Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

(Hi)story-Telling the Nation: The Narrative Construction of Romanianism in the Late 19th Century

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

(Hi)story-Telling the Nation: The Narrative Construction of Romanianism in the Late 19th Century

Article excerpt

(Hi)story-telling communities, narrative traditions, and the making of the dramatic self

The "narrative turn" in the social sciences pressed for the updating of the metaphorical bestiary into which humankind, especially through its philosophically driven thinkers, has collected its own set of self-conceptions. The famous metaphorical incarnations of human nature in the "political animal" of Aristotle, the "logical animal" of C.S. Peirce (1877), or the "animal symbolicum" of E. Cassirer (1944: 44) had to make room for a new animal embodiment of human nature directly inspired by the narrative turn: human being as a "storytelling animal" (MacIntyre, 2007: 216). Given the narrative fabric of the human self, the problem of collective identity and social belonging can be addressed by answering the question "Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?" (ibidem). After recognizing the centrality of the story in human existence, A. MacIntyre is led to postulate the hermeneutic injunction according to which "there is no way [to understand] any society, including our own, except through the stock of stories which constitute its initial dramatic resources. Mythology, in its original sense, is at the heart of things" (MacIntyre, 2007: 216). Embracing MacIntyre's ideas, this paper accepts that there is no way of understanding the making of Romanian society except through the stock of stories by which it was narratively constructed. Collective memory, in its narrative sense, is, indeed, at the heart of the nation. This paper explores the founding stock of stories of the Romanian nation taking shape in the late 19th century as the canonical narratives upon which the Romanian nation-state has been built. It tries to unravel the process by which a "community of stories" emerged through the diffusion of historical narratives about Romanian past in the social body. It also attempts to understand the social-psychological alchemy involved in the making of what we would refer to as "the dramatic self." Before plunging into historical details, a little more conceptual groundwork is deemed necessary for the purpose of semantic clarification.

The powerful metaphor of the human being as a "storytelling animal" must be supplemented by three complementary concepts, those of "narrative traditions" and "communities of stories," within which the "dramatic self" of the individual can emerge. Focusing on collectivities rather than assuming MacIntyre's individualist stance, it can be argued that every social community can be conceptualized as "storytelling communities," preserving their value-consensus and collective identities in "narrative traditions." These narrative traditions, made up from stocks of stories about the salient features and particular nature of the in-group, are the depositories of that group's collective identity. It is through these narrative traditions embodying the historical epos of the group that communities are able to preserve the consciousness of their own continuity in time and unity in space. Temporal continuity and spatial unity are not only the cross of collective identity (formed by the interlacing of the vertical axis of temporal continuity with the horizontal axis of spatial unity), but their intertwining creates the chronotope sustaining that collective identity.2 Paraphrasing M.M. Bakhtin's use of the term, chronotope's supreme importance lies in the fact that they are the "organizing centers" for the fundamental narrative events of the nation. "The chronotope is the place where the knots of the narrative are tied and untied. It can be said without qualification that to them belongs the meaning that shapes narrative" (Bakhtin, 1981: 250). The past of the nation cannot be emplotted but within the time-space coordinates provided by the chronotope.

Parsimoniously, collective identities can be defined as "narrative constructions which permit the control of the boundaries of a network of actors," creating thus a sense of we-ness, as well as "narrative bonds" between the members of the in-group sharing the same stock of stories (Eder, 2009: 427, 431). …

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