Blog Post

Thank You, Dr. Benedict Anderson. Rest In Peace.

I am sad to learn of the passing of Benedict Anderson, the great scholar of Indonesia who coined the brilliant phrase "imagined communities" and argued that the very idea of "nationalism" is a relatively modern invention and as much a product of print capitalism, linguistic conformity, and ideology, all perpetuated within other economic and social and cultural conditions, as it is a matter of national borders.  It has been a transformative concept for scholarship for thirty years, since the 1983 publication of Imagined Communities.

I met him only once and briefly, but we had a number of exchanges over "imagined communities" when I was writing Revolution and the Word and afterwords, when I was trying to create an ethnography of the first generation of working class and middle class American readers who had left only the scantest marks in scrappy popular books no one cared about and in diaries and printer's logs and receipt books no one collected.

I was interested, when no one in my field was, in how a nascent and despised and non-elite print culture--often books written by, about and for women and often featuring beggar maids, runaway slaves, crossdressing women soldiers, and other outcasts-- allowed for a community not recognized in the Constitution or any of the official documents of the new nation. At the time I was wrirting Revolution and the Word, none of my authors were remotely canonical and "public sphere" meant the Founding Fathers. 

I was excited by all the writers no one had ever heard about and that many of the Founding Fathers hated and feared for their potential to stir the wrong kind of emotions during the post-revolutionary years when they wanted calm, quiescent acceptance of a new national order that had left out the women, that endorsed slavery, that insisted on property, and that compromised revolutionary principles for nationalist and hegemonic purposes. 

Along with the British Marxist historians (who were all very supportive), Ben cared about the material conditions of a incoherent, inconsistent, and non-elite ideological formation disseminated across wide distances and disparate communities via the most crude, disorganized, regional, and even improvisational mechanisms of a nascent print culture. And he was an incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging interlocutor after the appearance of Revolution and the Word, praising of a project and methods and an archive that I was finding but that most people in my field couldn't even see. It certainly wasn't canonical, by any means.   He saw it, from an entirely different field and from Indonexia and British Colonialism as a perspective.

Rest in Peace, Professor Benedict Anderson.  And thank you.

Benedict Anderson, Noted for Book on Nationalism, Dies at 79
Benedict Anderson, a Cornell University scholar who became one of the most influential voices in the fields of nationalism and Southeast Asian studies, has died at the age of 79. Indonesian media reported that Anderson died Sunday during a visit to the Indonesian city of Malang. His death...|By ABC News


No comments