On the other hand, the fall of colonial power and the rise f new nations began a new phase in human history; the post -colonial search for definitions and identities. Neither the World Wars nor the decentralization Of nations were singular, one-time events, they kick-started long, difficult chains of socio-political change that were marked by events like Liberation Wars, Civil Wars, Communist Movements and the Cold War.
Thus the 20th century witnessed not only independent events, but the beginning itself of a process of redefinition. If the events like the birth of new nations and the World War realigned the map of world politics, then the process they Egan was one of reconciliation. Over the last 1 20 years or so, reformers and thinkers have tried to reconcile three basic sets of contradictions or oppositions; that between the East and the West, that between the past and the present, and that between tradition and modernity.
For some, the contradictions overlap, for others they are orthogonal. To many, traditions and the past seem synonymous, while to others, surrounded by traditions, they are very much a part of modernity, of the present. Amidst these oppositions (and sometimes, binaries) of many kinds, as in all periods of inflict and searching we have a rich body of 20th century poetry, representing both the East and the West, the new nations and the old, that try to make sense of changing world around them.
In this essay, I shall try and focus on how 20th century poetry confronts and attempts to resist, or at the least critique, one of the most problematic and powerful concepts of this new, changing world; Nationalism. A good place to begin this discussion would be the works of Arbitrating Étagère (1861-1941 not as a poet, but as perhaps the most influential socio-political theorist of ‘Indians’ as we understand it. Étagère was writing extensively on Nationalism, in both his fiction and non-fiction, at a time when the idea of Nationalism was still a vague one at best to the leaders of the Indian freedom movement.
Étagère recognized the need for a ‘national’ ideology of India as a means of cultural survival and, at the same time, recognized that for the same reason, India would either have to make a break with the post-medieval Western concept Of Nationalism or give the concept a new content. For Étagère, Nationalism itself became gradually illegitimate. As Ashes Andy observes, “Over time, he observes in his works, the Indian freedom movement ceased to be an expression of only nationalist consolidation; it came to acquire a new stature as a symbol of the universal struggle for political justice and cultural dignity. Étagère probably realized that an unseal-critical Indian Nationalism was gradually coming into being, primarily as a response to Western Imperialism, and, like all such responses, shaped by what it sought to respond to. Such a version of Nationalism could not but be limited by its time and origin. Etageres fear of nationalism, then, grew out of his experience of the record of nit-imperialism in India, and he attempted to link his concept of ‘Indians’ with his understanding of the multi-cultural Indian civilization rather than a clinically defined Indian nation.
As Andy puts it, “(Étagère] did not want his society to be caught in a situation where the idea of the Indian nation would us persuade that of the Indict civilization and lifestyle, where the actual lives of Indians would be assessed solely in terms of the needs of an imaginary nation-state called India. ” What was Etageres starting point in this matter of Nationalism against civilization? Does this relate only to colonial India, or will the analysis hold true even for an independent society ruled by its own nation-state, either created by the fall of colonial control or simply realigned by the impact of the World War?
A post-World War Germany, for instance, was in need of redefinition and reconciliation of immensely problematic socio-political binaries as much as a post-liberation East Pakistan, as marked by the rise and success of Doll Hitler in Germany, and on the Bash Andiron and subsequent Liberation War of Bangladesh, 1 971. Étagère addresses these issues of change and reconciliation of the society estranged from civilization by ideas of Nationalism in his brief essay Nationalism (191 7), where he does not focus on India alone, but comments on the general nature of the nation-state itself.
Étagère distinguishes between “governments by kings and human races” (his term for civilizations) and “governments by nations” (his term for nation-states). He explicitly generalizes his critique Of Nationalism by saying that “government by the Nation is neither British nor anything else; it is an applied science. It is universal, impersonal, and for that reason completely effective. In his defended of the ‘traditional’ civilization against ‘modern’ nationalism, Étagère says, “l am quite sure in those days (pre- colonial era) we had things that were extremely distasteful to us.
But we know that when we walk barefooted upon ground strewn with gravel, our feet come gradually to adjust themselves to the caprices of the inhospitable earth; while if the tiniest particle of gravel finds its lodgment inside our shoes, we can never forget and forgive its intrusion. These shoes are the Nation; they re tight, they regulate our steps with a closed-up system, within which our feet have only the slightest liberty to make their own adjustments.
