Banal Nationalism: Written before 9/11


I’m not sure how I feel about posting on non-fiction. Reasons for? I read a lot of it and much of it is interesting. Reasons against? I only ever read non-fiction for work and I’m not sure I like the idea of “Literary Vice” being related to work. Also, I have less to say about character consistency and plot engagement when it comes to non-fiction. Considerably less.

I read “Banal Nationalism” because I was curious about the ways individuals perform their national-allegiance (nationalism, if you will). The book was written by a sociologist (Michael Billig) in 1995 and makes a few interesting points (and then makes those same points over and over and over again), chiefly: nationalism is not confined to extremist states or burgeoning states; nationalism can be seen in everyday life in things like flags on buildings and national news sources that refer to “us” when speaking of the country-proper; the nation is still important in a “so-called” postmodern era. He had very little to say about individual performance of nation. Sigh.

The problems: very little distinction made among nation, state, and nation-state; passing remarks about “Quebec nationalism,” but nothing specific about nationalism in the Canadian context (a problem for me because I work on Canadian literature); the idea of counting hanging flags as evidence of the strength of nationalism in a given region is silly; it was written before 9/11.

This last point is certainly not the fault of the book, but all the same, I can’t help reading it with a certain frustration. Some of the comments about the distinction between patriotism and nationalism (patriotism is seen as something at best, good, at worst benign, nationalism is aggressive) and the supposed anxiety about the permeability of borders would be much strengthened by a post-9/11 critique of changed border security methods, the Patriotism Act (or in Canada, Bill C-36), the divisiveness of the war in Iraq (which functions contrary to Billig’s claim that wars show the strength of nationalism), for example. I should follow-up and see what Billig has said post-9/11, but frankly I’d be surprised if he sad anything more than “A lot of flags waved post 9/11. Flag waving proves nationalism is alive and well.” 


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