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  • Introduction: Novel beyond Nation
  • Jernej Habjan

Today, the classical conjuncture between the nation and the novel seems to be challenged by the persistence of the novel despite the crisis of the nationalist social bond. According to Benedict Anderson, “nationalism’s most creative and influential theorist” (Hollinger 116), the national community is imagined in two forms: the novel and the newspaper. The novel turns the pre-modern cyclical time into the Benjaminian empty, homogeneous time of the calendar (Anderson 24), which means that newspapers are novels without plot, “one-day best-sellers” (35). Building on Anderson, one might say that the novel empties out the majestic We into the anonymous we, and that the newspaper flattens the cyclical time of religious and dynastic imagined communities into today. However, while nationalism is being increasingly replaced by post-nationalist identity politics, the novel is not being sublated by any new form. While the tombs of unknown soldiers, Anderson’s ingenious representational equivalent to one’s unknown national compatriots (9–10), are being overshadowed by monuments to living American presidents erected by emerging identity communities as part of their politics of recognition, Mikhail Bakhtin’s diagnosis of “novelization” (6) as the fate of all genres seems more topical than ever. In short, while everyone is talking about the post-national times, no one argues for post-novelistic times—not even the contributors to ‘New Imagined Communities,’ a recent collection of essays in which Péter Hajdu regards Anderson’s Imagined Communities as “brilliant” (129).

On the contrary, while Hajdu’s acknowledgment of Anderson is enforced by the idea that “[t]he breakdown of the nineteenth-century nation state is somewhere between the Schengen Agreement or the wall on the Mexico-US border and non-transparent walls of smart residential areas,” the chapter, since it is written by “a literary scholar” (131), concludes with a literary example, which, to be sure, is a recent novel. But this is indeed a general development: many recent histories of post- or transnational literature [End Page 347] are to a large extent histories of the novel. The novel is the hero not only of Franco Moretti’s history of the long century of European nationalism, but also of Peter Hitchcock’s history of the “long space” of postcolonialism (Hitchcock 1–43); the novel is the paradigm not only of Fredric Jameson’s concept of “national allegory” (Jameson, “Third-World” 69), but also of Paul Jay’s “transnational turn” (Jay 1). For Jameson’s (in)famous outline of the “third-world literature” of Eastern colonies (“Third-World” 65) and Moretti’s by now equally (in)famous sketch of the “world literature” of Western colonizers (“Conjectures” 55) could have easily specified their “literature” as novel; but the same goes for Hitchcock’s long space and Jay’s transnational turn, as the former designates four postcolonial novelistic tri- and tetralogies, and the latter, the post-2000 novelistic canon. Moreover, around the time Hitchcock and Jay published their respective books, Jameson and Moretti, too, wrote books, on realism and the bourgeois, respectively (Jameson, Antinomies; Moretti, Bourgeois), that in effect are grounded in the novel—just as, say, Pierre Bourdieu’s The Rules of Art is a reading of Flaubert, and Pascale Casanova’s Bourdieusian World Republic of Letters is accompanied by monographs on Beckett and Kafka; Hitchcock’s and Jay’s, however, may be the purest examples of studies that acknowledge both the ubiquity of the novel and the transnationalist response to nationalism. In other words, there exist accounts of the withering-away of the nation-state in a time when one would search in vain for an account of the decline of the novel form; quite the opposite, discourses on the hegemony of the novel are themselves almost hegemonic, and probably rightly so.

Finally, beyond the academic canon, the book market is flooded with paperback airport novels, ghost-written autobiographies, novelizations of blockbusters, in short, novels as commodities, which finally brings us to the moment in Anderson’s theory that allows us to bridge the gap between the persistent novel and the decaying nationalism, namely “print-capitalism” (Anderson 18). Print-capitalism is the one massive feature shared by the rise of the...


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pp. 347-352
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