Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Old Question

Just going to post my response to this article in todays Guardian Online as I thought it was probably worthy of becoming a fully fledged blog post...


"This is disingenuous, because Orwell's patriotism was the patriotism of a homogenous England under threat from Nazism."

I suggest Genevieve reads The Myth of the Blitz by Angus Calder.

This article raised mixed feelings in me. There has been a marked 'Anglocentric turn' in the last few years, by which I don't necessarily mean a beery, let's-thump-foreigners, siege of Harfleur kind of thing but an anxious reappraisal or taking stock of what we might still be allowed to celebrate for its 'Englishness'. The thing is, we had exactly the same thing at the end of WWII- perhaps Genevieve should go and study some neo-romantic/ English surrealist poetry and painting to see just how 'homogenous' the country was then in terms of the significations that it produced. Then, as now, there were a multitude of possible Englands and 'Englishnesses' (I'm from the County Durham/ North Yorks border and you only have to drive for an hour to Leeds to find a different landscape, different accent, different sense of humour, different attitude to money etc etc).

I think the stock-taking is inevitable (the debate about St George's Day has rumbled on for decades now) and productive as long as it manages to privilege an anti-corporate, environmentalist logic over a nationalist one. What is disturbing about it is the way in which it does seem to have introduced a new basis for snobbery (cf. the Observer's extremely Anglocentric food porn supplement- most of the 'locally sourced' ingredients would cost 75% of the average weekly income!) It does sometimes seem that the people who would sneer at any celebration of national identity five years ago have co-opted it as their own now.

However, it's all well and good for people like Genevieve to get all phenomenological on the idea of Englishness, but the way in which she goes about it seems to infer that there is an ontological basis for national identity in other countries which there isn't here. I would like to think that it is possible to be both open-endedly inclusive and celebratory of 'heritage'. Furthermore, the whole argument seems to be predicated on the notion that everyone except Genevieve accepts the symbology (or, perhaps, the symptomology) of Englishness as given, and a pure predetermination of 'who' we can be. She seems to be saying that the iconography of the past can only ever be one kind of mode of address, that it necessarily constructs us as a particular kind of 'English' subject. Surely there is room for a celebratory play of these significations which, whilst not being ironic or kitschy, is still detached enough to put up some kind of resistance to the ideological interpellation of a homogenously English identity? Can't everyone partake? Is it wrong that I, and many, many others, would rather be drinking outside a traditional village pub than in a fun pub off the A1? Is it wrong to suggest that the 'popularity' of places like Bluewater came about precisely because they were all people were offered by Thatcher and her quangos? Is it wrong to suspect that the thrill of neophilia which drew people to such places is now wearing off and that people from all class backgrounds are now thinking locally both in their consumer activities and in their political ones?

Genevieve probably needs to give her head a shake- this is clearly a muckraking, devil's advocatish article designed to push all the right buttons of bloggers and CiF types. Is there a piece of serious work in the offing here which examines the 'new Anglocentrism', or is this rentaquotism of the worst kind?

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