Therefore, when you produce statistics to compare the number of gravels which our feet had to encounter in the former days with the paucity Of the present regime, you hardly touch the real point… The Nation forges its iron chains of organization which are the most relentless and unbreakable that have ever been manufactured in the whole history of man. ” Étagère reminds his non- Indian audience too, that the dangers of Nationalism are as potent in the European nations as in the colonized Afro-Asian countries.
He comments, “Not merely the subject races, but you who live under the delusion that you are free, are every day sacrificing your freedom and humanity to this fetish of Nationalism… It is no consolation to us to know that this weakening of humanity is not limited to the subject races, and that its ravages are more radical because it hypnotizes people into believing that they are free. ” Early 20th century poetry, specifically those written during the World Wars, demonstrate the acute awareness of this “delusion that [you] are free” in
European and American poets. War Poetry provides a unique and powerful space for poetic creation; the battlefield. Both literally and figuratively, the battlefield acts as the perfect ‘otherworld’, a margin without any conception of what it is to demarcate, what it is to separate from what other, because the war itself is an act of defining the lines; geopolitical and socio-cultural. Consequently, the field of war makes it possible for poetry to create a new communicative index for ideas of Nationalism that both drive and are defined by the act of war.
It often becomes essential for the war poet to critique the artisan nature of Nationalism, because the sense of disillusionment is more potent in someone who has actually served in the war, and it becomes difficult for ideological Nationalism to control their expression of doubts, in this case in the form of poetry. We find a clear articulation of this skepticism in the poetry of Philip Edward Thomas (1878-1917), one of the major Anglo- Welsh war poets during the World War l.
In his poem This Is No Case Of Petty Right Or Wrong, he writes, “This is no case of petty right or wrong/That politicians or philosophers/ Can judge. I hate not Germans, nor grow hot/ With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers/ Beside my hate for one fat patriot,’ My hatred of the Kaiser is love true-I A kind of god he is, banging a gong. ‘ But I have not to choose between the TTY. ‘0/ Or between justice and injustice. ” Thomas wrote this poetry after a famous public argument with his own father, a conventional patriot who demonic the Germans.
His main problem with the strand of Nationalism his father represents is its tendency to reduce any international rivalry to a binary to black-and-white, the tendency of martial British Nationalism during the World War to define itself almost exclusively based on the ‘tethering’ of the rival. Thomas was a British soldier himself, and died in service during the Battle of Arras, France, 1917. So when he uses poetry as a communicative medium for his understanding of martial, patriotic identity, it is understandably based on personal experience of the soldier’s life.
What Thomas is articulating here is that the soldier’s loyalty is neither unconditional nor a fragmentary concept, it is based on an objective understanding of own position visit a visit that Of an enemy solider; the loyalty of the ‘other to his own cause must be considered equivalent to the loyalty of the ‘self. Nationalism banks in on the alienation of this ‘self from the ‘other,’ and nowhere does this indoctrination become more visible than in martial training.
Ashes Andy, in Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Étagère and the Politics of Self (1993), explains this attempt to understand the ‘other’ with reference to the character of Knishes in Etageres Share Barrier. Andy says, “Knishes believes that God is manifest in one’s own country and must be worshipped… [but] by the same logic, God must be manifest in other countries too, and there is no scope for hatred of them… Such a manipulation [of the conception of a demonic ‘other’] requires, Étagère implies, symbols embedded in an exclusivity cultural-religious idiom… His form of populism combines mob politics with realities. ” The patriotic Nationalism that Thomas is finds so acutely disturbing is nothing more than this same populism, this manipulation of a multi-cultural society, utilizing certain common ideas of hatred and xenophobia for an external enemy, to unite them in a shallow, brittle conception of a Nation ‘to be proud of. ‘ One might remember, in this context, a much later poem by the Bengali poet Shasta Psychotherapy (1933-1995) called Dud Shunned.
Addressing the idea of the binary, albeit from a more domestic, personal perspective, Shasta writes, “They go two ways, they go two ways/ Nobody goes just one way/ They want to keep TVВ»’0 lives apart/ Not lose a single one/ It’s hard to find someone/ Fettered in from four sides/ By walls, running away/ From whatever is not/ All day, all night, I sit watching this game/ My heart is split into two, and they remain/ In two separate voids. ” (The actual word is sunny which denotes ‘zero’, ‘nothing and ‘void’ in Bengali, adding to the richness of the concept explored here. Why this perception of the binary through a shift to the personal is important (as in Sheath’s poem) will become clearer later as we progress. To return to World War poetry, however, this sentiment of confronting the binary and engaging with the ‘other’, echoing a moment of revelation when the soldier looks through the thin shroud of Nationalism and sees in the ‘other’ a variety of similarities (or at least, possibilities of engagement), is articulated by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) in his famous poem Strange Meeting.
In his poem, two rival soldiers meet after their deaths on he same battlefield. Their martial, Nationalistic ‘otherness’ has been wiped out by the greater, more complete ‘tethering’ of death, and they confront each other and understand, for the first time, that they have not been so different after all. The same machinery, the same deception had blinded them into believing what the Nation required them to believe, and it took their deaths to make them realize that. “Here is no cause to mourn… Save the undone years/ The hopelessness. In a powerful moment of revelation comes the final stanza, the potent, almost bitter understatement, “l am the enemy you killed, y friend/ I knew you in this dark; For so you frowned/ Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed. / I parried, but my hands were loath and cold/ Let us sleep now. ” There is a sense of reclaiming the personal from the institutional in both the poems we looked at, in Thomas’ poem through the recognition of the father’s blind faith in a system that had no guiding principle but hatred and denomination, in Owens poem through death.
Owen returns to this cynicism towards the ideas of glory and martial pride that help militant Nationalism define itself in a later, much darker poem, Dulcet Et Decorum Est, tit the bitter rebuke, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old lie. ” Looking at Nationalism as the “old lie” is perhaps more potent in the case of war poetry because soldiers are the ultimate constructs of this partisan, martial patriotism, and their perspective of what a war really signifies reduces these binaries to their bare minimum. It is sweet and right to die for your country is one of such ‘old lies’ that the soldier’s training makes him internalize; his preference to the country over his life signifies the triumph of Nationalism, he defeat of the personal by the socio-political, by the National. The suppression of the basic, evolutionary human tendency towards self- preservation by an ideology of Nationalism could not have failed to disturb a sensitive poet like Owen.
Perhaps the most openly cynical and bitter articulation of this resentful break from the idea Of oppressive Nationalism appears in the poem Here Dead We Lie by Alfred E. Houseman (1859-1936). In this two stanza poem, Houseman communicates the classic idea of martial sacrifice in the first stanza, then completely undercuts it in the second; “Here dad we lie/ Because we did not choose/ To live and shame the land/ From which we sprung] Life, to be sure,/ Is nothing much to lose/ But young men think it is/ And we were young. The logical question that should arise at this point is; if Nationalism is to be critic due, its problematic notions of martial sacrifice and denomination to be met with cynicism, what then should the focus be shifted to? How can the soldier (or the common civilian, for that matter), disillusioned with the created binaries of Nationalism, redefine his or her own understanding of value systems that are intricately connected to ideas of freedom, bravery and loyalty? The answer, once again, is pointed out by Étagère; the personal self, not the political nation, should be the touchstone for social identity.
Towards the end of his life, we find Étagère trying to analyze the rise of fascism and the World War II, and growing steadily more cynical about social constructs that try to categorize and compartmentalize individual identity. If in Nationalism (1917) he values human civilization above political nationalism as a basis of social unity, in the much later essay Crisis In Civilization (1940) we find him rejecting civilization itself to search for a much more basic identity of the human self; “Once was lost in the contemplation of the world of Civilization.
At that time, I could never have remotely imagined that the great ideals of humanity would end in such ruthless travesty… As I look around I witness the crumbling ruins of Civilization herself. And yet shall not commit the grievous sin Of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in history. ” As we move further towards the end of the 20th century and pass into the 21st, we find a shift that takes us further away from the critique of
Nationalism as we found in World War poetry; we find additional attempts to define ones poetic self in the times of war and conflict based on a predominantly human understanding of the nation, rather than any ideology of Nationalism. This sentiment is echoed very closely in John Million’s idea that “every man [should] be his own church”, as opposed to putting one’s faith in the dictates of the Church as an institution. This Nation as Institution versus Nation as Personal Perception is what has become a crucial debate in current critiques of Nationalism. Hall briefly discuss some contemporary poetry to monastery this shift of focus. A good example of this shifting focus to the individual rather than the nation is the Egyptian-American poet Yah Allahabad’s What Is To Give Light (2011 written in response to the early phases of the Arab Spring. Allahabad tries to find a poetic expression of how a single fruit-seller’s suicide by self-immolation in Tunisia sparked off what would become a remarkable youth movement across several Middle-Eastern countries, decades of pent-up anger, resentment and impatience finally spilling over to topple the autocratic regimes in nation after nation.
