RIP Benedict Anderson (1935-2015)
December 14, 2015 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Benedict Anderson, author of the unbelievably influential Imagined Communities, is dead at 79. Born in republican China, died in postcolonial Indonesia, and in between, completely transformed our understanding of nationalism. RIP.
posted by idlethink (21 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:12 AM on December 14, 2015

As an International Affairs major in the 90s I can confirm that he was one of the really huge figures in the field; he and Eric Hobsbawm were the big figures explaining the theories behind nationalism movements.

posted by norm at 7:22 AM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by fizzix at 7:24 AM on December 14, 2015

posted by mustard seeds at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2015

posted by Cash4Lead at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2015

I can't tell you how many times I've recommended people read him; he was a huge influence on me and many others.

posted by languagehat at 8:04 AM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by chicainthecity at 8:36 AM on December 14, 2015

How readable is Imagined Communities? Does one need a lot of background or can the relatively educated layperson follow along without much difficulty?
posted by Falconetti at 8:39 AM on December 14, 2015

Its dense but pretty clear.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:40 AM on December 14, 2015

Oh, I've never heard of this - [google search]
B Anderson - ‎Cited by 61991

jesus CHRIST!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:31 AM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by Mister Bijou at 10:06 AM on December 14, 2015

posted by allthinky at 10:09 AM on December 14, 2015

@Falconetti: totally readable I think -- in any case for any average reader I do think it's worth taking a look at least the introduction chapter if nothing else, which sets out his definitions of nationalism and esp. the phrase 'imagined communities' - which might be one of the most cited, referenced and alluded-to academic phrases of all time (perhaps alongside the somewhat less useful 'always-already'? Trying to think of other famous academic catchphrases but failing at the moment...)

I also love his 2006 essay 'Census, Map, Museum' [pdf], which is a part revision/updating of his 1980s Imagined Communities thesis and contains some stimulating thoughts on how those three institutions of power help underpin the communal imaginings of modern nationalism.

AND if you are into this sort of thing (and why would you not be??) --

he also translated a hilarious early 19th century Javanese epic poem, the Suluk Gatoloco: a bildungsroman of sexual development, featuring, essentially, a Penis named Gatoloco and his companion scrotum, Darmogandul, who set off to see the world and gain entry to the hitherto unpenetrated cave of a dangerous adversary, a woman named Perjimati. Available for download in two parts here and here.
posted by idlethink at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:37 AM on December 14, 2015

some essays (and an interview) which have stuck with me:
-When the Virtual Becomes the Real: A Talk with Benedict Anderson
-Benedict Anderson: Western Nationalism and Eastern Nationalism
-From Miracle to Crash: Benedict Anderson on South-East Asia (more lrb)

[of note ernest gellner's nations and nationalism also came out in 1983 (consilience in the collective (un)conscious noosphere?)]

as for his intellectual heirs, while i'm inventing categories, check out:
-lev manovich
-chris crawford
-manuel delanda
-yuval noah harari

or just think about fandom now (or metafilter! a 'community weblog' ;) to the other end of the spectrum, like ISIS, and if you believe that the center cannot hold and nation-states will fracture and fragment into stephenson-esque tribal burbclaves and phyles -- with the attendant 'color wars' of reamde and seveneves -- give a thought to imagined communities; by allowing us to consider our group identities, interrogate our national mythologies and introspect the hive mind, benedict anderson has helped us 'loosen the grip of history' to free us from the past and make space for who and how we'd want to be.


posted by kliuless at 10:47 AM on December 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

Completing the trilogy of ground-breaking nationalism studies that came out in 1983, along with Anderson's Imagined Communities and Ernst Gellner's Nations and Nationalism is Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger's The Invention of Tradition.

I am a historian who looks at language and national identity. I've assigned Imagined Communities to juniors and seniors in undergrad and with some guidance and cheat sheets I find they can grok it, but yes it is dense. Anderson also likes to drop in quotes in foreign languages without translating him.

Oh, I've never heard of this - [google search]
B Anderson - ‎Cited by 61991

jesus CHRIST!

I think it might be impossible to overstate how influential this book has been in the humanities and social sciences. I was assigned it in three graduate seminars (in two different disciplines) as a grad student. Pretty much every book on nationalism or collective identity makes a nod to Anderson at some point. In the 2006 re-edition of the book, Anderson adds an afterword discussing the international reception and translation history of the book. A bit egotistical but probably warranted.

Imagined Communities is available as an audiobook, which is a testament to how widely-read (listened to?) it is.
posted by dhens at 11:02 AM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by one teak forest at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2015

posted by dhens at 11:05 AM on December 14, 2015

posted by migrantology at 11:11 AM on December 14, 2015

> I read Imagined Communities as an undergrad in the 90s, and it made nationalism - and most of the other isms I was trying to penetrate - infinitely more grokkable.

posted by cotton dress sock at 10:40 PM on December 14, 2015

The most loaned-out book I own.

posted by zaelic at 3:45 AM on December 15, 2015

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