Saturday, 9 April 2011

Imagined Communities

I thought I should probably read this, seeing as the people leading my History of Collecting seminar group always seem to be going on about it.  And it was interesting, and mostly well-written.  It was just quite pompous in parts, and there were occasions when it felt like the author had been ordered to liven up his text a little, and had complied by throwing in the odd exclamation mark where it wasn't really needed.

That said, I thought the link between 'print capitalism' (yeh, does that give you the idea of how the thing was staged) and nationalism was well documented and explored.  And the point that it's something we blame for things but don't often look at in any great depth is also a good one.

One other stylistic point that really, really annoyed me.  I've gone to great length to learn how to do footnotes properly (footnotes and I had a long battle during my first term, a battle which was decisively solved in my favour when I discovered that most supervisors don't insist upon them), and got told off for putting in discursive footnotes.  I complained that I was just copying what I'd seen done by other authors, which didn't really hold weight, and was told that footnotes are not the place to bung in additional information that kinda supports your argument.  Be that as it may, Benedict Anderson was using them as though he got a bonus point for every footnote.  I wonder why the blogger spelling checker doesn't like the word footnote, or at least, doesn't like it in some circumstances but is quite happy with it in others...  Sorry, random aside :)

Right, well, aside from being somewhat pompous in parts and having these terrible discursive footnotes that we history students must not in any circumstances allow ourselves to use, (oh for goodness sake, what's wrong with ourselves?!) it's actually pretty interesting.  And I guess it's one of those books that you bandy about to make the point that you are learned and all those wonderful things (now it's going after things, seriously, I think the blogger spellchecker machine has issues...  just going to turn it off, there, obtrusive yellow highlighting which has enabled me to double the length of this otherwise rather humdrum review has been vanquished).  I'm not sounding very positive, am I?  I actually enjoyed the book, though was irritated by the number of words I didn't know.  I do have a pretty reasonable vocabulary, and there wasn't a convenient dictionary while I was reading.  Meh.  Also, some of the illustrations used assumed knowledge I didn't have, and there was an assumed knowledge of language (one rather long paragraph in French had the attached footnote that the translation suchabody had done was unsatisfactory, without giving any sense of what the French bit actually said...  My French was just about good enough to figure what it was probably saying, but it was irritating).

The way he studied the growth of nationalism was interesting, the reasons given for its arrival in the New World before the old convincing.  It's quite an interesting book, and it's probably worth reading.  I read it in two days, so it was certainly an interesting one.  I still have Fritz Fischer's War of Illusions staring at me menacingly from under my desk with a bookmark maybe a quarter of the way through, and it's been there maybe two, three weeks.  It's not a perfect book (is there such a thing?), but it's interesting.

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