Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Place & Identity

Wonsaponatime, as the poet said, my village defined me, then it was my tribe, then my state, then my country. In the impermanent global flux, does it matter any more where I'm from, where I'm going? As Cory Doctorow has it, do we belong to where we are, or do we belong to Eastern Standard Tribe? (He provides provoking downloads of this provoking book at his site)

Ann over at Instapundit rails that a decision by the Honorable Justice Rehnquist supposedly is anti-states rights. This is another example of an all-too-common parochial view, one that tends to produce vitriol, war and jingoism. States' Rights are valid, in a certain state of mind. I prefer to think of myself as a humanist, although I have an affinity for Texas, California & Laputa, having lived in all of the above.

Nowadays, who I am is related to where I am. My identity is formed by the history of my place of birth, and where I grew up, but my current location creates an affinity that I must adhere to, often at the cost of my place of naissance.

Being post-colonial (I was born and raised in India), I feel this acutely. Time Magazine had an article a few years ago on Indian English writers (like myself) - The Empire Writes Back. But more on post-colonialism later.

To be on the web further dislocates the identity from the location. Everyman is everyplace. The reader can be in the mind, and in the place of the writer. Transnational perspectives are the only ones that apply any more. Robert Cooper expands on this idea in his compact and powerful book, The Breaking Of Nations.
Cooper argues that two revolutionary forces are transforming international relations: the breakdown of state control over violence, reflected in the growing ability of tiny private groups to wield weapons of mass destruction, and the rise of a stable, peaceful order in Europe that is not based on either the balance of power or the sovereignty of independent states. In this scheme, the Westphalian system of nation-states and power politics is being undermined on both sides -- by a postmodern Europe and a premodern world of failed states and post-imperial chaos.

Ref: Thomas Hardy, In Time of "Breaking Of Nations"

Tennyson presaged this in The Idylls of the King,
There at the banquet those great Lords from Rome,
The slowly-fading mistress of the world,
Strode in, and claimed their tribute as of yore.
But Arthur spake, `Behold, for these have sworn
To wage my wars, and worship me their King;
The old order changeth, yielding place to new;
And we that fight for our fair father Christ,
Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old
To drive the heathen from your Roman wall,
No tribute will we pay:' so those great lords
Drew back in wrath, and Arthur strove with Rome

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader