Story as a National Unifier
In "What is a Nation," Ernest Renan sees the nation as an ancient dynasty and long, overdrawn past that establishes unity amongst various populations through the brutality of history. He suggests that, "Forming a nation is like giving life to a body whose heart and brain have been removed." The dialogue, according to Renan, of a nation involves forgetting the brutalities and memories of the past.
He provides a normative argument, showing how the concepts of geography, religion, and language, the components which encompass a nation, do not necessarily define it. Geography creates artificial boundaries for a nation through mountains and rivers. However hegemonic nations such as the United States have influence beyond their own superficial borders. Language calls for reunification, but cannot ask a people to inherently connect. The exchange of ideas is useless if the collective consciousness does not agree on the ideas communicated. Religion and ethnicity are simply extensions of the social group. He claims the nation is a 'moral conscience' and a 'community of interests.' "We love the house we have built and leave in inheritance," he writes, " ...a nation is a soul, a spiritual principle made by history, will, consent, and value of heritage."
If Renan is correct in that heritage and shared 'imagined' suffering makes a nation, why are stories used as a unifier? The heritage and tradition is invented by the nation to spawn a sense of shared tradition and heritage through storytelling. Nationalism is encountered through entertainment and spectacle.