Saturday, February 09, 2008

The National News

"In my strange past," says Borges on a visit to a strange future, "the superstition prevailed that every day, between evening and morning, certain acts occur which it is a shame to be ignorant of. The planet was populated by collective ghosts—Canada, Brazil, the Swiss Congo, and the Common Market." This connection between journalism and nationhood interests me.

A while back, I pointed out that "ethnicity" and "nationality" are etymologically related. While ethnology and ethnography have come to stand for the study of cultures, "ethnos" originally meant "nation", and there can be no doubt that we continue think of culture as linked to nationality.

There are many reasons to abandon the fixation on nationality. The concept of kulchur, I think, was intended by Pound to be part of such a move.

"Almost no one," continues Borges,

knew anything of the history that preceded those platonic entities, but, of course, they knew evry last detail of the most recent congress of pedagogoues, or of imminent breakdowns in diplomatic relations, or of statement issued by presidents, drawn up by the secretary of a secretary and containing all the carefully worded haziness appropriate to the genre. These things were read to be forgotten, for, only hours later, other trivialities would blot them out. ("Utopia of a Tired Man", Book of Sand, Penguin, p. 67.)

That is, nations are simply part of the journalistic perspective on history. They are trivialities and, as "platonic" entities, their triviality must be considered an ontological error.

I have also noted the pangrammatical homology of metaphysics/anthropology and ontology/ethnology. The world is divided into nations, history into days. Those days are numbered, friends. The days of the nation are numbered. Journalism cannot control a round earth forever.

Kulchural Studies eschews any trivial obssession with the fate of nations from day to day. Accordingly, it cares little about diplomatic relations, whether bilateral or collective. It does not really care what the United Nations or the European Union are up to. But, taking its cue from Pound, it is very curious about the Trilateral Commission (chicks dig that), the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. The New York Stock Exchange, the City of London, and even the Bank of England occupies its interest. These organizations, it suspects, are not really anchored in the ethnicity of nations, nor can their history be counted in days. They are global and journalists can speak of them only in whispers.

Kulchural Studies does not really expect to know what goes on inside these less platonic entitities. It simply notes their existence (their reality, not their ideality) and understands history with them in mind. It suspects the massive institutional apparatus of our nations and our media (a particular constellation of modern humanity and global technology we call "liberal democracy") of being in engaged in conspiracy to disconnect the individual from the machinery of history.

Taking him radically out of context, Borges once wrote "I no longer play at being Hamlet. I have become a member of the Conservative Party" ("The Congress", p. 15). There is something of that here. Though one is afraid one has simply become a kook.

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