In Chapter 4 of A Life Beyond Boundaries, Benedict Anderson reflects on the increasingly comparative direction his work began to take in the 1970s and '80s.
In my early days at Cornell, use of the concept of 'comparison' was still somewhat limited. I do not mean that comparisons were never made; they were made all the time, both consciously and (more often) unconsciously, but invariably in a practical way and on a small scale...
Historians, anthropologists, economists, and sociologists rarely thought systematically about comparison at all. The political science department was a partial exception, since it had a subsection called 'comparative government,' to which I belonged. But the comparisons my classmates and I studied were primarily focused on Western Europe...
For me, the odd thing was that comparative government did not cover the US itself, which was the preserve of a different subsection called American government..
One of the central myths of American nationalism has long been 'exceptionalism' — the idea that US history, culture and political life are by definition incomparable. The US is not like Europe, not like Latin America, and absolutely not like Asia. Needless to say, this fancy is absurd. In different ways, the US is perfectly comparable, especially with Europe, South America, Japan and the British Dominions of the Empire (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and so on.)
Below is one of Anderson's comparative engagements with US history; a consideration of national monuments, the primary coordinates of which are the United States and the Philippines, adapted for The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World from an essay first published in a 1993 issue of Qui Parle.
“There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument,” wrote Robert Musil in his Nachlass zu Lebzeiten, elegantly Anglicized as Posthumous Papers of a Living Author.
They are no doubt erected to be seen — indeed to attract attention, But at the same time they are impregnated with something that repels attention, causing the glance to roll right off, like water droplets off an oilcloth, without even pausing for a moment. You can walk down the same street for months, know every address, every show window, every policeman along the way, and you won’t even miss a coin that someone dropped on the sidewalk; but you are very surprised when, one day, staring up at a pretty chambermaid on the first floor of a building, you notice a not-at-all tiny metal plaque on which, engraved in indelible letters, you read that from eighteen hundred and such and such to eighteen hundred and a little more the unforgettable So-and-so lived and created here. Many people have the same experience even with larger-than-life-sized statues . . . You never look at them, and do not generally have the slightest notion of whom they are supposed to represent, except that maybe you know if it's a man or a woman.
Musil continued sardonically as follows:
If we mean well by monuments, we must inevitably come to the conclusion that they make demands on us that run contrary to our nature, and for the fulfilment of which very particular preparations are required . . . Monuments ought really to try a little harder, as we must all do nowadays . . . Why doesn’t our bronze-cast hero at least resort to the gimmick, long since outdated elsewhere, of tapping with his finger on a pane of glass? Why don't the figures in a marble group turn, as those better-made figures in show windows do, or at least blink their eyes open and shut? The very minimum we ought to ask of monuments, to make them attract attention, would be tried and true logos, like “Goethe's Faust is the Best!” or “The dramatic ideas of the famous poet X are the cheapest!” Unfortunately our sculptors won't have any of this. They do not, it seems, comprehend our age of noise and movement."1
The Living Author was probably right in general, but his slyly nonchalant remarks strike one as peculiarly true of the commemorational difficulties of late official nationalism — all those nationalisms which, by the late twentieth century, have got married to states.2 In this essay, an attempt is made to explore the underlying nature of these particular national difficulties, and the imaginative impasse of this kind of nationalism, by reflecting on the distinctive fates of certain public memorials to the national dead. Most of the material in it refers to the United States and to its half-forgotten former colony, the Philippines, both because the imaginings of the latter have been profoundly shaped by the former, and because, at the same time, the latter offers instructive examples of how late official nationalism is politically resisted. Europe, which invented official nationalism, necessarily shows its face here and there.
