Anderson, Benedict

Assigned: Anderson, Benedict. From Imagined Communities, Ch. 3. “The Origins of National Consciousness” (1832-39). Also read the editors’ introduction (1830-32).

From Imagined Communities (1983/2006)

Chapter 3. The Origins of National Consciousness

1. On 1832-33 (“If the development of print-as-commodity…”), how did capitalist book production in the 1400s-1500s, according to Benedict Anderson, move Europe in the direction of nationalism? What was the initial effect of the printing press, based on the fact that mostly Latin texts were being produced? What happened after the market for Latin books reached its saturation point, and printers needed to find a new vehicle for generating profits (1833)?

2. On 1834-35 (“The revolutionary vernacularizing thrust…”), Anderson analyzes the first two of three “extraneous factors” (1834) that he says drove capitalist printing to pursue vernacular projects. Consider these first two: First, how did interest in Latin change once Renaissance Humanists spread enthusiasm for certain ancient authors? (1834) Second, what impact did Protestant publication of religious tracts supporting the Reformation have on the development of a sense of nationalism, especially where the market aimed to reach ordinary citizens who did not read Latin? (1834-35)

3. On 1835-36 (“Third was the slow, geographically uneven…”), Anderson covers the third of three “extraneous factors” (1834) that he says drove capitalist printing to pursue vernacular projects. Consider this third factor: what impact did the growth of Europe’s vernacular languages (French, Spanish, German, etc.) as means of official bureaucratic communication have on the development of nationalism—what happened to the “imagined community of Christendom” (1836)?

4. On 1836-38 (“At bottom, it is likely that…”), Anderson writes that while the increasing sophistication of Latin in Europe, the print demands of the Reformation, and the rise of official-language vernaculars all went towards the cultural “dethronement” (1836) of Latin, it took capitalist print production combined with “the fatality of human linguistic diversity” to bring about the “imagined national communities” (1836) we identify with modern nationalism. What appears to be meant by the term “fatality” in this context, and how does Anderson explain the manner in which profit-driven, “capitalist” print production created widely comprehensible “print languages” (such as Parisian French, Roman Italian, and London English) that came to dominate over other dialects when it came to print culture? In what “three distinct ways” (1837), according to Anderson, did this development set the foundation for “national consciousnesses” in Europe?

5. On 1838 (“It remains only to emphasize that…”), how does Anderson sum up the importance of print production and “national print-languages” as vehicles for the development of modern nationalism? What limits does he also suggest these concepts have in terms of a total explanation for that development? What does he propose to examine next in order to clarify matters further?

6. General question: In “The Origins of National Consciousness” from Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson analyzes the significance of the emergence and spread of capitalism-driven “print-cultures” for the development of the “imagined communities” that form the basis of European nationalism. An important aspect of this print-culture phenomenon lies in how it simultaneously spreads a given version of a language while yet remaining limited within certain linguistic and geographical boundaries, and it also serves to “fix” the chosen print-language and shield it from change. Of course, we now live in the Age of the Internet, which involves a profound change in the mechanics and dissemination of print culture. How do you think “cyber-print” has affected our contemporary sense of national identity? Does it weaken such an identity (what Anderson calls an “imagined community”), or does it strengthen it? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

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