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Dislocations: Transatlantic Perspectives on Postnational American Studies
'Be a Crossroads': Globalising From Within
To survive the Borderlands
However, since Anzald˙a published Borderlands/La Frontera as long ago as 1987, this sense of liminal flow is not quite consistently maintained: the text is sucked back towards the vocabulary of a more conventional discourse, still framed by an underlying idea of nation: 'The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country' (p.3); - even though this third 'country' is to be immediately described as 'a border culture ... a vague and undetermined place' (p.3). The inherent tensions and conflicts in this formulation, in which a border is a place of flow but also a 'country' or a 'line' (p.3), perhaps conveys a residual attraction to a 'sense of place', which in turn can so easily slip further back to 'love of country' and so, imperceptibly but remorselessly, 'national pride' - that powerful investment Western culture in particular has in the idea of 'nation'. This paper wants to consider how fully recognizing this might require some reconceptualisations, involving understanding how globalisation crosses national borders from 'within' as well as from 'without'.
There is an enduring popularity residing in the idea of 'roots'. Richard Ford's Independence Day (1995)[iii] is still somewhat unusual, then, in seeking to renegotiate the idea of defining identity in terms of roots (- treasuring one's roots, putting down roots), and instead embracing a sense of identity (in this case, being a 'Haddamite') founded on relationships and communication. 'Location, location, location' gives way to 'locution, locution, locution' for his narrator, Bascombe - who stands as the first 'post-realtor' in my reading. So, in the opening paragraph, the place, Haddam, becomes 'Boom-Haddam', lying still in the evening air, but crossed continually by movements - the 'footfall of a lone jogger', people leaving evening class, a band 'drilling'. In a compellingly suggestive (as opposed to indicative) locution, the stereotypical 'Negro quarter' becomes a less certain 'Negro trace'. And Bascombe's mind roams off, imagining how the heat will be bearing down less elsewhere, as he sniffs 'a sea-salt smell' on the breeze 'float[ing] in from miles and miles away' (p.3). In a very 'real' sense, just as the 'real estate' agent Bascombe fails to recognize or associate confidently with a Haddam where he himself has been mugged and one of his colleagues has been murdered, so Independence Day comes to be about Bascombe's independence from any sense of national placement: '"You know you're an American when you ..." (get socked in the eye)' (p.429). But he ends up, precisely, alone, answering a phonecall during which only he will speak: 'There is ... much that's left unanswered, much that's left till later, much that's best forgotten' (p.450). Bascombe, the post-realtor, is left hanging on the telephone. The idea of nation may be under pressure, but, Ford seems to ask, where precisely does that leave those that give way?
What are at stake are issues of space and spatialization - the way space is conceptualized. Static understandings of nation state are under stress, even if borders have not yet, by any means, dissolved.
A repeated theme in this conference has been consideration of how static definitions are being dislocated, and how the transatlantic, the circumatlantic and the cisatlantic, as paradigms for understanding exchange flows, can and have provided crucial momentum to this process.[iv]
But before simply going with such flows, it is, I feel, sensible to pause longer over the problem of the strong residual appeal of the idea of 'nation', and the extent to which it is sensible to embrace passionately the idea[l] of the post-national insofar as this involves setting aside Gramsci's caution about abandoning attempts to establish a counter-hegemonic, consensual engagement with, in this context, the tellingly-labeled popolo nacione. I want to suggest that a better stratagem might be not to abandon but revisit the term 'nation' and unpick some of its complexities.
In the OED, 'nation' carries several definitions, the first of them carrying both racial and political dimensions pertaining to the idea of nation as 'a distinct race or people, characterized by common descent, language, or history, usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory. A second definition, 'people of a particular nation' simply relates to this state-centric view of 'the nation'. However two other remaining definitions highlight why I find it sensible to stress the word 'usually' in the first definition. Notably, both these remaining definitions indicate other ways of comprehending 'nation': 'In medieval universities, a body of students belonging to a particular district, country or group of countries who formed a more or less independent community' and (pertinently): 'A tribe of N. American Indians'. Both these definitions do not immediately suggest the occupation of a clearly-demarcated proprietorial territory - there is a lack of presence of a sure sense of 'real (e)state'; and both illuminate just how such terms as 'Nation of Islam' and 'Black Nationalism' can assume meaning. These meanings do not map comfortably onto the modern idea of the 'nation state', and throw doubt on the stability of the bland formulation, 'nation' = 'people of a particular nation state'; 'nation' might in fact be a more fluid concept than the ideology of the nation-state allows.
