ahorbinski: a Chinese woman with her sword (read books practice sword)
Bibliographic Data: Karl, Rebecca E. Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

Main Argument: This book traces the development, in turn of the 20thC China, of a set of conceptual understandings that came to constitute the discourse termed "nationalism" and from which a potentially revolutionary, in both the literal and metaphorical sense of the word, understanding of China and its place in the world was temporarily articulated. For a time, Chinese intellectuals of the nationalist bent framed themselves in terms of their place in an alternate, non-Euro-American conception of a world order based on shared characteristics (i.e. not being white) and shared colonial oppression. NB: Karl's transcription system is…idiosyncratic at best, so I'm sorry if that causes confusion; I can't tell what she actually means in Pinyin most of the time.

You say you want a revolution/Well, you know we all wanna change the world )

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples Karl argues in her conclusion that modern diachronic history of nationalism is usually only written in relationship with either itself or the West, which is an invidious truth; she also notes that what she characterizes as a vision of modernity predicated on the recognition f global unevenness, rather than the supposed Western narrative of capitalist linearity, has repeatedly re-emerged and been submerged in China in the 20thC. It seems to me that the idea of "unevenness" is predicated on a Marxian critique of capital that is rooted in the prior existence of capital, so I don't really find Karl's argument inherently convincing on those grounds, though her book shows that alternate visions are possible, if always fragile, because emerging in an environment that is overdetermined in the exact opposite direction.

Critical assessment: This is overall a very good book, but it's marred for me by several persistent blindspots. For one thing, I wish Karl would tone down some of her jargon, a lot of which she simply doesn't need to make her arguments--there's no need to speak of "globality" when "the global" will do just as well. For another, like all world systems theorists, she just can't let go of capital, or really come to grips with the fact that capitalism as we know it today is historically contingent rather than inevitable. I also find it weird, in a book so concerned with non-Euro-American experiences of colonialism, that she writes "Hawaii" rather than "Hawai'i" (and it's not like this is unknown in academic circles; the University of Hawi'i Press writes "Hawai'i"). She's also bought into what I like to call the myth of globalization, namely the idea that "globalization" is something new and different on the world historical scene, which…it's just not. Certainly global economic connections are much, much broader and deeper than they have ever been, particularly in the form of global financial institutions and norms, but it's a laughable fallacy to think that a at least semi-globally integrated economy has not been with us throughout history: it has. Those connections thin and shallow over time according to historical events, but they remain, and I can't help but feel that if Karl had read Andre Gunder Frank or Janet Abu-Lughod, her book wouldn't be marred by that flaw.

Still, she says a lot of smart things, many also fairly provocative, and if she can't quite grasp the ways in which modernity structures her own understanding of "history" (paging Dipesh Chakrabarty), the book provides an excellent microscopic narrative of how nationalism emerges out of modernity.

Further reading: Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation; Naoki Sakai, Translation and Subjectivity; Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution; Angela Zito, Of Body and Brush; Tetsuo Najita and J. Victor Koschmann, eds., The Neglected Tradition
Meta notes: I think the only book that ever fully satisfies my preferences from a formatting and copy-editing standpoint will be my own.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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