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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 life and whatever future we may have because its gaze is fixed on the frozen past. Yet all this seems so antithetical to the universalistic aims of Third World decolonization and the nation-building projects of the nonaligned countries of the Bandung group of Asia and Africa, wherein nationalism’s sacrificial tendencies were thought to guarantee an eternal future because the nation stands as the enduring substrate through which individuals are guaranteed a life beyond finite, merely biological life. This alleged organic power of origination is intimated by the nation’s etymological link to “nativity” and “natality.”

I initially set out to write a book about the tribulations of revolutionary postcolonial national culture. I wanted to examine whether the spirits of decolonization and Bandung had a future in view of recent arguments about the nation-form’s imminent obsolescence because of its continuing . . .

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