in question.

I contest that strongly. You are extrapolating back current units into the past, whereas different units existed with cultural diffusion between them. For example, explain how what you call Serb heroic literature is not Yugoslav or Montenegrin instead.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:16:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Furthermore, the questions of national language and national literature lead to the problem of national identity. People who speak one language are of common origin and the create the natio or genos (in Greek). That shows the importance of the language in determining the question of the nation. (The term genealogy comes from genos - a tribe.)

Interestingly the Old Slavic term "jezik" which today means language, meant "nation" in the correct context.

But the world is not of one species in any circumstance or case. There are other types of nations like Roman, Swiss, Belgian, Yugoslav or American. These states are not based on one language or its literature but on the STATE itself, usually an empire but not always.

Usually a dominant nation imposes its language on minorities. Ethnic Slavs lived in Germany for example and constitute the origins of perhaps up to 50% of the German speakers in the German nation of today. Greeks assimilated a great number of Slavs in the last few centuries.

The checkered maps of the Balkans which you were looking were probably not linguistic maps but maps of nations created according to religion, because that was the Stalinist paradigm for Yugoslavia at the time. Otherwise the map would not have been checkered as much, the territory of Bosnia for example uses only one linguistic dialect which is part of a wider dialect used consistently in the Western Balkans, but today Bosnia sports three political languages sanctioned by the EU and USA. The Voice of America for instance repeats the programs three times (read by regional voices) since they need to satisfy political appetites of nations created in the 19th and 20th century but which were originally of common origin and still speak one language in reality.

So the EU is not a special case in history. European language does not exist (yet), but European philology can be considered as a continuation of classical philological schools of Pergamon (Asia Minor) and Alexandria (Egypt). So literature is a great pride of European culture and learning. It can serve, in my opinion to create the identity of the Europeans.
Comparative literature does not cancel or exclude national, ethnic or tribal literatures.

I hope this contributes to the discussion.

Happy New Year!

by igor vincha (svjeronimatgmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:48:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's not forget that nations and language interact continuously. A famous French writer, son of Italian immigrants, Cavanna noted that his father, who came from the mountains around Genoa and never spoke proper "French", and the milk seller who came from Auvergne, in central France, could understand each other when each spoke his own dialect. Even the Ancient Greeks had to synthesize the koine as their languages where diverging too fast. Most major world languages were invented by the literary elites at one point and relearned by the rest of the population, rather than with the natural evolution of small, unwritten languages.

Can a European identity be built without a common language? I wonder about the status of India, where it seems there are many more or less equal languages (as it seems the Swiss and even more so Belgian experiments aren't working so great nowadays).

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 08:04:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: my sentence "They found that the people who are today called Germans speak a common language i.e. they understand each other."
Dodo said: "Wrong. They merely spoke similar languages ('dialects'). These were quite different among themselves. Literarists propagated Hochdeutsch to unify language, but it didn't start to really threaten the 'dialects' until the age of television. And even today, say Bavarian and Saxon are alive and well, not to mention the Austrian and Swiss versions. Swiss German is usually subtritled on German television."

Resonse: It was still discussed until the mid-19th cent. whether all Slavic languages are one language or several. Of course it was plain to everyone that these were not IDENTICAL, but that they corresponded to such degrees that with minor changes some could become more or less the same. So with the Germans who can speak with each other and read each other's writings - depending on the level of their literacy. Different pronouciations exist even in England. There are three main linguistic groups in Europe: Slavic, Germanic and Romance languages. It is a linguistic fact that Germans, English, Swedes... speak Germanic languages, whilst the French, Spanish, Italians, Romanians speak Romance languages. There are various degrees of similarity. Within dialects you have various pronunciations.

----------------------------------

Re: "there remains a fact that there existed a language and more or less developed national literatures depending on the wealth of the ethnic, tribal or other entity in question."
DoDo wrote: "I contest that strongly. You are extrapolating back current units into the past, whereas different units existed with cultural diffusion between them. For example, explain how what you call Serb heroic literature is not Yugoslav or Montenegrin instead."  

I think that we must clarify some things in order to understand each other which is our mutual aim I think. Let us go back to the time of the Hebrews who at some point had documents written down on parchment scrolls. The Bible being the first, I think, which was not written on parchment but in book form. Anyway. The existence of Hebrew literature predates the state called Israel. That is the case with Greek literature also. A sufficiently large group of people or group of colonies spoke a common language even though they probably had words or word structures which differed for various reasons. Both the Bible and Greek writings when translated into other languages became important in other "national literatures". So no one is denying interaction within and in-between national literatures or "diffusion"

Serb heroic literature or epic poetry which were written down in the 19th century like Icelandic sagas (which may have been written down before the 19th cent.), relate to a certain group of people or groups of people. So we can say that Icelandic Sagas are specific to the Norsemen or Vikings, therefore to the Germanic peoples and also to European peoples - but this wider identity does not deny their particular Viking or Norse origin.

