Imagined States: Nationalism, Utopia, and Longing in Oral Cultures

Imagined States: Nationalism, Utopia, and Longing in Oral Cultures

Imagined States: Nationalism, Utopia, and Longing in Oral Cultures

Imagined States: Nationalism, Utopia, and Longing in Oral Cultures

Excerpt

This volume explores the role of phenomenological and existential others— human, animal, political, and mythic—in the process of cultural self-identification. The organizing and empowering metaphors for this process are the “imagined states,” by which humankind constructs and locates itself in those worlds, places, and territories of the mind. States may function metaphorically or designate the psychological and the mythic as well as actual geographic and political entities. The difference is not significant, as Benedict Anderson showed in his groundbreaking work Imagined Communities (1991), to which this book is indebted for more than its title. Shurmer-Smith and Hannam point out that “all places are imaginary, in the sense that they cannot exist for us beyond the image we are capable of forming of them in our minds” (1994, 59).

It is our purpose in these pages to demonstrate various sociopolitical, historical, and ethnographic contexts of such states, and their interdependence. Central to this collection of essays are these questions: How are “states” (national, utopian, or existential) imagined or constructed? How do their permutations create (or collapse) boundaries between ethnic or national groups, between genders, or between the human and animal worlds? How and why does this process frequently entail the demonization or idealization of such oppositions in oral cultures. Consider, for instance, the national type of the Irishman (the stereotype is invariably male), demonized in the English broadside tradition in the same way as the American gringo is in the Mexican border corrido. Various essays herein examine the ideological construction of the four-nation United Kingdom (Porter), the racial stereotyping of Turks in Germany (Cheesman), and the role of colonial folklore discourse in the construction of a de-historicized Indian identity (Naithani).

Il Paese di Cuccagna, the Italian variant of Cockaigne—also known, in American tradition, as the Big Rock Candy Mountain—engages a process of idealization, drawing on a centuries-old gastronomic utopia, the mythic land of plenty, known all across Europe, that expresses basic human needs and hence represents a “poor man’s paradise” (Del Giudice). This topos of a mythic Cockaigne, firmly embedded in immigrant imaginations as they sailed for America from Norway, Italy, Germany and beyond, inversely reflected the actual living conditions of the European lower classes, whose lives largely comprised . . .

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