Spectral Nationality

Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation

PHENG CHEAH
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/chea13018
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  • Book Info
    Spectral Nationality
    Book Description:

    This far-ranging and ambitious attempt to rethink postcolonial theory's discussion of the nation and nationalism brings the problems of the postcolonial condition to bear on the philosophy of freedom. Closely identified with totalitarianism and fundamentalism, the nation-state has a tainted history of coercion, ethnic violence, and even, as in ultranationalist Nazi Germany, genocide. Most contemporary theorists are therefore skeptical, if not altogether dismissive, of the idea of the nation and the related metaphor of the political body as an organism. Going against orthodoxy, Pheng Cheah retraces the universal-rationalist foundations and progressive origins of political organicism in the work of Kant and its development in philosophers in the German tradition such as Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. Cheah argues that the widespread association of freedom with the self-generating dynamism of life and culture's power of transcendence is the most important legacy of this tradition. Addressing this legacy's manifestations in Fanon and Cabral's theories of anticolonial struggle and contemporary anticolonial literature, including the Buru Quartet by Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's nationalist novels, Cheah suggests that the profound difficulties of achieving freedom in the postcolonial world indicate the need to reconceptualize freedom in terms of the figure of the specter rather than the living organism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50360-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Selected Works Cited and Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION. THE DEATH OF THE NATION?
    (pp. 1-14)

    Nationalism has almost become the exemplary figure for death. The millenium’s end is marked (and marred) by an endless catalogue of fanaticist intolerance, ethnic violence, and even genocidal destruction, which are widely regarded as extreme expressions of nationalism: patriarchal fundamentalism in Afghanistan and other parts of “the Islamic world”; the atrocities designated by the proper names of Rwanda and Bosnia; the recent revival of the nuclear race in South Asia as a result of official religious nationalism in India and Pakistan; and so on. The common association of nationalism and the desire for the archaic suggests that nationalism destroys human...

  6. PART I CULTURE AS FREEDOM:: TERRITORIALIZATIONS AND DETERRITORIALIZATIONS
    • 1 THE RATIONALITY OF LIFE: ON THE ORGANISMIC METAPHOR OF THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL BODY
      (pp. 17-60)

      In “What Is a Nation?” (1882), Ernest Renan provides an exemplary definition:

      The nation, like an individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. . . . A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.¹

      As the subject and object of a common inheritance that requires repeated affirmation, the nation is a quasi-natural force from the past that constrains the present and future actions of its members. As a personality...

    • 2 KANT’S COSMOPOLITANISM AND THE TECHNIC OF NATURE
      (pp. 61-114)

      Immanuel Kant’s vision of a cosmopolitical world order is widely regarded as the single most important philosophical source for contemporary normative theories of international relations, including accounts of global civil society and the international public sphere.¹ What Kant calls “a universal cosmopolitan existence” is nothing less than the regulative idea of “a perfect civil union of mankind.”² This constitutional global federation of all existing states, which is also more ambitiously described as “a universal federal state [allgemeiner Völkerstaat],” is “based on cosmopolitan right [Weltbürgerrecht], in so far as individuals and states, coexisting in an external relationship of mutual influences, may...

    • 3 INCARNATIONS OF THE IDEAL: NATION AND STATE IN FICHTE AND HEGEL
      (pp. 115-178)

      This is the book’s riskiest chapter. It gives the benefit of the doubt to what many regard as ethically indefensible: Fichte’s nationalism and Hegel’s statism.¹ It does so for three reasons: First, difficult as it is to imagine, the Germans were victims of foreign military oppression. The historical conditions for Fichte’s and Hegel’s political philosophy were Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia at Jena, the occupation of Berlin and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, and the incorporation of ceded Prussian territory into Westphalia and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw at the Peace of Tilsit (1807). Prior to this,...