I want to follow up the implications of this, but to do so I need first to observe how the phrase 'nation-state', in turn, mobilizes the complexities of the word 'state', which predominantly means 'the form of government and constitution established in a country', or, relatedly, 'the body politic as organized for supreme civil rule and government'. It is these meanings that are hegemonically conjoined with the sense of nation as 'a distinct race or people, characterized by common descent, language, or history, usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory' to produce the sense of 'nation-state': here, the body politic 'as organized for supreme civil rule and government occupying a defined territory'. So, 'state' can slippily assume the occasional meaning 'the territory occupied by such a body'. But, crucially, 'state' carries anther meaning, 'The rulers, nobles, or great men of a realm; the government, ruling body, grand council or court'. This last meaning reveals the power-plays implicit in the term 'nation-state' and the way in which people's political lives are being organized in terms not just of proprietorial territory, but also its retention, governance and control. In this respect, it is plainly critical to my argument that the term 'nation-state' emerges in 1918, when wrestling with the contemporary problem of world conflict.
It seems to me that plausible resistance to this predominance of the idea of the nation-state within the term, the 'nation' can be derived from foregrounding the possible locutions that separate 'nation' from an equation with 'nation-state'. The difficulty in attempting this project resides in the term 'nationalism', which almost unceasingly carries within it the absolute equation of 'nation' with 'nation-state' (pace 'black Nationalism') - so integrally is nationalism invested with the power-plays of the state.
This problem is perhaps simply dramatized. It is reasonably easy to understand what might be meant by suggesting that, rather than speaking of 'nation' being superseded by 'post-nation', it is better to speak of 'nation-state' being superseded by 'post-nation-state'. But it is difficult to be clear when suggesting that, rather than speaking of 'nationalism' being superseded by 'post-nationalism', it is better to speak of 'nation-state-ism' being superseded by 'post-nation-state-ism'. The lack of clarity in the latter case arises because little distinction really exists: "nationalism" absorbs all the hegemonically-countenanced inflections of both "love of nation" and "love of nation-state", since these are, effectively, rendered identical by the discourse of nationalism. The territorial pay-off residing in conflating the two terms under nationalism's aegis becomes apparent.
I could here be tempted to reflect that, after all, there may be much truth in the idea that language does indeed structure the way we organize the world into meanings. But what I really want to get on to do is urge that we need to revisit the relatively unquestioned idea that what is transparently desirable is 'internationalism', as this word carries with it the idea of an interplay between nation-states. Instead it might be preferable to promote an idea of nation that goes beyond borders, and hence nation-states and emphasize the definition of nation as 'a body ... belonging to a ... group of countries who formed a more or less independent community' - independent of the nationalism (i.e., 'nation-state-ism') of nation states, or (indeed) their international groupings (as in the European Economic Community or NAFTA). In other words, there may be no absolute need to throw the baby of the nation out with the bathwater of the nation state, if the nation can be reconstrued productively as a people combining across nation-states.
Though I must admit it will be a steep uphill fight to renegotiate the consensual accretions propping up Western understandings of 'nation', which simply conflate it and the term 'nation state', I can perhaps be buoyed up somewhat by noting that both the idea of 'the nation' in American Indian tribal organization and the term 'black nationalism' suggest how some sort of overturning of the predominance of the idea of the Western 'nation state' in shaping the meaning of 'nation' has occurred for both American Indians and blacks. The potentialities of Other globalizing 'trans-nations' (as they might be called), beside the Nation of Islam, can be activated (or should that be, resurrected?). This term, trans-nation is suggested to me by Ulrich Beck's assertion that 'globalization means ... above all ... denationalization - that is, erosion of the national state, but also its possible transformation into a transnational state'.[v] Obviously, to my mind, it is not so much a transformation of ideas about 'the national state' that is the objective, but a transformation of the idea of 'nation'. But the phrase 'trans-nation' intends to convey just how radical the transformation needs to be. The possibility then exists for identifying globalizing forces that exist outside of the most visible ones fostered by international, multi-national corporate capitalism and its NGO supports. This possibility is perfectly apparent in Anthony Giddens' definition of globalization as 'acting and living (together) over distances, across the apparently separate worlds of national states ... regions and continents'.[vi] This acting and living together may involve technology, commodities and markets, but it also can involve information, ecologies, migrations, resistance. The emphasis falls firmly upon processes.