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC was unveiled in 1922, well into the age of radio, the Model-T, and the airplane, but Railsplitter does not, as Musil sardonically proposes, rotate slowly on his pedestal; his eyes do not open and shut, his toes do not tap, and there is no simple logo, such as “Lincoln, Number One President,” emblazoned below him. On the other hand, the bureaucrat in charge of the project carefully recorded that along with Railsplitter’s image –
125 Mazda electric lamps, equipped with X-ray reflectors, [have been] placed in the attic space . . . In addition, there are 24 powerful electric floodlights placed about 20 inches above 12 glass panels, each about 30 by 47 inches in size, in the ceiling of the central Memorial Hall, that are intended to reverse the unnatural shadows cast upon the statue by the daylight entering through the entrance portal.3
Furthermore, on the wall behind the statue’s head, there is a logo, which reads: In this temples as in the hearts of the people/for whom he saved the union/the memory of Abraham Lincoln/is enshrined forever.4
Something peculiarly late-nationalist is here at work. Railsplitter's image is placed within a “temple,” mimicked by architect Henry Bacon from the religious edifices of a safely pagan Greece. Inside, a cunningly engineered mimicry of the penumbral interior of a medieval church is achieved by summoning the Mazda Corporation to ward off unnatural, indifferent sunlight. (If one envisaged history as a relay race, this would be the point where the nation seizes the baton from religion's exhausted hand.)
The logo operates by a parallel logic. We are first reassured that the edifice we have entered is a temple, and a “real” one, something we might not have guessed from a façade not too stylistically different from those of many banks, fraternity houses, insurance companies, and courts of law. In addition, this temple is part of the series “enshrinement sites” to which the “hearts of the people” also belong; or perhaps the “hearts of the people” actually are simply serial temples. What is enshrined is not the singular skeleton of Lincoln himself — as if he were a latterday saint — but something both ghostly and indefinitely replicable: his “memory.” The enshrinement, moreover, is “forever” — a “forever” which is visibly coterminous with “the people,” this nation, rather than pointing towards Judgment Day.
There is no doubt that the ingenious stagecraft sketched out above creates, especially after dark, a certain son et lumière presence — which, however, would disappear at once if the image were removed to Hearst Castle and the temple to Dartmouth College. At the same time, the Lincoln Memorial shares something interesting with the monuments of which Musil makes fun: the ever-present possibility of vanishing from attention. One understands this from its inability to give one directions. Kneel? Take off one's shoes? Circle it seven times widdershins? Sing? Pray? Beg for a blessing? Bow? Ask for advice? Offer something? Stare fixedly for twenty minutes? None of these seem especially plausible.5 For almost everyone understands that the statue and its setting are replicas, and peculiar replicas at that, because there is no original.6 (This is probably why many people, who would like to feel reverential, decide that the right thing to do is to take photographs, of Lincoln alone, or of Lincoln with themselves, their families, friends, or lovers — between whatever hours the Memorial's authorities permit them so to do.)
But at the same time, the Lincoln Memorial's replica is immediately associated with the nearby replica of Thomas Jefferson. It is here that one starts to realize the singularity of late official nationalism's human images, which is that they can never, as such, be singular. Hardly has one noticed Mazzini, than one is jostled by Machiavelli, Cavour, Dante, and D'Annunzio, who stand in for each other, without hesitation, as national heroes, because the series itself requires this of them. Exactly the nonchalant substitutability of effigies one observes at Mount Rushmore. This means that heroic national monuments do not have auras, such as one senses in the originality of: Las Meninas — under any, even unnatural lighting 7 —the Wailing Wall, or Angkor Wat. In their presence, one is never surprised to find oneself forbidden to take photographs, and this taboo is usually gratifying: one knows one is in the presence of the sacred when it is beyond the reach of one’s lens. For the moment, one has ceased to be a tourist and become a pilgrim. On the other hand, the fact that national hero monuments are auraless also means that they circulate extremely easily through different media — stamps, t-shirts, postcards, wallpapers, posters, videotapes, place mats, and so on — without anyone feeling profaned. Most exemplary, perhaps, is American money. It is not simply that five replicas of George Washington will get you a good cigar, and five Andrew Jacksons a middling one-night hotel room. But the descending rank order in prestige — Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Jackson — inverts the descending rank order of purchasing power (thus Washington is worth one-twentieth of Jackson, Lincoln half of Jefferson) and no one minds one bit, or even thinks about it.