Yet Allahabad in his poetry does not look at different nations coming together in a chain of events, he focuses instead on the singular, inherent human spirit of freedom as it moves through the superficial nations boundaries; ‘h,’Even words lose their meaning/ And an entire people their voice/ So they can neither laugh nor scream/ Death and life begin to taste the same/ From Tunis to Egypt, from Lebanon to Yemen/ The light from a burning man proved catching/ And those with nothing to lose or offer, but bodies/ Fanned the embers of their single hope into a blazing dream. This shift of focus to the arsenal perception of Nation IS articulated more clearly in G. Arab Sander’s Arabic poem Being In Nothingness (2003), written as a response to the atrocities and war crimes during the LOS invasion of Iraq. The poem itself does not have much new to say, reiterating old ideas of unity, fight against racism and mutual compassion. However, what is interesting is the poetic voice of Sandra in this poem, especially the shift in his perception compared to his earlier poetry.
Some of these earlier works on similar themes are poetic recreations of verses from the Quern, appealing to an essentially Islamic virtual identity to locate one’s inner courage in confronting evil. For instance, in Live In The Seventh Hell (2001 ), he adapts some of the prayers (Dud) from the Quern into poetry; “l am a warrior/ In a leap of fire, I break your limbs/ One by one/ Far from anger, disarmed by strength/ I patiently wait for Time/ To undo you/ Allah free the soul/ live in the seventh hell/ I burn in the seventh hell/ rise in the seventh hell/ Allah free the soul. Breaking with this Islamic voice, in his 2003 poem, Sandra shifts his expression to a more individual, Nan-institutional critique Of violence itself; Do you know the moments?… Let is when humans kill each other/ In the name of God/ Against the very spirit of each religion/ Based on skin color and beliefs/ It is when masses are hoodwinked/ By the machinery of their own elected masters/ Its when your beloved ones set off/ In an endless voyage and invincible destination/ And you, my brother, cannot help them. As Sander’s attack shifts from ‘Evil’ as defined by a particular religion to ‘evil’ as his individual human mind perceives it, so does his conception of what his socio-political and poetic identity signifies. Keeping with Etageres 1 940 essay, e find the human perception being valued in poetic assessment of the Nationalism, valued far above either civilization or the politically defined nation-state.
This would be a good time to point out that not all the poets we have discussed are consciously attacking Nationalism through their works. These poets have in mind other immediate notions they are writing against; violence, war crimes, racism, sexism, xenophobia, communism, poverty etc. That their poetry is actually resisting the all-pervasive institution of Nationalism often remains beneath the surface of their immediate poetic unconsciousness.
This, in my opinion, makes the evaluation of their poetry as critiques of Nationalism all the more legitimate. Nationalism, like most socio- political institutions, manifests subtly through other, more visible instruments of oppression. To take a stance against Nationalism through poetry therefore requires an understanding, at once, of both the nature of these visible instruments and of the underlying institution that holds them in place.
Nationalism as an institution makes itself invisible, because like any other institution of power and control, it needs to remain outside the sphere of lily engagement to efficiently exert control on its subjects. George Orwell (1903-1950) points out this subtle, manipulative nature of Nationalism, inseparable from ideas of power dynamics, in Notes On Nationalism; “By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions Of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
But secondly -? and this is much more important -? mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no there duty than that of advancing its interests… Nationalism is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality. Thus, we can see why a gradual shift to looking at the Nation as a personal perception, as we have discussed earlier, becomes necessary in resisting an institution that seeks to “sink [the subject’s] own individuality. ” What then, should follow a poet’s shift to personal perception in his or her resistance of Nationalism? A creation of an alternate space, an alternate communicative index, becomes necessary, because the poet’s prerogative is not to counter an institution with another, but to exploit the gaps in the institution itself, creating a voice that, above everything else, resists.
Resistance itself becomes an important tool in asserting the individual identity against the restraints of an institution; just as an institution is in the constant process of imposing and restraining, the act of successful resistance itself too should remain constantly dynamic and prevent coming a stagnant counter-institution itself. We have looked at poetry in the times of war and conflict so far, but to understand this resistance more clearly, poetry written in times of apparent peace should be investigated.