Ulrich Beck promotes this idea when discussing his formulation, 'globalization from below' - a formulation taken up by Elisabeth Gerle when contrasting 'globalization from below' to 'globalization from above'.[vii] 'Globalization from above' can be roughly equated here with what Ulrich Beck defines as 'globalism', which represents globalization in terms of economic processes enshrined in the precepts of the free-market (as understood by neo-liberals, first and foremost), producing a world market that is superseding political action, whether national or international.[viii] By contrast, 'globalization from below' consists in opposition to and alternatives to these economic processes and their consequences. Gerle's formulation usefully emphasizes the idea that globalization is not just a question of processes of global capital and its movement, but also of patterns of resistance to this - alternative processes routed through (as opposed to rooted in) trans-nations. It thus provides a means - if a slightly Manichean one - of sorting through the melange that exists if we otherwise reside in a vague, ill-defined sense that 'people from all world regions now participate in many global discourses, which run the gamut from eco-feminism and human rights law to arms control and structural adjustment'.[ix] In order to provide Gerle's formulation with a clearer sense of how 'participat[ion] in ... global discourses' might occur from 'all world regions', I want to add to her idea of globalization from below and globalization from above the idea of distinguishing, additionally, between 'globalizing from within' and 'globalizing from without'.
What I mean by speaking of 'globalizing from within' and 'globalizing from without' is the way in which the nation state borders can be crossed not only from 'without', by large, globalized events and forces - such as those created by globalized capital, multi-national corporations and intergovernmental or non-governmental agencies or organizations (such as the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, NATO, etc.) - all of these operating as exacting manipulators of nation-states and, not infrequently, controllers of processes of breakdown in nation states' sovereignty).[x] This I think is plain enough. Nation state borders, however, can also be crossed from within, by attending to the precise inflections and articulations that occur at the local level. This I need to explain.
American Studies has always recognized that speaking holistically of America, of an American identity, of an American Dream has been a fraught and ideologically loaded process, bearing within it imperial aspirations predicated upon the idea of a unified and homogenous nation state. To counter this sort of weighting, attention has been paid to the regional, and there is a real sense, as Judith Fetterley argues, that regionalism can 'deconstruct ... the "national," revealing its presumed universality to be in fact the position of a certain, albeit privileged, group'.[xi] However, since regionalism frequently has in turn become embroiled with what might be thought of as regional aspirations amounting to what might be described as an 'intra' imperialism - such as the South's failed battle to retain and expand slavery in the States, or the West's self-representation as the fount of Americanness - it is more accurate to identify the local as the intersection-point for deconstructions of any assumed universalism - whether at the level of the national or the regional (the region as aspirational nation state). I feel that it is recognition of this that has fuelled an increasingly microcosmic attention to the local - to the precise local event - in social, cultural and historical terms. Perhaps this shows up nowhere more clearly than in some New Historicist-inspired thick descriptions and in emphases on multiculturalism.
