The American is only satisfied when all foreign elements are thrown into the national turning shop and come out turned to his own exact proportions. . . . He of Anglo-Saxon stock regards American civilization as the highest in the world . . . the turning shop works successfully. The Indians are shaved down almost to annihilation; Mexicans of California and Texas assume the national shape; Alaskans even are being cut down to the required model; and as for the Irish, they are hardly landed on the Battery before declarations are filed and they are turned out after the approved pattern.
-- Albert Rhodes, "The Louisiana Creoles" ( 1873)
It is good for everyone to know how to forget.
-- Ernest Renan, "What Is a Nation?" ( 1882)
The idea of the nation is inseparable from its narration: that narration attempts, interminably, to constitute identity against difference, inside against outside, and in the assumed superiority of inside over outside, prepares against invasion and for "enlightened" colonialism.
-- Geoffrey Bennington, "Postal Politics and the Institution of the Nation"
In his influential lecture/essay "What Is a Nation?" Ernest Renan argues that, "forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation. . . . Indeed, historical en quiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations. . . . Unity is always effected by means of brutality . . . the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things" (11). This passage suggests two important claims: first, the construction of a national identity requires a misremembering of history involving both disavowal and creation; second, this misremembering produces an enabling national fiction, a narrative process crucial to the formation of the nation and to the multiple narratives out of which it evolves and maintains itself. The