Is the nation—that famed “imagined community” Benedict Anderson theorized back in 1983—the best way we have to imagine belonging to something greater than ourselves? Notwithstanding Anderson’s grave historical inaccuracies in accounting for nationalism in the Americas or his over-reliance on print culture as the means by which nationalism was promulgated (Chatterjee 1993; Lomnitz-Adler 2001; Castro-Klarén and Chasteen 2003), what continues to make his anthropological theory compelling is its emphasis on the discursive nature of the nation (it is imagined) and its profoundly affective orientation (it causes people to feel and act on a wide array of emotions). It’s a way of imagining oneself belonging to a community where one will never meet everyone in that community, where that community is limited and not universal. Born of necessity, out of pain, in coming together as a nation, the imagined community redeems itself and that painful past, cementing the cathartic, emotional bonds even further. Thus, the imagined community “invents” an imagined past with its origins in antiquity, narrating its history of travails leading to the redeeming moment of the nation’s coming into being.

This essay may be found on page 147 of the printed volume.

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