Continually, this microcosmic focus led to close, specific attention to how such cultural constituents as gender, race or class are articulated at the local level, in a specific locale, and the ways in which these combine and interact not simply as national discourses, but in specific local formations, encountering specific resistances or (en)counterings intersecting with the global. As Roland Robertson has argued, the local must be understood as an aspect of the global.[xii] Detailed readings and research repeatedly identify local formations shaped not just by inter-reactions to the national (national culture) - that is, the dominant discourses of the nation-state - but also to the trans-national - shown in a global sense of place (what Beck calls 'translocal culture').[xiii] Minrose C. Gwin sets off in this direction when she writes, 'the critical intersection of race, gender [and, I would immediately want to add, class] and region suggests, too, that issues of racism, perhaps of sexism [and class-ism] as well are so complexly interconnected to place that it is difficult and perhaps even impossible to examine them outside of a regional perspective. At the same time, they are, even in their regionality, universal issues which touch us all'.[xiv] This formulation is ultimately too universalist for me, but it does begin to suggest how local issues of racism, sexism, class-ism and their interaction are marked also by trans-actions, and trans-reactions, with discourses circulating - flowing - in a set of overlapping trans-nations (female, Afro-, socialist, ecological &c.).
What needs to be done, then, is to unpack and historicize Ulrich Beck's assertion that 'we must reorient and reorganize our lives and actions, our organizations and institutions, along a local-global axis'. Beck takes as one example of local-global organization, Robert Smith's account of how 'For some communities of the Mixteca Poblana, support committees were organized in New York that collected money among migrant workers for the laying of drinking-water pipes in their community of origin or for the restoration of churches and village squares. Major problems and issues were sorted out by tele-conferences'.17[xv] My point is that such within/without interactions are far from new, or so one-way - as in this instance of US immigrants' relations with their 'communities of origin' (to use Smith's somewhat anachronistic formulation). Thus, to take an example particularly relevant to this conference, the Black Atlantic was just as significant for local interactions with slavery, abolition and emancipation as was the USA's (intra-)national debates. Abolitionism was plainly a transatlantic, or, rather, circumatlantic movement, and so, therefore, was resistance to its arguments. Thus, to take a particular example, the shape that abolitionism assumed in Milford, New Hampshire in the mid-nineteenth century, as pro-Abolition 'Come-Outers' literally 'came out', in the sense of becoming increasingly public and open in their activities, was not just the product of the Fugitive Slave Law, but was also influenced by and contributed to, was a trans-reaction with, circumatlantic negotiations - namely, the discursive support received from and cultural capital lent by Atlantic abolitionists to the anti-slavery cause.[xvi] In this sense, then, Milford's 'come-outers' fulfil Gloria Anzald˙a's depiction of the borderland as 'sin fronteras/ ... a crossroads'; in the same way, groups of women engaging in 'long-standing work' on behalf of global peace-efforts had local organization and organizers.[xvii] What I am saying, then, is that documenting such triangulations reveal how globalization was occurring within the nation-state, as well as in flows of international capital outside it, shaping the black Atlantic from without. Hence my contention that we need to identify how globalization is articulated not only from without but also from within the nation state, and always possibly from below, by non-state actors.
I perhaps need to stress that any apparent similarity between this formulation and that of Andrew Linklater when he speaks of 'insiders' and 'outsiders' is only partial, in that what Linklater is identifying is how powerful nation-states can be in a position to impose structures and modifications - either unilaterally or as part of an alliance that creates an insider/outsider dichotomy based on inclusion or exclusion.[xviii] Plainly this idea of exclusion as constitutive is not completely divorced from my own argument, as when Linklater argues that 'modern political communities have been too ... neglectful of the range of differences between citizens ... and too ... inclined to purchase their own political autonomy by limiting or sacrificing the autonomy of aliens' (1998, p.27). But I want to urge how the trans-nation can sustain flows across national borders, that offer oppositional or interrogative discursive possibilities (from the left and - it must be stressed - the right) that go beyond the international - becoming liminal flows that establish new kinds of political communities.
