Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation / Edition 1

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This far-ranging and ambitious attempt to rethink postcolonial theory's discussion of the nation and nationalism brings the problems of the postcolonial condition to bear on the philosophy of freedom. Closely identified with totalitarianism and fundamentalism, the nation-state has a tainted history of coercion, ethnic violence, and even, as in ultranationalist Nazi Germany, genocide. Most contemporary theorists are therefore skeptical, if not altogether dismissive, of the idea of the nation and the related metaphor of the political body as an organism. Going against orthodoxy, Pheng Cheah retraces the universal-rationalist foundations and progressive origins of political organicism in the work of Kant and its development in philosophers in the German tradition such as Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. Cheah argues that the widespread association of freedom with the self-generating dynamism of life and culture's power of transcendence is the most important legacy of this tradition. Addressing this legacy's manifestations in Fanon and Cabral's theories of anticolonial struggle and contemporary anticolonial literature, including the Buru Quartet by Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's nationalist novels, Cheah suggests that the profound difficulties of achieving freedom in the postcolonial world indicate the need to reconceptualize freedom in terms of the figure of the specter rather than the living organism.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Interventions - Baidik Bhattcharya

Cheah's text is one of those rare occasions where scholarship and political commitment become supplementary to each other.

Research in African Literatures - Gregory Jusdanis

Cheah does a superb job in outlining the organic and ultimately cultural forms the struggle for freedom has taken.

MLN - Matthew Scherer

Pheng Cheah traces a constellation of concepts...with confidence


The book offers a coherent argument against inherited theories of "organismic vitalism"...and evinces the literary idiom of postmodernism.

Cheah's text is one of those rare occasions where scholarship and political commitment become supplementary to each other.

— Baidik Bhattcharya

Research in African Literatures
Cheah does a superb job in outlining the organic and ultimately cultural forms the struggle for freedom has taken.

— Gregory Jusdanis

Pheng Cheah traces a constellation of concepts...with confidence

— Matthew Scherer

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231130196
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 12/17/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Pheng Cheah is assistant professor in the department of rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley. He is co-editor of Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Thinking through the Body of the Law and Grounds of Comparison: Around the Work of Benedict Anderson (forthcoming).

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Death of the Nation?Part I: Culture as Freedom: Territorializations and Deterritorializations The Rationality of Life: On the Organismic Metaphor of the Social and Political BodyKant's Cosmopolitanism and the Technic of NatureIncarnations of the Ideal: Nation and State in Fichte and HegelRevolutions That Take Place in the Head: Marx and the National Question in Socialist DecolonizatonPart II: Surviving (Postcoloniality) Novel Nation: The Buildung of the Postcolonial Nation as Sociological OrganismThe Haunting of the People: The Spectral Public Sphere in Pramoedya Ananta Toer's Buru QuartetAfterlives: The Mutual Haunting of the State and NationThe Neocolonial State and Other Prostheses of the Postcolonial National Body: Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Project of Revolutionary National CultureEpilogue. Spectral Nationality: The Living-On of the Postcolonial Nation in Globalization

Columbia University Press

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