August 25, 2009

There's A Riot Going On

"What are we to make of a scientific materialism which formally accepts the findings of physics about matter, yet makes so little effort to link these findings with the class struggle, revolution, or whatever. Does not the abyss between proton and the proletariat conceal an unacknowledged metaphysical conception of man?" — Benedict Anderson in a footnote to Imagined Communities (p10 in my edition).

At first glance this is an absolute riot of category errors (and the context doesn't save it). At second glance it's hard to make enough sense of it to know whether they're really category errors or not. But never mind: this is a frustrating book, but one I keep reading. And reading it is like reading a map prepared by someone who navigates to a completely different (even hidden) set of stars (Marx, Gellner, et al); it's like unearthing a time capsule from a long-vanished era and having to struggle to remember some of the cultural, philosophical, and political references that Anderson must have assumed we'd all get or at least recognise as Important and Relevant (itself a word of its time…). In short, a book that seems colonised by the time and place of its writing.

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