Saturday, July 10, 2021

RIP Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant was a U of Chicago literature professor and a scourge of establishments wherever she found them. Including within the worlds she inhabited: feminism, Marxism, queer studies. I always appreciated this kind of insight:

Berlant tried to show how claims to unity on the part of the feminist movement are invariably accompanied by complaints from those who felt excluded. Berlant cast doubt on conventional ways of positing social and cultural unity, asking at what price such unity is achieved, and whether it unwittingly relies on mechanisms of hierarchy and exclusion.

Berlant extended this critique to nationalism and to all movements that employed its language, like talk of a Queer Nation. Nationalism, Berlant wrote, always ends up involving "sacrifice, stigmatization, and dispossession." You can believe that your nation, tribe, corporation, political party, or social movement will support and nurture you only by deluding yourself: "All attachment is optimistic."

Berlant held a lot of opinions that make no sense to me, but she had a feeling about groups that I very much share.


szopen said...

Nationalism is not about your nation supporting you. It's about you supporting your nation.

G. Verloren said...


Sounds accurate, it just also sounds unhealthily one-sided, like an abusive relationship.

And that's just focusing within the single nation - it doesn't begin to address the international, political, ethnic, religious, etc, problems that arise from Nationalism.

The problem with having Nationalism be "about you supporting your nation" is fundamentally one of who gets to decide what your nation actually is and looks like.

For example, Christian Evangelicals have a very different view of what "the nation" is compared to other people - in their minds, the nation is a religious one, and they want everyone to conform to their religious desires. But that intrinsically creates friction with groups who do not see the nation as a religious one, breeding conflict. Both sides are viewed by the other as insufficiently patriotic, because they fail to conform to the other side's expectations of what kind of nation a nation is.

Even if one side gains clear and obvious dominance over the other, "the nation" typically doesn't simply unify under that new vision. Look at China and Taiwan - two opposing ideological camps from within the same cultural framework, both claiming to be the true "nation" of China. Or consider the Nazi concept of "Greater Germany", the Anschluss, the doctrine of Lebensraum, etc. The Nazis were fanatical Nationalists, believing that other peoples and cultures should be forced into servitude to the Fascist state, benefiting German society at the expense of all others. When your only concern is serving the state, without concern for serving the citizens and inhabitants of that state, insanity and calamity are never far off.

szopen said...

You know, I came from the tradition of Polish nationalism, which includes many different strains, and the strain demanding sacrifising all for the state is far from dominant, and there were always many thinkers thinking nationalism must equal greater freedoms for the citizens and less power for the state. After all, you are working for the nation, not for the state. State serves the nation. You are right that nationalism may slip into chauvinism, but then - are there that many ideologies which cannot be twisted into something evil? Socialism into communism, religiosity into fanaticism...

Now, I have to always remember that in English "state" and "nation" (and "nationality" and "citizenship") seem to be used interechangeably - which is the use rather foreign to Polish tradition, though it recently was consequently used by many mainstream politicians and public figures.