I want to suggest that this is a cross-roads of real contestation. And let me here, in support, cite just one example - namely, the internet. In terms of 'globalization from above', the internet is plainly an example of the forces of globalism. It is dominated by Microsoft, and the way that this dominance creates a corporation of such immense scale that it can be seen as a threat to the nation-state can be witnessed in the recent attempt by the US government to identify it as a monopoly and consequently break it up - an attempt that foundered, significantly, in 2001. Furthermore, the internet is increasingly becoming patrolled by large, multinational corporations seeking to exploit its potential for establishing global markets. In this sense it exemplifies what neo-liberals would regard as the virtues of globalism - creating free-market access as a product of global capitalism for the products of global capitalism. On the other hand the internet is, we know, being increasingly used to coordinate and organize movements of resistance - establishing a people 'belonging to a ... group of countries who form ... a more or less independent community'. Depending on how you choose to accentuate these sharply different potentialities of the internet you can either demonize it as '"pos[ing] a further problem"' for those seeking to resist globalism, or regard it as potentially a '"samizdat"' enabling its users to become '"the beleaguers instead of the beleaguered"'.[xix] Significantly, these two contrasting views are taken from books written from broadly comparable positions, as their subtitles indicate. The first is taken from Philip Shabecoff's Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the Twenty-First Century and the second from William A.Shutkin's The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.[xx] Both these books are concerned to consider the future of the green movement and both are fundamentally supportive of environmentalism. Yet the two reach radically different views of what the internet represents.
It should be clear where I stand: I side with Erik Ness in preferring 'Shabecoff's give-as-good-as-we-get exhortations' to 'Shutkin's handwringing over new technology'.[xxi] However, one must also recognize the force of Shutkin's concerns. The 2001 Microsoft judgment, permitting that corporation to remain intact, must stand as a reminder of how powerful corporate capitalism has become. George W. Bush's record on the environment, emblemized by the U.S.'s observer status at the 2001 Genoa global warming agreement stands as further, eloquent testimony to this. There is little doubt that the internet can - like politicians - be readily corralled by corporate capitalism in a way that only skilled hackers would be able to subvert/resist. It is perhaps not simply an indulgence of a conspiracy theory to identify the way that the internet is constantly demonized by political establishments - whether national or international. It has almost reached the pitch where one thinks first not of 'surfing' flows when the internet is mentioned, but of 'the problem of internet pornography' - and, specifically, of that most demonic of porn variations, pedophile images, distributed by emails and 'freely' available. Or one regards the internet (especially after 11 September 2001) in terms of an opportunity for terrorists to work their wicked ways: "Pessimistic intelligence analysts have always warned that the development of completely free communication, beyond government control, could easily give rise to evil consequences/ So it undoubtedly has in this case. The mobile telephone and e-mail, probably encrypted, must have been the means by which the atrocities were co-ordinated./ The American intelligence community must undoubtedly now be considering measures to take management of radio telephone communications under state control, and the distributors of e-mail as well." (John Keegan, The Daily Telegraph, 13 September 2001, p.6). Effective censorship would inevitably, if it were to work, involve globalist control, and introduce mechanisms that could readily be also deployed to spike any 'samizdat' potential the internet might possess.
It seems to me that 'globalizing from within' can, has and will derive much impetus from the potential for using the internet to fashion trans-nations - 'bod[ies] ... belonging to a ... group of countries ... form[ing] ... more or less independent communit[ies]'. The sense of 'community' being used here is one emphasizing not geographical integrity but communication - a 'communicative community' establishing a new kind of freedom of speech, across other kinds of political communities. I myself, to offer one trivial example, belong to several mailbases that are proving to be inestimably beneficial (however often I might be found fashionably bemoaning the large number of emails I have to work through each week). Freedom of speech is - presently, at least - freely available in these flows across virtual trans-nations on my desk-top - in a globalization from within, indeed.
I want to end, however, on a different and slightly polemical, even apocalyptic note. It is perhaps worth recalling that the internet was originally established by academics to enable the free global exchange of information and research. In a very real sense, since then, a University trans-nation has been created, one in which many of us participate every day. Plainly, then, I would argue, it is our duty (I pitch it as highly as this) to defend this freedom actively and energetically. If I am right in believing that this tool for the promotion of globalizing from within also has great potential for enabling globalization from below, then we perhaps must expect it to come under assault from what Beck calls globalism. And so the members of the University - the University trans-nation - must expect to consider it their duty to spring to the internet's defense. Otherwise any possibility of globalization from below 'promot[ing] democracy, consumer ethics and human rights' will rapidly become etiolated beyond revival.[xxii] 'There is an emerging, vibrant group putting forward radical ideas', points out Paul Kingsworth, deputy editor of The Ecologist, but he also warns of its fragility - his stress falls upon the word 'emerging'.[xxiii] Loss of the freedoms provided by the internet would be calamitous for this trans-nation. Retention of these freedoms will help transform American Studies, and, indeed, all Area Studies. Maybe, indeed, these Area Studies should, in significant part, reconceptualize themselves as trans-nation studies.