One can understand this condition still more clearly if one considers what happens when aura unexpectedly makes its presence felt within the replicatory series. On December 30, 1896, the great novelist, poet, and moralist, José Rizal, was publicly executed in downtown Manila by a Spanish-officered, native-manned firing squad. On the first anniversary of his death, Emilio Aguinaldo's revolutionary government issued a proclamation urging patriots to commemorate his martyrdom in whatever way they thought suitable. The first “Rizal monument” went up while the revolution was still very much in progress. It was not, however, a statue of Rizal, but a Masonic-tinged abstraction on which only the titles of his two electrifying novels were inscribed — as if to say, Read Them! Then Fight for Your Country's Liberty!
Quite soon after the revolutionary Philippine Republic had been crushed by American imperialism, statues began suddenly to proliferate across the pacified plazas of the territory, where previously they had been strictly confined to the interiors and façades of churches. Almost all were set up by local hacendados or other notables, who had their names inscribed on the pedestals, and a very high percentage were replicas of Rizal. Thus started Rizal’s serialization, not only by his own mechanical reduplication, but also by his appearance alongside other statued, heroic dead. He began to be referred to by the new English-educated elite as the “First Filipino,” soon after the Americans started census-counts of “Filipinos.” Finally, the colonial regime permitted the erection of a Rizal monument, crowned by a statue of the martyr, on the reputed site of his execution, which eventually became the focal point of today’s well-laid out Luneta Park. Since 1946, when America granted the Philippines its second independence, it has become customary for the cabinet to show up at this monument at the dawn hour of the martyr's death for a brief formal ceremony, while warships in Manila's harbour strangely, given the occasion, fire off a many-gunned salute. Something quite similar, if on a smaller scale, will take place some months later at the Manila monument to the Second Filipino, the revolutionary Andrés Bonifacio, who, alas, was executed at Aguinaldo's orders. So far, so typical.
But if one waits at Luneta till later in the morning, one will observe, streaming in from all sides, a wide array of pilgrims, many of them dressed in white, or in the colours of the original flag of the Revolution of 1896. They know exactly what to do: they chant, they sing, they pray, they kneel, they close their eyes in meditation, they march in rows, they hold hands, they weep, they ask for blessings, according to their respective protocols. People speak of them loosely as Rizalistas, meaning that some of them believe that Rizal was Christ Recrucified, or the Filipino Christ, and Luneta thus is Golgotha; others believe that he never died, but, on some sacred mountaintop, awaits the hour when he will return to Redeem his suffering people;8 still others believe his powerful spirit is accessible by esoteric methods especially at certain holy sites and times — which include, inter alia, the Luneta monument and what the state calls Rizal Day. In a word, he is still here. Such people trust in mediums, rather than in the media. These pilgrims the government studiously ignores,9 not only because it does not relish the idea that the First Filipino might return in judgement, but primarily because its own protocol depends on Rizal's substitutability. But for the pilgrims themselves, Rizal is The One — irreplaceable, untradable, unserialized — and his magnetic aura arises exactly from his Las Meninas singularity.
If we now turn from replicas of the national dead to the official sites where their remains are variously interred, it is not hard to find parallels between the contrasting fates of Railsplitter and Rizal.
The United States seems to have pioneered the National Cemetery — but one should not be surprised that it did so almost a century after the War of Independence. In the immediate aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg, the Congress voted funds to create a special burial place for the recent fallen — soldiers of the Union, soldiers of the Confederacy, and soldiers no one recognized — on the battlefield itself. The body of each dead voter, or voter-to-be, was given its own separate grave and marker.10 But Gettysburg had a hasty and experimental character, and the dead of no other of the great bloody battles of the Civil War were handled in this political manner. It was, as we know, during, and immediately after, World War I that the prototype went, so to speak, into general production. As might be expected, the most successful manufacturer was the most experienced industrial capitalist state, that Great Britain which still, but only just, incorporated Ireland.
