When I started reading the Stoler reading, I kept finding my mind wandering back to Orwell as the isolated intellectual, especially when Stoler began talking about national identity, education and inclusion. I guess I’m curious as to whether Orwell would have been quite so isolated in “Shooting an Elephant” if these educational measures had been in place. (Perhaps the same question could be extended to Flory in Burmese Days…although I’m not sure he falls in the same category as Orwell in “Shooting an Elephant”.)
In terms of national identity, I guess this reading answers some of the questions I’d had about where history came in to the creation of a national identity. I took a class a few semesters ago that dealt with Nationalism and the Arts: we had a guest student sitting in from Harvard who happened to make the comment that Singapore hasn’t had enough time to build a clear identity because we were less than half a century old. The professor was quick to point out that Singapore has been around for more than 50 years, it was just Independence that came much more recently.
Using Stoler’s tie-together of history and national identity, I suppose one root of having a national identity comes of having a shared history. I can see how colonialism problematizes national identity, considering the “shared history” suddenly becomes “shared histories”–one of which is placed in a more dominant position than perhaps an indigenous concept of identity tied to place.
I’m fairly curious as to the origin of “nationhood.” Is it a colonial/postcolonial construct?
Stoler brings to mind something very interesting that I read for another module- Eric Hayot’s review of Arthur Vinton’s “Looking Further Backward”. “Looking Further Backward” was published in the 1890s as a response to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward, 2000-1887”. Vinton envisions a future in the year 2023, when the Chinese immigrants that the United States had allowed into the country eventually took over and annexed the United States as a Chinese colony. The novel was written during the height of anti-chinese sentiment, just after the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. the essay opens with a quote from Professor Won Lung Li:
“Owing to the short-sightedness of your remote ancestors, you have permitted your country to be overrun by the emigrants of the slums from other nations; they had been given equal rights, socially and politically, and they had intermarried with your native stock until it had become so debased that, one hundred years ago, your ancestors were as ready as the Frenchmen of the 18th century to abandon everything for the sake of an idea.” (Hayot 1)
The idea that Li refers to is that of Nationalism. The annexed United States represents the worst possible fear of the colonial masters. Similarly, Stoler’s essay illustrates the paranoia that the French had towards the Metis, and how they acted on this paranoia in order to protect the concept of their “nation”. Stoler, like Li, puts forth the idea that intermarriage is one of Nationalism’s fatal flaws. The idea that one is defined by their nationality is undermined when you have a child born to parents of different nationalities.