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New Left Review 72, November-December 2011


pascale casanova

COMBATIVE LITERATURES

Nations’, wrote Marcel Mauss, ‘are recent things, far from having completed their evolution.’ [1] Marcel Mauss, ‘La Nation’, in Œuvres 3: Cohésion sociale et division de la sociologie, Paris 1969. Mauss’s anti-nationalist manifesto was published in 1920; despite his previous pacifist convictions, he had supported France’s participation in the Great War. The present essay is drawn from the introduction to Casanova, ed., Des littératures combatives: L’internationale des nationalismes littéraires, Paris 2011. They remain a tricky subject. Discussion often tends either to solipsism, dealing with single nations as self-contained case studies, or to denial: globalization, it is claimed, has mercifully transcended such obsolete categories. Rather than choosing between national settings or a global landscape, this essay will attempt to look at literary developments on a national scale, but from a global vantage-point or ‘promontory’, to borrow Braudel’s metaphor. [2] Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, Volume III: The Perspective of the World, London 1984, p. 19. And rather than taking nations and nationalisms as unproblematic facts, it will approach them as ‘cultural artefacts’, in Benedict Anderson’s term, constituted by belief in a collectivity as a primary form of identification. Mauss spoke of this as ‘national credit’, emphasizing that it is a circular system: ‘Collectively, the citizens of a state form a unity in which belief is held in the national credit; other countries have confidence in this credit, to the extent that they believe in that unity.’ [3] Mauss, ‘La Nation’, p. 590.

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