Chapter I. Exploring Designing Nationality Some conclusions

In this chapter a theoretical framework has been formulated to analyse how a State designs national identities through the creation and spreading of images.

In this framework, design is conceptualized as a political action and as the projection of a certain designation which transforms the way of seeing of the people involved and their identities.

Besides, a national State has been defined as a political association with sovereignty over a Nation, being the entity which exercises the territorial sovereignty and government which dominates through ideology and hegemony. According to Gramci, hegemony is the principle that enables a tacit consent and ideology plays an active role as a process of leadership through which dominated classes of nations consented their own domination by ruling classes. According to the same author, nationalism becomes a popular movement founded on consent. Besides, Althusser includes civil society, associations, institutions and organizations such religion, education, the family, the political parties, the trade unions, the communications and the cultural apparatus of the State as part of this process of mass programming and part of the apparatus of the state which is in fact producing the hegemony of an ideology. He calls it the Ideological State Apparatus that works also through ideology, a representational system that would explain the causes and effects of the lived experiences and unconscious fantasy that structures social life (Zizek, 1994).

From there, from the ideological state apparatus, from the hegemony of a dominated group, a monopoly over cultural norms is exercised to educate and re-educate their communities through the intervention of the state over all discourses. This production and spreading of symbolic fictions could be called the state apparatus of cultural fiction (Bhabba, 1990) which produces and reproduces the hegemonic ideology. It requires three main resources to work which are: existing common content, a support for the content and the power to institutionalize an interpretation of nationality.

The existence of a common content or discourse is important because the result of common and articulated discourses among the members of a group (the concept of inter-subjectivity of Lacan) allows a process of nationalism and collective identification. This is because identity is understood as a process of identification which is the process of making sense and of acquiring meaning, the process through which an image is assumed as our own, the transformation that takes place in a subject when such an image is assumed and when an attribute belonging to another is taken as belonging to him/her. As a consequence of that process, any identity would be just a transitory moment in the process of differentiation.

This discourse or symbolic fiction is carried out by myths. A myth is a story, a belief or credo, (Segal, 2004). It is a way of thinking that culturally reduces possibilities by offering an accepted path to the reader of stories (Barthes, 1970) and an instinct of knowledge that tries to find certainties by simplifying existing or non-existent possibilities from similar situations (Levi Strauss, 1964-1966). Also, it is an attempt to organize the coming into being of time, which places the person as more or less active in as much as he/she is ignorant of what life will reveal. Moreover, myth is commonly used as a term for purely fictitious narrative that could involve supernatural persons, actions, or events and popular ideas about the natural world and historical events, have stood the test of time, were accepted as factually true and had a profound influence on how the culture structured and interpreted the experiential environment (Barfield, 1997).

Therefore, discourses, narratives and symbolic fictions are considered the agency of the event which symbolically structures the national imagination. According to Anderson, a Nation is an imagined community constructed by new political entities which produce, reproduce and validate the figure of the Nation as the correct one for representing such communities (Anderson, 1991). The crystallization of a collective and unified human will is a “quilting point” in Lacanean sense and is expressed by the figure of the State which has an institutionalized role as mediator of nationalistic sentiments (Laclau, 2004). In addition, Populisms become the way national sentiment attachments fix a difference as a representation of collective identity and popular identities are made according to «the logic of hegemony” (Laclau, 2001: 85).

In this regard a Nation is a hegemonic construction where the national becomes the main way to understand any other social organization, leaving other identities or belongings in second place.

The State has an institutionalized role as mediator of nationalistic sentiments or discourses (Laclau, 2004). Those sentiments, as identity, change over time and the prevalence of one or of some of them depends on the historical context and the power of the different groups to prevail, to become a hegemonic group and to narrate their version of nationalism. In this sense, the State has the power to institutionalize any interpretation of nationality in the representation of the self interest of particular groups that are trying to impose their own vision of what the nation is.

The most important nationalistic sentiments a Nation could awaken are to make a Nation feel like a home, to let people feel the country in a religious way, to feel that a citizen is proprietary, to let people have a sentiment of sharing a language, blood and a culture.
In the first case, a Nation is understood as a place, a territory that generates strong attachments, feelings of belonging, like a home or like the Real. That is where an intergeneration and social experience can be lived, close to the Greek idea of patris or to the Latin patria, fatherland, a place where a member of a Nation can always return.

