Sunday, October 13, 2013

Imagined Communities

The friend I'm visiting and I took a break in the library cafe, and at some point in the course of talking about teaching politically charged topics, the conversation turned to British imperial ambition in the 19th and 20th centuries. After discussing the state of the Commonwealth and the mess that the British and the French made in the Middle East (as we are both products of a Near Eastern Studies department), we reached the Falkland Islands. This was a completely lighthearted conversation, albeit on a serious topic, but mostly focused on the absurdity that imperialism has unleashed on the world. We were definitely mocking the British position on the Falklands and all the military might they had extended to enforce that position. (And, as it happened, we both commented in the course of the conversation on the natural beauty of Argentina; I mentioned the stunning landscape, and my friend commented on the varied bird species and the verdant cattle-grazing land.)

And next thing we know, there's a guy — must have been a graduate student — standing next my friend's chair, oddly looking only at her even though she and I were on the same page in this whole conversation, declaring: "I was raised in Argentina and if you are going to talk about certain things, you must do so respectfully."

And on the one hand, without knowing anything about this guy or his particular brand of nationalism, I can understand how this might be a sore point for him. On the other hand, if he had actually bothered to eavesdrop on us rather than pulling a few key words out of context, we all might have been spared a somewhat bizarre interaction. And if his intention was to win us over or make us see his point of view, this definitely wasn't the way to do it. I was made more curious, in the end, about the psychological profile of the individual than I am about imperialism or nationalism or even Argentina.

I mentioned this all later to another friend, who suggested that I should have invoked Cornell's own Benedict Anderson and told the guy that all the communities we were talking about were imagined. By coincidence I happen to be rereading that book now as I'm writing the introduction to my own book, and I can't imagine that having gone down well at all.

As I'm preparing my third-year review dossier and trying to explain my work to non-specialists, non-medievalists and non-Arabists, and to situate it within a Department of Spanish and Portuguese, it doesn't take too terribly to get me started wondering about the imagined community of the Hispanic world at large and especially the academic entities that are charged with studying its various facets, because those entities are fantastically imagined, too. 


  1. "... because those entities are fantastically imagined, too." Indeed:

  2. Not least of which being the small intellectual fifedom where you are currently residing!