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The National Writer

Is there such a thing as a national writer? And, by nation, do we mean a country, a kingdom, a continent, county even? Samuel Beckett famously said that he would rather live in Paris in wartime than Ireland in peacetime - and he did; but could the Irish really ever claim him as one of their national writers? France remain incredibly proud of him and claim him as an 'international' writer. But what of Joseph Conrad? He wrote great English literature - yet he was Polish. And writers like Orhan Pamuk are almost disowned by their country (Turkey) whilst here Shakespeare IS England - his birthday and death day falling on that most patriotic day in the English calender, St. George's Day, even though there is no evidence to back this up - it is certainly more convenient in Shakespeare TM being associated with the national saint's day! I have been reading Renan's What is a Nation, a lecture given at the Sorbonne in 1882. Renan asks whether religion, geography, or language make a nation, dismissing each as constructs until concluding a nation is a 'spiritual principle'. Then I moved onto the more recent Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson who, as the title rather suggests, asserts that nation is an imagined construct made by communities of people who usually don't even know each other, will never even meet. It is an interesting question that could go on and on. It is also interesting as the idea of nations runs alongside the emergence of capitalism and the age of enlightenment and is, of course, propogated through the written word, helped by the invention of the printer. Which nation do you identify yourself as belonging to? What are the cultural characteristics? What literature is representative of your nation?

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