October 23, 2006 – Benedict Anderson: “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Nationalists between Cosmopolitans and the Sticks, or, The Curious Reception in Thailand of Tropical Malady”

Sunday, October 22 / 7:30 PM / Classroom Unit 1
Tropical Malady (DVD Projection)

Monday, October 23 / 4 PM / Oakes Learning Center
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Nationalists between Cosmopolitans and
the Sticks, or, The Curious Reception in Thailand of
 Tropical Malady

Anderson discusses the difficulties encountered by Bangkok intellectuals when the film Tropical Malady won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2002. A film regularly regarded with uneasy puzzlement in the metropolis is nonetheless quite comprehensible to upcountry folk. It provides the occasion for some reflections on the contradictions of “global culture.”

NOTE: In addition to the Sunday screening, Tropical Malady will be available throughout the fall quarter, on reserve in the McHenry Library Media Center.

Tuesday, October 24 / 4 PM / Oakes Mural Room
Early Globalization and the Struggle against High Imperialism

The seminar is based on Anderson’s latest book, Under Three Flags (Verso, 2005) and reading should be completed in advance. The reading, material from Under Three Flags on “elementary space-time buckling” in the age of early globalization, will be available at the Center for Cultural Studies or by email request (cult@ucsc.edu). Anderson will frame the discussion with a brief introduction, focusing on the technological advances, primarily the telegraph, which created the bases for coordinated global coalitions of different enemies of imperialism in the period between 1885 and 1914. Considering the nature of these coalitions among colonial nationalist revolutionaries, transnational anarchist groupings, and the liberal press, Anderson will conclude with what he calls “some tentative parallels with the present conditions we endure.”

BENEDICT ANDERSON has long been recognized as one of the world’s most influential scholars of Southeast Asia, beginning with his seminal articles on the 1965 coup and massacres in Indonesia. His later work included studies on Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, and in 1983 he published Imagined Communities, which, as all of our readers know, introduced an enormously productive range of concepts and approaches to cultural, literary, and historical studies of nationalism, identity, political economy, and ideology. Anderson’s approach to the nation is like no one else’s, taking in such diverse determinants as mass print media—especially the novel and newspaper—temporality, and utopianism. On the one hand, for Anderson, without shame there is no nationalism: “If you feel no shame for your country, you cannot be a nationalist.” (Anderson himself has, like many other theorists of nationalism, an international background. Born in China to an English mother and an Anglo-Irish father, he spent part of his youth in California, studied in England and the U.S., and did many years of research in Indonesia and Thailand.) On the other hand, he comments, “I must be the only one writing about nationalism who doesn’t think it ugly. I actually think that nationalism can be an attractive ideology. I like its Utopian elements.”

This contradiction animates all of Anderson’s work. His latest book, Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (Verso, 2005), features a multinational cast of characters, including key figures in the Cuban, Puerto Rican and Filipino independence movements, and traces the origins of a single compelling phrase, “el demonio de las comparaciones,” borrowed from José Rizal, Anderson’s longtime inspiration and genius loci, as the name for the kind of haunting or double vision that underwrote early nationalism. Anderson began The Spectre of Comparisons (Verso, 1998) with that phrase, and he complicates it, along with the imagined community and the role of vernacular media central to it, in Under Three Flags. He describes the book as “an experiment in…political astronomy. It attempts to map the gravitational force of anarchism between militant nationalisms on opposite sides of the planet.” The book is innovatively transnational in a number of ways, not least of which is its consideration of anarchism, whose formative revolutionary internationalist character has been hitherto under-analyzed in the U.S. academy. Although Rizal, a hero of Filipino nationalism, is a central figure, Anderson’s book shows that nationalism is a construct adaptable to many circumstances and that even the most beloved local revolutionary hero may be the product of transnational forces, marching under several flags. Rizal’s worlds thus constitute, for Anderson, “the age of early globalization.” The various phenomena he tracks illuminate our own period’s “long-distance nationalism” and “email/Internet nationalism,” and provide considerations of global modes of revolutionary change as well.

Anderson’s lecture and seminar continue this inquiry into the mutations—spatial, temporal and ideological—of nationalism, cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, and internationalism, and what they mean for and about the present. His lecture on the Cannes prize-winning, avant-garde Thai film Tropical Malady reveals unlikely, and sometimes comic, new limits to transnational comprehension among today’s cosmopolitans. It focuses on the contradictions in its “reception” back home, where villagers understand it easily, while “transnational intellectual elites” are bewildered (how can both the villagers and Cannes agree, leaving us out?), and on the difficulties of combining “global cultural chic” with “representing the modernity of our beloved nation.”

This event is part of two projects. It is the last of three in a multi-phase series on temporality and comparative U.S. studies, co-sponsored by UC Santa Cruz and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Santa Cruz phase was supported by the Center for Cultural Studies, the IHR Research Unit Cuba in Americas and Transatlantic Contexts, and the Department of Literature; the Madison phase was supported by the Department of English and the Jean Wall Bennett Symposium. It also forms part of the yearlong lecture/seminar series in the final year of the Rockefeller-funded Other Globalizations program at the Center for Cultural Studies.