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We are a nation we are with

While Benedict Anderson is concerned with nationalism as resistance to imperialism, Marianne Gullestad deals with the "innocent" Norwegian variant.


[nationalism] Spain clings to its fading grandeur. No proud armada can prevent Madrid from becoming the political center of an ever-shrinking empire. In the west, the United States is emerging as a new superpower. In the east, Japan has come onto the field. Europe is characterized by political instability. It is the framework for Benedict Anderson's original book on the birth of anti-imperialist nationalism in the late 1800s.

Bombs and torture

On June 7, 1896, a bomb goes off during a religious procession in Barcelona. Six people die, causing it to run out of conservative Spanish leadership. Now they are hitting hard on rioters of all kinds. The state of emergency is introduced and over 300 people are put in the infamous Montjuic prison. There they are tortured. There, Spain gets rid of its fierce opponents.

Here we go, but the story begins somewhere else, namely in Manila in the Philippines, the absolute periphery of the shrinking Spanish empire. In Under Three Flags, this is the starting position for a history writing that embraces three continents and searches for the lines of connection between them. Anderson here approaches the theme of the classic Imagined Communities of 1983, namely nationalism, in a new and insightful way. He will show how it emerged in the colonies as an anti-imperialist resistance ideology. It happened in an area of ​​tension where anarchism was against conservatism, and where the desire for modernization according to a Western pattern was against the dream of finding roots in the roots that the colonial era had whispered to.

Even nationalism in the colonies, Anderson claims, was shaped in the global currents – and that in the 1890s. The national movement in Cuba, as well as the relations between the shrinking Spanish Empire and other great powers, were of great importance. Not to mention the fact that the movement in the Philippines would be unthinkable without the diasporas of Europe, China and Japan.

Semi-biographical history writing

The progress of Philippine nationalism was due not least to the young and promising

folklorist Isabelo de los Reyes, who, during a stay in Germany, learned the rapidly advancing field of anthropology, and after returning to Manila wrote the groundbreaking work of El folk-lore Filipino. Next to him, the ever-old José Rizal, who with his book Noli me Tangere, according to Anderson the first colonial novel written by a non-European, gained the status of national calling while he was still in his twenties.

We follow the fate of these two central characters from the 1880s to around 1900. Through textual analysis of letters, of what they read and wrote, and not least of Rizal's sequel to Noli me tangere, the semi-anarchist novel El filibusterismo, the story comes to life.

It lacks original types: from

ultra-Orthodox religious orders, which dominate the political life of the Philippines, to Cuban Fernando Tárrida del Mármol and his "anarchism without adjectives". More central, however, are the internal tensions of the Philippine national movement. They give rise to a useful distinction between supporters of assimilation and followers of segregation.

It's a spider web of intrigue, political assaults, revolutionary plans and colonial use of Anderson Anderson has spun. Finally, the threads gather in Montjuic, where both Rizal, Reyes and Tárrida del Mármol stop by before they each suffer their sad fate.

Imagined communities became world famous because the analysis gave rise to a universal theory of nationalism. Somewhat similarly, Anderson did not succeed with Under Three Flags. It is one of the few weaknesses in an otherwise fascinating book. Admittedly, the preface states that there are parallels to our time. The author also points out the connection of folklore to nationalist movements elsewhere in the world (and mentions Norway and the Norwegians' movement). However, one is looking in vain for something redeeming that can elevate it all to something more than original history writing about interesting, but relatively unknown, events.

everyday Nationalism

It is a rough piece, both geographically and historically, from Under Three Flags to Marianne Gullestad's Plausible Prejudice, which came out at the author's 60th birthday before Easter. For Gullestad, it is the Norwegian majority population's attitudes towards immigrants that are thoroughly examined through a compilation of previously published essays. A significant part of the analysis is also found in the Norwegian set of new eyes from 2002, but the fact that the book is in English, which creates a fruitful distance to the material for Norwegian readers, makes it indispensable even for people who know Gullestad's writing.

As usual, the author is most concerned with structural racism and everyday racism. She believes it extends into the elite strata of Norwegian society and argues well for it. However, this is linked to the construction of the Norwegian national feeling, which points to a line in Gullestad's argument that has so far been devoted too little attention.

Unlike Anderson, she is concerned with the relationship between everyday experiences and nationalism, for example through the widespread metaphorical connection between the home or family and the nation, or Norwegians' relationship to nature and the earth. Norwegian nationalism is characterized by a childlike innocence, she writes, which is not least linked to the mistaken notion that we have no responsibility in connection with the atrocities of colonialism.

It is an original contribution that ends in an appeal that self-reflection should become a greater part of Norwegian national sentiment and that the anthropology field should soon undergo a decolonialization. As usual from Gullestad: This is both mindfully and convincingly written. n

Reviewed by Halvor Finess Tretvoll

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