As Thomas Laqueur so well describes it, in March 1915, on the eve of Rupert Brooke's death in Skyros, an official Graves Registration Commission for the fallen and future fallen was created, followed by negotiations with Paris for the development of permanent cemeteries for Britons in France.11 By March 1916, the “corners” of “some [200) foreign fields” has been settled on by London, with plans for an additional 300 to 3,000 cemeteries depending on the extent of future fighting. Thus began a process that only ended in 1938, by which time 1,850 such graveyards had been organized, most in France and Belgium. From Gettysburg, the British government took over the idea that the dead should have their own individual and marked graves, but tidily grouped together, as far as possible, around the battlesites where they had died. By 1930, some 557,520 soldiers of the Empire, four-fifths of them from the UK, had been identified and buried in separate, named graves. A further 180,861 unidentified bodies were also put in separate graves. For the enumerated 336,912 whose bodies had vanished, blown to pieces or ground into the deep mud, all that could be done was to have their names recorded on stelae set up as near as possible to the places where they were last remembered alive. More than a million in all.
The real British innovation lay in keeping these cemeteries going. How this was managed is exceptionally instructive. The crucial step was nationalization — in every sense of the word. In the first place, the state took monopoly control of all bodies, all monuments, and all cemeteries. Families of the fallen were legally prohibited from moving the remains of their loved ones back home across the Channel. In other words — and this would have startled Rupert Brooke — it was the British government that made sure that so many corners of foreign fields would “remain forever England.” In the second place, it did everything in its power to make, and keep, the dead national (perhaps in the spirit of George von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha [aka George V., who, on July 17, 1917, issued a royal proclamation that he, along with all other male descendants of his grandmother Victoria, provided they were British subjects, would adopt the national surname “Windsor”). The most important means to achieve this goal was to insist, often against strong domestic opposition, that the graves and their markers be as uniform as possible, and that they be laid out in minutely regulated spatial grids. There was to be nothing that visibly marked off middle-class from working men, officers from NCOs and privates, English from Scots, Welsh, and Irish. Families were permitted to propose no more than a 66-character inscription of any sort, which had to meet with the Graves Commission's approval,12 and for which a per-letter fee was exacted. Thus, seen from even a short distance, no gravemarker would stand out from the rest. The visitor would perhaps get the impression that, in each vast cemetery, the dead were, so to speak, still at attention, even if horizontally. She would also be encouraged to start tallying those substitutable symbolic integers which, so often placed over the remains of fractioned soldiers, show us how central to late official nationalism are body counts, and not merely for the census, or on election days.
Paris and Washington were signally less successful than London, and it is instructive to see why. In France, the state did not have the Channel to help maintain its monopoly claims. “Relatives” quickly took to bodysnatching, which became bolder as time passed. The powerful Catholic Church made plain its dislike of cemeteries which, so visibly separated from traditional places of religious worship, seemed tainted by the miasma of Third Republic anticlericalism. It proved impossible not to differentiate the dead by faith — a cross for Christians (whether Protestant or Catholic), a Star of David for Jews, and a mosque-ish dome for Muslims (many from that Algeria which had already been made a part of metropolitan France). In the case of the United States, a historically weak federal state, poised over a strong civil society, had no chance of emulating Whitehall's official-nationalist nationalizations. Despite the energetic efforts of some influential politicians to keep the American dead in “American” cemeteries on French, Belgian, and English soil, where they could stand in for the recent and perhaps future military glory of the United States in Europe, nothing systematic was achieved.13 Only 30 per cent of the dead failed to make the trans-Atlantic journey home, and it was the relatives of the other 70 per cent, not the state, who decided whether they would be buried privately or in state or national cemeteries. Doubtless among the reasons for this democratic victory against Leviathan was the fact that the Republic's most recent wars had taken place in Cuba and the Philippines, barbarous climes in which no American could conceivably wish to be interred. A tradition was in place which would later ensure the long journey home of so many Americans who died at war in Korea and Vietnam. More curiously, in due course the Congress felt obliged to finance the roundtrip tickets and other expenses of all mothers (not wives) who wished to visit their Europe-interred sons. Yet there was a characteristic American difference. White mothers travelled cabin-class on luxury ocean liners, and stayed at first-class hotels; black mothers had to be content with commercial steamers, and lodging in quarters which were never five-star.
If such was the commemorative fate of the obscure masses of the nation's war dead, how did official nationalism attempt to deal with the exemplary famous, most of whom died in their beds? France offers a peculiarly instructive example.