    • 4 REVOLUTIONS THAT TAKE PLACE IN THE HEAD: MARX AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION IN SOCIALIST DECOLONIZATION
      (pp. 179-232)

      “Marx’s philosophy of history,” Jean Hyppolite once observed, “cannot be understood apart from the Hegelian philosophy which so strongly influenced it. . . . [I]t will not be possible to supersede Marxism until there has been a serious examination of the philosophical presuppositions and structure of the Marxian edifice.”¹ This provocation is nowhere more apposite than in the case of Marx’s views on the national question. Marx conceived of the proletarian revolution in incarnational terms from the beginning: “The emancipation of the German is the emancipation of man. The head of this emancipation is philosophy, its heart the proletariat. Philosophy...

  7. PART II SURVIVING (POSTCOLONIALITY)
    • 5 NOVEL NATION: THE BILDUNG OF THE POSTCOLONIAL NATION AS SOCIOLOGICAL ORGANISM
      (pp. 235-248)

      I have argued that in modernity a philosopheme of culture as incarnational work supplies the ontological paradigm for the political. This politics of culture has three main traits: First, it involves a traditional discourse of human finitude that emphasizes the limited intellectual and practical capabilities of the sensuous human creature. Second, as the power of human self-actualization, culture in the broader sense of rational-purposive collective work is the means for transcending finitude and realizing freedom. Third, the imagistic and specular dimension of culture qua self-recursive mediating device is associated with the organism as a self-perpetuating being. The concepts of culture...

    • 6 THE HAUNTING OF THE PEOPLE: THE SPECTRAL PUBLIC SPHERE IN PRAMOEDYA ANANTA TOER’S BURU QUARTET
      (pp. 249-306)

      Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o come from very different national milieus. Indonesia is densely populated, multiethnic, and polyglot, with a strong Islamic heritage and a complex history of Dutch and Japanese colonization. The former British colony of Kenya is, on the other hand, small and dominated by Christians. These differences have marked their language choices. Pramoedya, who is Javanese, writes in Malay, the Indonesian lingua franca, whereas Ngũgĩ (initially James Ngũgĩ), wrote in English before switching to his mother tongue, Gikuyu, the language of the dominant Kenyan tribe. Yet both authors recall culture’s original sociopolitical vocation by granting...

    • 7 AFTERLIVES: The Mutual Haunting of the State and Nation
      (pp. 307-348)

      What kind of sociological figure does death cut? How does it appear to life? In Jejak Langkah, the haunting of the native pergerakan by the colonial state is personified by a mysterious figure, Jacques Pangemanann. At the end of the novel, at the point that Minke feels the native world is in optimal motion, something else sets off a chain of events that leads to the resignation of SDI central leadership members, the loosening of control over local branches, and the anti-Chinese boycott in Solo. This suggests the intentionality of another consciousness at work, whose designs are unknown to Minke....

    • 8 THE NEOCOLONIAL STATE AND OTHER PROSTHESES OF THE POSTCOLONIAL NATIONAL BODY: NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O’S PROJECT OF REVOLUTIONARY NATIONAL CULTURE
      (pp. 349-380)

      The Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o also has an unheimlich relationship to the postcolonial state. In October 1986, he published a novel in Gikuyu, entitled Matigari ma Njirũũngi, about a patriot from the period of the independence struggle who has returned from the forests and wanders around the country asking politically unsettling questions because the postcolonial condition does not seem very different from the colonial era. The novel literally conjured up a specter that haunted Daniel Arap Moi’s one-party state. “For a short period in 1987,” Ngũgĩ observes,

      Matigari, the fictional hero of the novel, was himself resurrected as a...

  8. EPILOGUE. SPECTRAL NATIONALITY: THE LIVING-ON OF THE POSTCOLONIAL NATION IN GLOBALIZATION
    (pp. 381-396)

    I have traced the organismic metaphor of the social and political body from its inception in Kant’s philosophy and the prototypical institutional forms it has assumed from idealist cosmopolitanism, idealist nationalism and statism, and materialist cosmopolitanism to socialist decolonizing nationalism and revolutionary national culture in the postcolonial world. Although these territorialized and deterritorialized models conceive of the teleological time of freedom’s actualization through analogies with culture and the organism’s striving to maximize its life, they are haunted by figures of finitude that are the very opposite of freedom: death, specters and ghosts, lifeless machines, and other forms of nonspiritual techne...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 397-408)