Media @ McGill

Christopher Gutierrez | On the Material Imagination of The State

Submitted by hive on
English

Originally published in 1914, HG Wells' essay "The Ideal Citizen" marks the starting point of this research. Tracing out a distinct historical period - from the beginning of the First World War and the height of modernism to the beginning of the War on Terror and a distinct postmodernist period - this research follows larger humanist and biopolitical projects as they structure and guide state formation and development during the last century. The mapping out of these particular historic moments allows for a contrasting theoretical framework; between modernist ideal citizens and postmodern exceptional citizens (Puar, 2007), between pushes towards Universal human rights and critical challenges to the very nature of the Universal (Zizek, 2000) and between the material imagination (Bachelard, 2005) and social imaginaries (Taylor, 2004). The first area of interest for my project is the citizenship gap (Brysk and Shafir, 2004) between the universal coverage imbued in human rights discourse and the privileges afforded to actual documented citizens of existing and legitimized states. This gap, which also arises in academic theorizing on the state that favours either the material flows of goods and services above the social flows of culture and language or vice versa, the social over the material, points to the failure of a post World War II project to place distinct rights on not just citizens of states, but on the actual human subject itself (Agamben, 1998). The failure of the project originates in, at least, two sites: the hegemonizing function of the Universal subject that is reflected by and incompatible with the subaltern subject and the simple reluctance of actual states to sacrifice their own sovereignty in the service of the Universal.

This failure simultaneously illuminates my second area of interest in the theory of imagined communities. Within the social sciences, it has long been accepted that the nation is as much a social construction as a political one (Anderson, 1983). This acceptance has pushed the imagined quality of the state to the forefront of research, even to the point where, "...the use of the "term" imagination may well have become part of an emergent anthropologic normativity." (Axel, 2003, p. 112). Reconsidering the citizenship gap will allow me to formulate a distinct challenge to this normativity as it clearly demands a serious inquiry into the material effects of the state. My intervention here will be grounded in Gaston Bachelard's proposed theory on the material imagination, whereby "...this amazing need for penetration which, going beyond the attractions of the imagination of forms, thinks matter, dreams in it, lives in it, or, in other words, materializes the imaginary" (Bachelard, 2005, p.37). This theoretical intervention hints at a particular feed-back loop that connects the material formation of the state to the imagined and demonstrates the ways in which the imagined community in turn constructs the material state. Ultimately then, the goal of this research will be to develop a theory of the material imagination of the state itself.