So in the case Serb epic poetry which was diffused into other nearby Slavic cultures. And can be called loosely Yugoslav (which means South Slav) poetry.  Before World War II those who called themselves Montenegrins all considered themselves Serbs as a part of the wider group of people, so we can say that this poetry is Montenegrin as well. In fact if the new state of Montenegro said that Serb epic poetry is not theirs then they would be left without a great deal of their history. In other words I am NOT claiming that Serb poetry is NOT Yugoslav  and Montenegrin, but it is also Slavic, and European and "World" literature. It can be also Euro-Asian since Slavs spread out into Asia. The wider identity does not deny the particular origin.

Anyway, is the particular or historic origin something that is not politically correct anymore?

Do you deny the origin of the Icelandic sagas? Are you saying that we cannot related the majority of Icelanders to the Norse Vikings?

LINCA<CAN IDENTITY BE BUILT WITHOUT A COMMON LANGUAGE? <p> The word "European" contains a big, fat, and enourmous identity suitcase. You just have to unzip it. How the contents are put together cannot be "officialy" prescribed. The "building" of the identity will depend on the particular builder and does not have to be language specific, identity can be built in many languages.

"Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity." MMcL

by igor vincha (svjeronimatgmail.com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 12:54:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Clearly, the roots of the colonies in America are Christian in nature.  American literature and letters reflect this as well (The Scarlet Letter, for example).

I believe that the standard reading of this work is that it is a moral tale that contrasts the evil of concealed sin with the possibility of a sinner living an upright life. It's not a history of colonial New England, but a romance novel of the mid 19th century. Hawthorne and the Concord, Massachusetts literary community (Melville, Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, etc.) were not Puritans, but were romanticists who rejected rigid religious structures.

I would also suggest that the thinking of the initial American colonists (the Pilgrims) was heavily, heavily influenced by the freedom they encountered in the Netherlands during their 11 year stay there. An excellent reference on this topic is "The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards" by Francis J. Bremer.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0874517281/ref=sib_fs_bod?ie=UTF8&p=S00V&checkSum=x%2BK1KWPf YRhC%2FD5sEumZT5hzKl7qWNLXDYLBicTiPws%3D#reader-link

by asdf on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:05:47 PM EST
Thank you for the interesting diary. The bit about the icons and Party portraits and the conclusions from that are misleading, in my humble opinion. In Russia, icons and religious banners were carried in processions for centuries, and this became a Russian custom. Party portraits at parades latched on to the custom. Customs are a curious phenomenon: for many years there was a hugh banner stretched permanently across a wide avenue leading into Moscow from the north. The banner was attached by hooks to two big buildings on both sides of the thoroughfare. It said, "Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union." On the first Easter after the collapse of Communism, visitors to Moscow where surprised by a new banner that looked exactly like the original one, in exactly the same place and hanging on the same hooks over the street. The new one said, "Christ Has Arisen," the ancient Easter greeting of the Orthodox Church.

The vast majority of Russians had embraced the atheism propagated by Communism with a vengeance, and legions of them engaged enthusiastically in disgraceful persecution of believers of all faiths. The religious revival in Russia after the fall of Communism is a highly complicated issue. That would take take us deep into your comments on nation and Christianity, especially the Russian variation. You would have a field day researching nation and literature in the Russian context over the past three hundred years. There's nothing of that magnitude in German literature. Reading the first verse of the German national anthem by von Fallersleben, I often think that's the sort of thing many a prominent Russian writer could have written in 1841, in a Russian context:

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt,
wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
brüderlich zusammenhält.
von der Maas bis an die Memel,
von der Etsch bis an den Belt,
 |: Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
  Über alles in der Welt! :|

The US-American and the German identities are a completely different ball game in my opinion. Germany has had an identity crisis since the Second World War. Watch a German tell a group of fellow Germans that he's proud to be a German. Most of the group will be up in arms, demonstrating the German indignation that is so much fun to observe. For years in recent decades, some Germans told foreign friends not to write on an envelope to them, say, Munich, Germany, but Munich, Europe because they were first and foremost Europeans. Many people in Europe couldn't make rhyme or reason out of that one. Imagine German surprise after the fall of Communism, when Czechoslovakia wanted to split into two independent countries. "What's up," Germans asked, "aren't we all heading toward a united Europe, away from little national entities?"

A European identity, like a national identity, is still a long way off. Fortunately, few Europeans seem to be able to figure out what makes the US tick. They are flabbergasted that some Americans seem to be convinced that God granted them the grace to be Americans. Those Americans who aren't religious fall back on the equally strong secular pillars of nationalism for their identify. "Give me liberty or give me death!" "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Etc.

Each one of these topics on nation fills books. The addition of literature is an extra goodie.

by Anthony Williamson on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 07:25:33 PM EST
Very interesting.

And welcome to ET!

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 09:23:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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