There is a link between our national identity and the way we see ourselves. Modeling the way we understand what we are, modeling our sense of the world and our sense of life.
Accordingly, it is normal to see how a person finds national references in their life. Like a top footballer who has been waiting for years until the World Cup is held so as to score a goal and kiss his national shirt with tears in his eyes, or the artist who is internationally recognized and in his speech thanks his family and his country. In this moment he is carrying with him mainly the feeling of having contributed to improving the present and the national enjoyment of his nation by his work, even though in real life he may have been living abroad for many decades.
Likewise a scientist who is awarded a prize and in her mind just has the faces of her classmates at high school where she was a shy and lonely student but now is a national celebrity.
Even the teacher whose pupils are well recognized, who smiles in his sleep with dreams of his contribution to furthering the nation, instead of remembering the everyday difficulties that he has in his job. Or the soldier that when trying to protect his captain’s life is mortally wounded and with his last word says: I am happy, “we have beaten the (national) enemies”, forgetting that his wife children will suffer from his departure.
All of them have in their minds the fulfillment of having achieved what the nation seems to expect from them. All of those people show how the national imagination can frame expectation, define goals, and give shape to what people desire.
These not only show individual instances of love, recognition, need or a sense of personal reference that the nation exercises, but also to see what the nation has become for a significant number of people, for whom it is a real part of their lives, their rules, their dreams and desires.
Because as Homi Bhabha said, the idea of a nation can be experienced as an activity more complex than a form of life in a community, more symbolic than the idea of society, more connotative than that of a country, less patriotic than “the native soil”, more collective than individual, more mythological than ideological and more hybrid in its articulation of the differences and identifications of the individuals involved than one of a binary structure of social antagonism gives (Bhabba, 1990).
Besides, nationality can be felt as both soul and body, past and present, and a possibility for the subject to see the future in the past. What we can infer is that the nation is involving a plurality of dimensions or discourses that produce what people feel. We will see some of these further in other articles.
However, what is a nation? First of all, the term nation is intimately connected with that of “native”. The English word nation is derived from the Latin noun natio which means to be born. In that way, and as Raymond Willams noted, we are born into relationships which are typically settled in a place (Willams, 1983).
The matter of being born in one place can be thought of as involving the territorial centrality of that community as an identity definer, and can explain why the nation resembles the idea of belonging to a territory. This is related to the past. While one used to belong to a royalty that dominated that physical space where one was born: “Kingship organizes everything around a high centre” (Anderson, 1983: 19), now this royalty is being replaced by the figure of the territory.
In addition, related to the matter of being born, it is possible to understand the Greek idea of patris to the Latin patria (fatherland), because then it would seem that we are the children of this territory.
Accordingly, nation and nationalism are used to being defined as the fatherland, also to the motherland or even to ‘homeland’. This homeland, as a definition already constituted within nationalist discourse, is the place where the metaphor of land as the scope of national identity emphasizes the quality of light, the question of social visibility. That homeland settles the feeling of the home as a question of social visibility of space, as the place you can always go back to, since it is your house, your home, a part of yourself.
© Sebastian Guerrini, 2009