In 1764, at the orders of Louis Quinze, the architect Soufflot started the construction of a church dedicated to the patron saint of Paris, Sainte Geneviève, but designed in a “classical” style borrowed from St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Perhaps this style was what ensured that during the Revolution it could be recommissioned as the Panthéon for the reinterment of such national divinities as Voltaire and Rousseau.14 The change of ownership from dynast to nation-state was signalled by this blaring advertisement added to its façade: Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante. It reverted briefly to religious status between 1828 and 1830, and then again between 1851 and 1870 under Napoléon's mountebank great-nephew. Not till the 1880s did La Patrie Reconnaissante win a stable legal victory over Sainte Geneviève. But aura has always eluded the Panthéon, even though it is a reliable tourist attraction. If one wonders why, part of the explanation should come from reflecting on the comparison with the Mount Rushmore National Park and on the logic of substitutability in the grands hommes national series. Neither Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, nor Lincoln are buried at Mount Rushmore, but it would make no difference if they were. The visitor stands at the railing by the edge of a huge parking lot, gazes up at the representations of “our greatest presidents,” whose stature is guaranteed by each other's presence, and then drives off east or west. It is the same in the Panthéon: the visitor looks at the names of “great Frenchmen,” in a bounded series where Voltaire and Rousseau stand in for one another, before moving on.15 The bodies are actually there, prisoners of official nationalism, but this is of no moment in a shrine of this type, because the visiting eyes are fixed everywhere but on the ground.
As is so often the case, “unsuccessful” tombs are especially revealing of the mechanisms behind their rivals’ successes. Early in the 1910s, in Norte, a brand new municipal cemetery planned by an American urban designer, a small pantheon was constructed for the interment of Filipino national heroes, and indeed the remains of a certain number of such accredited heroes were lodged there in the American era. Today, hardly anyone in the Philippines is aware of this dilapidated pantheon's existence. From the outside it is still recognizable as such, but the interior has become an apartment for the caretaker and his family, and the niches along the walls are now mainly filled with toys, cassette tapes, canned goods, and kitchenware. What has happened is that the Filipino Voltaire and Rousseau have managed to escape, summoning devoted, often familial, bodysnatchers, to convey them to home-town shrines where they may be attended to in a spirit of ancestral reverence, and perhaps, vanished from official-national view, acquire the magic aura of the singular. Meantime, Norte leads a magnificent life of its own, culminating each year on La Vispera de Todos los Santos, All Saints' Eve, when families in their thousands pour in, each to its own graves, and spend a cheerful day with the visiting dead, flying kites, playing cards or mahjongg, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, drinking, praying, gambling, making offerings, and smacking children.
There is something exhilarating here that one rarely sees in national celebrations, maybe because the structure of the ceremonial is not serial, but entirely cellular. Each family may be doing more or less the same thing, but the abuelos of each are absolutely unsubstitutable, and are of no interest to anyone else. Most of the Philippines’ presidents are at rest here, in pompous tombs along the cemetery's main avenue, but no one pays attention to them, even in the spirit of Mount Rushmore; and only their separate descendants come to attend them.
Somewhere between the replica-effigy and the dead lie those two strange creations of official nationalism, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Cenotaph. But as will become evident below, their initial huge success was full of contradictions, and depended on a certain aura of singularity, which was doomed by their creators’ underlying project.
The British government, which seems to have pioneered these memorials in the immediate aftermath of World War I, was seriously worried, from the start, about the possibility that the Unknown Soldier might escape or be bodysnatched, in the Norte sense, if his identity could be tracked down. Curzon, for example, insisted vehemently that the Unknown Soldier “remain unknown.”16 The search for the right remains was thus limited to those who had been killed in the first months of the war, so that, maximally decayed, they would be as much like dust and as little like bodies as possible. Four such remains were picked out by military officials, and one was chosen, by lot, to be the sole exception to the total ban on dead subjects of His Majesty George V coming home. In fact, what was transported across the Channel by a Navy destroyer, was sixteen barrels containing fifty bags of French soil. Yet the burial in Westminster Abbey drew an astonishing outpouring of attachment. Over a million and a quarter people filed slowly past the open grave in the days after November 11, 1920. The Cenotaph unveiled by the monarch on the same day had a comparable effect. Thousands of mourners placed wreaths around it.
For the ruling class's view of these events, we can do no better than turn to the London Times, which commented:
Never before has there been such a proclamation, gladly made, that we are all equal, all members of one body, or rather one soul . . . All of us were members of one orchestra . . . there was one forgetfulness of self in that quiet ritual, one desire that prophecy be fulfilled . . . that we may, indeed, all become members of one body politic and of one immortal soul.17
The tell-tale phrase “gladly made,” inserted between “a proclamation” and “that we are all equal,” shows us that it is a hypocritical official nationalism pattering. But the interesting question is why these novel ceremonies actually then “worked” for ordinary people. The better explanations probably arise at two different levels. One is certainly the unplanned consequence of the state's nationalization of the fallen, and their forcible sequestration outside Great Britain. None of the millions of bereaved were permitted to bury their dead in the cellular manner of Norte. In their complementary ways, the emptiness of the Cenotaph and the solitary plenitude of the grave of the Unknown Soldier made possible the insertion of private memory and grief. The beauty of the slow file-past was that each mourner had the momentary opportunity to make that insertion, and yet to be aware of those before and behind her making insertions of their own, to which, of course she could not be privy. All Hallow’s Eve? The other answer is simply the novelty of the rituals themselves. People did not attend them with the thought that they would be repeated annually into the indefinite future, and in hundreds of different places — in other words the rites were still outside the grip of seriality and the logic of the originless replica. They had, in 1920, the aura of the singular.18 But such successes, at the contingent juncture of late official nationalism and private grief, were always running on a timer. The logic of serialization and replication quickly came into play. Arlington now has four Unknown US Soldiers, one each for World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as an Unknown Confederate. Memorial Day oscillates between Friday and Monday to ensure — in the unending series of calendar years — a leisurely late-spring holiday.
Here, at the moment when the real dead are simultaneously forgotten, replicated, sequestered, serialized, and unknowned, one returns to the paradoxical question of the origins of what one can only call originlessness. In the last chapter of Imagined Communities, I suggested that the ruptures of the later eighteenth century — themselves the vectoral conjuncture of long-standing transformations — generated, quite suddenly, a new consciousness. This consciousness, embedded in homogeneous, empty time, created amnesias and estrangements exactly parallel to the forgetting of childhood brought on by puberty. An abyss had opened up which required, and also enabled, Jules Michelet to make the unprecedented claim to speak for generation after generation of dead “French” men and women who did not know themselves to be such. At just this juncture emerged the narrative of the nation, with its strange antigenealogical teleology, moving “up time . . . [towards] wherever the lamp of archaeology casts its fitful gleam.”19
In Michelet's impassioned, pioneering, and personal claim to “rescue” the dumb dead, there was as yet no real awareness of himself as transient Originator. But once he was there for all to read, a model was in place for anyone to pirate. Ironically enough, no people, no institutions were better positioned for such piracy than those which hoped to claim legitimacy by descent from the past — nobilities, postcolonial elites, and so forth. The putative descendants of the Norman-French speaking barons who compelled John to sign the Latin Magna Carta in this way emerge, via Michelet's reversal of teleologies, as the rightful bearers of English nationalism's banners.
— A Life Beyond Boundaries by Benedict Anderson is out now
1. Translated by Peter Wortsman (Hygiene, Col.: Eridanos Press, 1987), pp. 61-3.
2. The term “official nationalism” was coined by Hugh Seton-Watson in his splendid Nations and States: An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism (Boulder, Col.: Westview, 1977). I adapted and enlarged upon it in my Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983; revised, enlarged edn, 1991), esp. chapter 6. In its nineteenth-century origins, this was the Machiavellian “policy nationalism,” by which dynastic states and archaic nobilities attempted to exploit, for their own survival, elements of the existing models (“creole-republican” and “ethnolinguistic”) of popular nationalism. The huge proliferation of nation-states that began after 1918 has encouraged almost everywhere the utilization by these states of the dynasts' policy instruments.
