Cultural Intimacy-ch1

Cultural Intimacy-ch1 - Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics...

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Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State Michael Herzfeld Chapter 1: Introducing Cultural Intimacy The Provisionality of the Permanent Anthropologists have largely shunned the state as a hostile and invasive presence in the local social life and have seen nationalism as an embarrassing first cousin to the discipline itself, prone to public excesses of essentialism and reification. Now they have directed their interest to the experiences of citizens and functionaries rather than to questions of formal organisation. Official ideology was taken as an accurate account of what the nation-state is actually about. The current challenge for the discipline (which Herzfeld tackles throughout) is to probe behind the facades of national unanimity in order to explore the possibilities and limits of creative dissent. It is to stop treating both the nation-state and essentialism as distant and unreachable enemies of everyday experience and to understand them instead as integral aspects of social life. National harmony displays a deceptively smooth surface; it does not reveal the underlying fissures easily. The easy option is to ignore these fissures. Even citizens who claim to oppose the state invoke it – simply by talking of “it” in that way – as the explanations of their failures and miseries, or accuse “it” of betraying the national interests of which it claims to be both expression and guardian. In the process, they all contribute to making it a permanent fixture in their lives. Herzfeld looks at the advantages social acators find in using, reformulating and recasting official idioms in the pursuit of often highly unofficial personal goals, and how these actions – so often in direct convention of state authority – actually constitute the state as well as a huge range of national and other identities. Herzfeld is mainly concerned with the uses of cultural form as a cover for social action. The control of cultural form allows significant play with cultural content. In the process, state ideologies and the rhetorics of everyday social life are revealing similar, both in how they make their claims and in what they are used to achieve. Social actors use “the law” to legitimise self-interested actions, the state uses a language of kin, family and body to lend immediacy to its pronouncements. It converts revolution into conformity, represents ethnic cleansing as national consensus and cultural homogeneity and recasts the sordid terrors of emergence into seductive immorality. Since it is grounded in social immediacy its eternal truths are short lived. The view from the bottom and the view from the top are treated as two of a host of refractions of a broadly shared cultural engagement (a more processual term than the static culture ).comparable polarities such as that between colonized and coloniser may 1
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obscure complex processes of creative cooptation in economic, political and administrative practices – we would do better not to privilege either angle of vision.
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Cultural Intimacy-ch1 - Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics...

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