Second, in the case of the proprietary sentiment, a Nation is considered a framework to guarantee the interest of the proprietary of this territory, the owner’s condition resembling that of a citizen. Solidarity grows but as pertaining to the exercise of self rights and interest. For this reason the purpose of a government is the preservation of property.

Third, the feelings of the members of a Nation are bound to one another not merely by birth but also by the common possession of a culture that is valuable above all else to each of them. The consolidation and transmission of the people’s culture are what encourage national sentiments.

Fourth, popular and national culture contains the essence of what is joining and what is giving each of its member the joy of being part of that group, the will of the people, a sentiment of sharing. It is constantly reinforced by the pride of having done great things together and the wishes to do more things together in the future. Besides, that Thing, as Zizek put forth, is the referent that is holding together a given national community without depending on the theme and is the way that a given community organizes their joy.

Fifth, in modern times nationalistic sentiments replace past religious and spiritual sentiments, pushing into the national sphere spiritual beliefs. Therefore, to belong to a nation offers people a resource against the irreversibility of the passing of time, a kind of anti-death process and a sense of continuity with previous generations, through memories, myths and traditions. It gives a sense of destiny and mission to people by fixing certainties on the coming into being of the national life.

Sixth, a Nation gives people something to hold on to, something to be part of that acts as a principle of social organization as opposed to the nothingness. This kind of collective inter-subjectivity acts as a kind of defence against the person’s fear of everything from the lack of structure, to the horror of social uncertainty, loneliness or of being in a collective fragmented body. On that account, it is possible to see the structure of nationalism as a channel for social order and for social integration, an integration of fragmented groups into a wider figure which can contain them.

The relationship between those sentiments can be figured as a kind of textile or rope, using the idea put forth by Wittgenstein who understood it as a complicated network of similarities and relationships overlapping and criss-crossing. Besides, one of its constitutive fibres only could be visible for a while before being hidden underneath another in the next segment and no dimension alone could represent or symbolize the whole collective sentiment. This is because national sentiments are formed by the weaving of the different constitutive dimensions and their inner relations.

Thus, in the existing dimensions of nationalities and sentiments, such as the proprietary, belonging, difference, religion and organizational ones, sentiments are quilted and structured in a quilting point which is the State. This State is also tracking the civil society, holding and tying the totality of the different dimensions of nationality at its end, and the one that keeps the weaving and the fibres of the rope united producing what Gramsci defined as hegemony. The State and the dominant groups are the main authors of that idea of imagined community and responsible for the institutionalization of national sentiments. Thus, National imagination is a theatre where the constituted power is displayed, applied and maintained.

The State projects its own signs of nationality, confronted with the rest of the other signs related to fostering and settling its selective reading of the national reality. In doing so, the state tries to get the power to embody national organization and the power to define nationality, itself and especially the ideal citizen who would inhabit this nation. As a consequence, the power of such definition is a major source of the exercising of hegemony.

In this context, the Ideological State Apparatus and the apparatus of cultural fiction contribute by action or omission, to the forming, consolidating and spreading ways of seeing the national identity and national sentiments through the creation and dispersion of stamps, banknotes, flags, shields, monuments, and statues, among others. They portray information and sense about nationality, are instruments of the imagination of that national community and make the social structure of the nation tangible and visible. Therefore, the myth, as a speech of the collective assumption and memory, starts to speak through the individuals and circulate thanks to the existence of a support.

As it has been mentioned, National identities are built in a process of identification with images which get power because of the social importance of the act of seeing, of representing, of interpreting, of imagining and of desiring that images have. In this sense, first, images influence our sense construction process and the images and objects spread by the State questions and/or reinforces the definition of what the nation is and the view of a hegemonic group. Second, images are not only the reality but also representations that offer information about who someone or a group is in time, space and sense. Then, the role of images as representation also involves the exercise of power that such information can generate. Third, images contribute to the interpretation of what reality is and is a medium for the creation of new realities where the society inhabits. Fourth, images always make it possible to see a story, a story that always raises a message from where society expresses, transmits and recognizes its needs. Last, images mobilize and encourage desire. In this way, images can be considered as a screen from where power shows whom to desire.