3. Edward F. Concklin, The Lincoln Memorial (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1927), p. 45.
4. Ibid., p. 44.
5. This implausibility is amusingly shown in the section of The Simpsons episode entitled “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” where Bart Simpson's little sister Lisa seeks advice from the statue of Railsplitter. Her voice is drowned by a hubbub of adult visitor requests: “I can't get my little boy to brush properly,” “is this a good time to buy a house?” “What can I do to make this a better country?” “Would I look good with a moustache?” Railsplitter's immobile silence upsets no one, A brilliantly witty analysis of this Simpsons episode can be found in Lauren Berlant, “The Theory of Infantile Citizenship.” Public Culture, vol. 5 (Spring 1993), pp. 1–16 (reprinted in Geoff Eley and Ronald Gregor Suny, eds., Becoming National: A Reader [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 495-508).
6. The ultimate model here is every country's national flag.
7. This aura is partly that of “great works of art” measured by the astronomical difference between their market prices and the prices of even the most skilful replicas. But Las Meninas has its own special glow. In the Prado, as I remember, it is the one painting with a penumbral room all to itself.
8. See, e.g., Reynaldo Clemena Ileto, Pasyón and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840–1910 (Manila: Ateneo de Manila Press, 1979), pp. 77 and 206-7.
9. The pilgrims come faithfully each Rizal Day, but no officials greet or speak to them, and no police are mobilized to drive them away.
10. By the 1860s, American governments had been, for more than a generation, elected by near-universal white male adult suffrage, and American armies were, in time of war, recruited by voter-citizen compulsory conscription. Thus politicians were intensely aware that the dead had been voters, or, if still teenagers, were provisionally destined to become voters; and that their male survivors were continuing to vote. The contrast with the situation during the War for (National) Independence scarcely needs underlining. Does this not suggest why the dead at Valley Forge were left unmarked?
11. The following section borrows heavily from Thomas W. Laqueur, “Memory and Naming in the Great War,” in John R. Gillis, ed., Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 150–67.
12. There were two impulses here at work, ruling-class arrogance and official nationalism. Wrote the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Works, “We must make every effort to make these cemeteries as attractive as possible, and prevent them from becoming eyesores on the countryside of France through the hideous effigies relatives often have a tendency to erect” (ibid., p. 155). But the compulsory absence of vulgarian “relatives” also ensured that the bodies remained uniformly “national property.”
13. Much of this paragraph is drawn from G. Kurt Piehler, “The War Dead and the Gold Star: American Commemoration of the First World War,” in Gillis, ed., Commemorations, pp. 168–85.
14. For a good history of the Panthéon, see Valérie-Noëlle Jouffre, Le Panthéon (Paris: Editions Ouest-France, 1994). The change took place in April 1791, following Mirabeau's death. The Constituent Assembly voted to place his remains in a site worthy of his heroic contributions to the Revolution. (Alas, he was summarily “depantheonized” in November 1793 when compromising documents about his political past were discovered.) Voltaire arrived in July 1791 and Rousseau two years later. Marat’s remains lasted only from September 1794 to February 1795, when they shared Mirabeau's fate.
15. Jouffre provides a list of seventy-one personages who have a tomb or urn in the Panthéon. Given the building's chequered history, it is not surprising that most of these flourished in the revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, and are today quite obscure. The revival of the Panthéon as a grand patriotic site came only with the Third Republic, especially by the interment of Victor Hugo in 1885. Later there followed, among others, Émile Zola, Jean Jaurès, Jean Moulin, and, most recently, Jean Monnet.
16. See Laqueur, “Memory and Naming,” p. 163.
17. Times Armistice Day Supplement I, Nov. 20, 1920, p. 1, as cited in ibid., p. 158. 18. So, in our time, has the black-granite, name-scarred “Vietnam Wall” in Washington, DC, before which people still cellularly weep.
19. This reverse teleology is what transformed the Great War into World War I, and made the state of Israel the ancestor of the Warsaw uprising. Hence there is no Originator of the nation, or rather the Originator is a ceaselessly changing, here-and-now, “Us.”