Can I have a summary of the main ideas of the book Nation and Narration by Bhabha?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Bhabha has drawn together a collection of essayists to address the questions of "'When did we become 'a people'? When did we stop being one? Or are we in the process of becoming one?'" and "What kind of a cultural space is the nation with its transgressive boundaries and its 'interruptive' interiority?"

One of the essayists' key focuses is on the ambivalence that exists as a consequence of the history of the emergence of the culturally indeterminant nation and because of the ambivalence inherent in the language that is used to construct the history, or the narrative, of the nation (used generically to mean the concept of "nation").

As a result of these objectives, the main ideas addressed in the collection of essays in Nation and Narrative often focus on two loci of thought: ambivalence and cultural signification. I've briefly summarized some of the book's complex and complexly expressed main ideas below as Bhabha expressed the ideas in the introduction, "Narrating the nation," to Nation and Narration.  

  • nations are aligned with "large cultural systems that preceded it"
  • nation is a system of "cultural signification" emphasizes the condition of "instability of knowledge"
  • nations are not a "discipline of social polity"
  • the image and idea of nation is haunted by "a particular ambivalence" that also haunts the "language of those who write [of the nation] and the lives of those who live it."
  • ambivalence arises from the awareness that, with "large cultural systems" as the emergence point of nation, nations have temporality  that "inscribes a transitional social reality": the permanence in the language of the polity and historians is a permanence sprung form temporality and transition.
  • narratives and discourses that "signify a sense of 'nationess'" are impacted by the cultural representation of ambivalence stemming from temporality and transitionality (i.e., temporary existence of culture; transitional characteristics of culture) thus are impacted by the ambivalent figure of the nation.
  • the "ambivalent figure of the nation" is a problem stemming from impermanent factors of nation: (1) "transitional history" (i.e., history of transitional emergence and establishment); (2) "conceptual indeterminacy" (i.e., the ambivalent concept of nation itself); and (3) "wavering between vocabularies" (e.g., vocabulary of the oppressor, vaocabulary of the liberator; vocabulary of the enslaver, vocabulary of the educator; etc).   
  • nation is written about as being emergent as a "political 'rationality'" framed as a form of narrative: history unfolds in a vocabulary of conceptual indeterminacy as narrative with "textual strategies, metaphoric displacements, sub-texts and figurative stratagems."
  • the "study of nation through its narrative [vocabulary] does not merely draw attention to its language and rhetoric," it also "attempts to alter the conceptual object [of nation] itself."
  • [Janus, two-faced Roman god symbolizing forward and back, transitions, ambivalence] "Janus-faced ambivalence of language" constructs the "Janus-faced discourse of the nation": language itself is ambivalent and transitional while it is that which constructs ambivalent discourse.
  • "the ambivalent, antagonistic perspective of nation as narration will establish the cultural boundaries of the nation so that they may be acknowledged as 'containing' thresholds of meaning that must be crossed, erased, and translated in the process of cultural production." 
  • the "international dimension both within the margins of the nation-space and in the boundaries in-between nations and peoples" establish planes in which the "'other' is never outside or beyond us," a perception that emerges in "cultural discourse."
Sources:
proteach40's profile pic

proteach40 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Some basics for you:

  • The concept of "nation" comes from a combination of political ideology and written language told and shared throughout many generations
  • Ambivalence about intertwining these two concepts of politics and language, with the additional modernization of said "nation," causes language to change or ideology to disappear
  • Nationalism should align itself with cultural systems, NOT strictly power plays and language sets
  • Since history, when passed down, becomes transitional and slightly skewed, the concept of "nation" is actually not 100% accurate all the time
  • It's literally all about the interpretation of whose story it is that creates this sense of ambivalence, almost like revisionist history

These are just skimming the surface, but it should get you started thinking.

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