National narratives construct the state as universal
(Donald E. Professor of English The Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities Director, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program Ph.D., University of Chicago. National Narratives, Postnational Narration. Project Muse. The Purdue Research Foundation. Pp. 1-23. Accessed 6/25/11. EL)
National narratives derived both their coherence and their claim to "universal" value from their opposition to "other" national narratives. These opposed narratives "face one another like images gesturing from opposite directions toward a patriotic threshold, the reader who calls one image reality and the other a reflection is, in fact, declaring what side of the mirror he or she is on" (Sommer 112). The construction of the national Other produced a totalized image of the national community at the surface of this national mirror. A "patriotic" national identity was subsequently structured in the imagined relation of absolute difference from this national enemy. 9 But the contradictory relation between difference and sameness out of which national narratives and national identities were fashioned could only be resolved into a unity through the state's intervention. When it exercised the power to make a unity out of difference, however, the state also threatened its individual subjects' relation to this unity with disruption at the paradoxical space wherein unification was accomplished (see Bhabha, "DissemiNation"). If state power was required to constitute (and enforce) the national unity that the individual presupposed as a property intrinsic to the nation, however, that accomplished unity would always lack at least one part. Since it required the intervention of the state's power as a force external to the (not-yet-united) nation, the unified nation would always lack the part played by the state in constituting its integrity. Contrarily, insofar as an individual could only consider him or herself as a part of the nation after recognizing his or her apartness from it, her (or his) national identity could only be achieved through an act performed by this part lacking the whole. When either the state or the individual performed the action(s) necessary to make a whole out of these part actions, however, the national unity and the national identity accomplished out of these performatives were manifestly the effect of this paradoxical social [End Page 5] logic--the whole nation minus this part (action) or the part(ial national identity) in addition to the whole nation
When we mentally consign ourselves to the thought that we must discuss advocacies and ideas only in the context of federal government action we make ourselves feel ethically inept and completely detached from global events – we feel we cannot stop war because we are not where the major decisions are made. We engage in mental deputy politics, ceding our agency and negating our potential to effect change in the world.
[Susanne, associate professor of school of humanities and social science @ Al-Akhawayn University, The Will to violence: The Politics of Personal Behavior, pg. 10-11]
‘We are the war’ does not mean that the responsibility for a war is shared collectively and diffusely by an entire society – which would be equivalent to exonerating warlords and politicians and profiteers or, as Ulrich Beck says, upholding the notion of ‘collective irresponsibility’, where people are no longer held responsible for their actions, and where the conception of universal responsibility becomes the equivalent of a universal acquittal. On the contrary, the object is precisely to analyse the specific and differential responsibility of everyone in their diverse situations. Decisions to unleash a war are indeed taken at particular levels of power by those in a position to make them and to command such collective action. We need to hold them clearly responsible for their decisions and actions without lessening theirs by any collective ‘assumption’ of responsibility. Yet our habit of focusing on the stage where the major dramas of power take place tends to obscure our sight in relation to our own sphere of competence, our own power and our own responsibility – leading to the well-known illusion of our apparent ‘powerlessness’ and its accompanying phenomenon, our so-called political disillusionment. Single citizens – even more so than those of other nations – have come to feel secure in their obvious non-responsibility for such large-scale political events as, say, the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina or Somalia – since the decisions for such events are always made elsewhere. Yet our insight that indeed we are not responsible for the decisions of a Serbian general or a Croatian president tends to mislead us into thinking that therefore we have no responsibility at all, not even for forming our own judgment, and thus into underrating the responsibility we do have within our own sphere of action. In particular, it seems to absolve us from having to try to see any relation between our own actions and those events, or to recognize the connections between those political decisions and our own personal decisions. It not only shows that we participate in what Beck calls ‘organized irresponsibility’, upholding the apparent lack of connection between bureaucratically, institutionally, nationally and also individually organized separate competences. It also proves the phenomenal and unquestioned alliance of our personal thinking with the thinking of the major powermongers. For we tend to think that we cannot ‘do’ anything, say, about a war, because we deem ourselves to be in the wrong situation; because we are not where the major decisions are made. Which is many of those not yet entirely disillusioned with politics tend to engage in a form of mental deputy politics, in the style of ‘What would I do if I were the general, the prime minister, the president, the foreign minister or the minister of defense?’ Since we seem to regard their mega spheres of action as the only worthwhile and truly effective ones, and since our political analyses tend to dwell there first of all, any question of what I would do if I were indeed myself tends to peter out in the comparative insignificance of having what is perceived as ‘virtually no possibilities’: what I could do seems petty and futile. For my own actions I obviously desire the range of action of a general, a prime minister, or a General Secretary of the UN – finding expression in ever more prevalent formulations like ‘I want to stop this war’, ‘I want military intervention’, ‘I want to stop this backlash’, or ‘I want a moral revolution’.
‘We are this war’, however, even if we do not command the troops or participate in so-called peace talks, namely as Drakulic says, in our ‘non-comprehension’: our willed refusal to feel responsible for our own thinking and for working out our own understanding, preferring innocently to drift along the ideological current of prefabricated arguments or less than innocently taking advantage of the advantages these offer. And we ‘are’ the war in our ‘unconscious cruelty towards you’, our tolerance of the ‘fact that you have a yellow form for refugees and I don’t’ – our readiness, in other words, to build identities, one for ourselves and one for refugees, one of our own and one for the ‘others’. We share in the responsibility for this war and its violence in the way we let them grow inside us, that is , in the way we shape ‘our feelings, our relationships, our values’ according to the structures and the values of war and violence.