Friday, September 07, 2007

Excerpt from "What Is a Nation?"

Something I'm pondering, for scholarly reasons, from Ernest Renan's 1882 speech, "What Is a Nation?" (full text here). I'd welcome any comments or observations anyone might have.

More valuable by far than common customs posts and frontiers conforming to strategic ideas is the fact of sharing, in the past, a glorious heritage and regrets, and of having, in the future, [a shared] programme to put into effect, or the fact of having suffered, enjoyed, and hoped together. These are the kinds of things that can be understood in spite of differences of race and language. I spoke just now of "having suffered together" and, indeed, suffering in common unifies more than joy does. Where national memories are concerned, griefs are of more value than triumphs, for they impose duties, and require a common effort.

Edit (September 8): So as to be a bit less cryptic, I'm thinking about the above passage within the context of this (click the picture to enlarge the image), at Tlatelolco (specifically, the Plaza de las tres culturas), the site of the last battle between the Spaniards and the Aztecs, in Mexico City:

(On the 13th of August of 1521
heroically defended by Cuauhtemoc
Tlatelolco fell into the possession of Herán Cortés
It was neither triumph nor defeat
It was the painful birth of the mestizo people
which is the Mexico of today)


Ashley said...

I wouldn't actually classify this as a comment, but I can see why you're pondering. I am not familiar with this speech, but the excerpt is thought provoking, as I'm sure the entire speech is. I have now printed it, and I will certainly make time to read it during my science lecture! (The Tara Fuki album is uniquely refreshing, too.)

John B. said...

Thanks for dropping by, Ashley. As you'll see in the speech, Renan begins by dismissing, for various reasons, those components of culture, history and geography that people used to (and perhaps still do) think of as at least contributing to the defining of a "nation," one of which is that they "must have forgotten many things." In some quarters, mestizaje (cultural as well as racial admixture) is cast as a sort of desirable "forgetting" in favor of the larger good of nation-building. But especially in Mexico City, and not just at Tlatelolco, it's difficult not to turn a corner there and be confronted with some reminder of "having suffered together." Mestizaje, it would seem, is more like a constant foregrounding of those painful origins rather than an attempt to erase the memory of those origins.

I'm also glad you liked the Tara Fuki, too.