In times of war, the institution of Nationalism becomes more visible, and war poetry has the advantage of addressing it more directly than most other genres of writing. However, in times of ‘normalcy,’ the institution is as subtle as it can be, and poetry of resistance needs to be the most penetrative, the most acutely sensitive, to address and critique this system. One such recantation of the poetry of resistance we will turn to here is Unbar Patriarchy (1948-2014), the Bengali writer who remained, for the greater part of his life, committed to revolutionary and radical aesthetics.
In resisting the machinery of the nation-state, Unbars literature remains one of the touchstones, both in its radical, often subversive content and its unorthodox style, among practitioners of Bengali literature. In his most famous poem Ii Impurity Pothook Mar Desk Ana, he articulates his idea Of the nation as personal perception, “This valley of death is not my nation/ This hangman’s Rena is not my nation/ This expansive cemetery is not my nation/ This bloodstained butcher’s yard is not my nation/ I will take back my nation again… Will not make peace with the alcohol poured over the back whipped bloody in the torture chamber/ will not make peace with the electric shocks to the nude body, the ugly sexual torture/ I will not make peace with being lynched to death, the gun firing into the skull at point blank range/ Poetry overcomes all/ Poetry is armed, poetry is free, poetry is fearless/ Look at us, Makeover, Hickman, Neared, Argon, Onward/ We have not let your poetry go o waste/ Rather, the whole Nation is now trying to form itself into an Epic/ Where all the rhymes will be composed in the rhythm of the guerilla warriors. Such is the personal imagination of the Nation for a poet who, when asked about his most prominent ideological belief, said, “l am no longer anthropocentric in my belief system. ” It is Unbars break from thinking of the ‘self as a structural and functional unit of an anthropocentric system that allows him the space to look at personal perception as unrestrained, uncorroborated and truly individual. It is not just violence Unbar is critiquing n this poem, but the very act of defining the Nation (and consequently, Nationalism) on instruments and events tainted by this violence.
Poetry, here, defines the self for Unbar. He looks at himself, above everything else, as a practitioner of poetry; “This is the correct time for poetry/ Pamphlets, graffiti, stencils/ I could use my blood, my bones, my tears to create a collage/ Of poetry right now/ At the shattered face of the sharpest pain/ In the face of terrorism, looking calmly into the headlights Of the Van/ I could throw poetry into their faces right now/ Whatever the murderer possesses, the memories f ’38 or anything else/ could deny and write poetry right now. If his self, whose “blood, bones and tears” are inseparable from the act of writing poetry in his imagination, has to create a personal perception of the Nation for himself, that perception will invariably be characterized by poetry too. In other words, Unbars poetry is not attempting to reclaim the Nation as such, but is trying to bring his personal perception of the Nation into the same sphere as his perception of himself; both as poetry.
While his “blood, bones and tears” form a collage of poetry, the Nation too, is trying to “form itself into an Epic”; a union of the Nation and the self through the common identification of both as poetry, within the poet’s imagination, is achieved. This is not inconsistent with his radical and revolutionary ideas, because we find elsewhere in his poetry an expression of the poetic self becoming the revolutionary self, once again, through the potentially destructive power of creative imagination; ‘When the wind is drunk with the smell of blood/ Let poetry go up in flames like gunpowder…
Let the burning torches of poetry/ Let the Molotov cocktails of poetry/ Let the toluene flames of poetry/ Crash into he desire of this fire! ” The idea of the Nation-within-the-Self appears again in the poetry of the Bangladesh poet Shamans Raman (1929-2006), especially in the well-known Buck Tar Bangladesh Horrid.
Much more direct in his idea of Nation as individual perception, he maps his nation, Bangladesh, within the body of a young boy; the ultimate effect is not one of personification of the Nation, but a reduction of the Nation to something that lies within, and not outside, individual understanding; “And he walks out naked into the highway, on his bare torso/ The sun scribbles unique slogans/
He walks at the head of the rally like a hero, and suddenly/ The hundreds of guns that patrol the streets of the city/ pepper with bullets not Nor Hussein’s breast, but the breast of Bangladesh herself/ Bangladesh cries out like a deer trapped in a burning forest/ And the blood keeps pouring out, out of her body. ” The poetry of Normalized Gun (1945- ) follows quite similar themes, placing the identity of the Nation within individual consciousness.