This rethinking render the formulation 'think globally, act locally' inadequate, particularly given corporate endeavors to achieve 'global localization' - the endeavor to locate corporate brand names within local cultures. This is one reason why I resist the contraction 'glocalism', which tends to elide the complexities of the local/global (within/without) interface.[xxiv] Corporate 'global localization' can be thought of precisely as one attempt to think globally and act locally. Faced with this there is a need both to think globally and act locally and act globally and think locally, in a complementary and mutual process; globalization from within perhaps provides the mode for such 'from below' responsiveness.
[i] Famously, in Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993), and Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representations of Slavery in England and America (Manchester; Manchester University Press, 2000).
[ii] Gloria Anzald˙a, Borderlands/La Frontera: the New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987).
[iii] Richard Ford, Independence Day (1995; rpt. London: Harvill Press, 1996).
[iv] See Arjun Appadurai, Disjunction and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy, in M. Featherstone, ed., Global Culture (London: Sage, 1990), pp.296-300.
[v] Ulrich Beck, Vad Innebar Globaliseringen? Missupfattningar och Mojliga Politiska Svar (Gothenberg: Daidalos, 1997), rpt. as What Is Globalization?, trans. by Patrick Camiller (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000), p.14.
[vi] Anthony Giddens, Beyond Left and Right (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994), paraphrased in Beck, 2000, p.20.
[vii] Ulrich Beck, 2000, p.68 and passim; Elisabeth Gerle, In Search of a Global Ethics: Theological, Political and Feminist Perspectives (Lund: Lund University Press, 1995), p.30 and passim. See also Gerle, 'Contemporary Globalization and its Ethical Challenges', Ecumenical Review 52.2 (April 2000), pp.158-71, p.3.)
[viii] Beck, 2000, pp.9ff.
[x] See David Held, Democracy and the World Order: from the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Government (Cambridge, 1995), p.135 and passim.
[xi] Judith Fetterley, '"Not in the Least American": Nineteenth Century Literary Regionalism as UnAmerican Literature', in Karen L. Kilcup, ed., Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp.15-32, p.27.
[xii] Roland Robertson, 'Globalization', in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson, eds, Global Modernities (London: Sage), 1995.
[xiii] See Doreen Massey, quoted
in Beck, 2000, pp.66-67; Beck, 2000, p.66.
[xiv] Minrose C. Gwin, Black and White Women of the Old South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985), p.16.Beck, 2000, p.11.
[xv] Robert Smith, quoted in Beck, 2000, p.28.
[xvi] See Barbara A. White, '"Our Nig" and the She-Devil: New Information about Harriet Wilson and the "Bellmont" Family', American Literature, 65.1: 19-52.
[xvii] See Saskia Sassen, Globalization and its Discontents ( New York: New Press, 1998), p.84.
[xviii] Andrew Linklater, Men and Citizens in the Theory of International Relations ( 1982; 2nd. ed., London: Macmillan, 1990), pp.11-13 and passim; Linklater, The Transformation of Political Community (London: Polity Press, 1998), p.2.
[xix] See Erik Ness, 'Where is the Green Scene Going?', The Progressive 64.7: 41-43; 43.
[xx] Philip Shabecoff, Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Island Press, 2000); William A.Shutkin, The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Boston: The MIT Press, 2000).
[xxi] Ness, p.23.
[xxii] 'Global protest is a force for good', The Observer, 22 July 2001, p.24 col.1.
[xxiii] Paul Kingsworth, quoted in John Vidal, 'Violence Escalates in Genoa's Streets', The Observer, 22 July 2001, p.2 col.8.
[xxiv] Beck, 2000, pp.46, 31 and passim.