Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Kwame Anthony Appiah on Identity, politics and the archive
Just stumbled across an article by Kwame Anthony Appiah on the Public conversations website, where he looks at Identity, Politics and the Archive. This type of contribution ties in with some recent posts on Beyond Identity where Ross Rayners raise some interesting issues and discussions, we often consider out of bounds.
It seems at least to me, that Appiah is presenting a strong argument, which see social identity as much more than the usual mixed race, or mixed culture arguments. But this is not the point that he is making. He is simply saying that national identity is ( and never was) a homogeneous state of being. He writes 'By and large people, do not live in mono-cultural, mono-religious, mono-lingual, nation states and, by and large, they never have.' He quotes Ernest Renan in defining a nation as a 'soul, a spiritual principle....' which consists of two things, namely, 'the common possession of a rich heritage of memories, whilst the other is a present agreement, a desire to live together, the willingness to continue to value the heritage that one has received, undivided.' The reality, Appiah continues later, is however that the past is not innocent. Its rooted in our choiced recollections (the archives), therefor the stories we tell to ourselves and our children. These stories are of course representing the one we still remember or want to remember and in the public sphere the choices of those in power, being told primarily, via the education system and national media. Hence his conclusion, that nationality or national identity then, our South African-ness is work in progress, as we delve into our archives, albeit colonial, to recollect and retell the stories of those also written out of history, but also as we commit to our construction of our future story together, an archive that remains to be written.
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