Yes, my book came out ages ago, but no, that doesn’t mean it’s stopped being reviewed. This month, Nations & Nationalism – the world’s leading journal of nationalism studies – has featured it and, amazingly, they like it:
“An entertaining read that will aid nationalism scholars in considering how myths of everyday nationhood are received and felt of as significant”
Blimey! I thought academics would annihilate it, so the review’s incredibly pleasing to read. That’s only one line of the 800-word review, which also talks a lot about my “innovative research method” (talking to the composers and poets behind anthems), and situates my book in an more academic context making it sound incredibly intellectual!
Huge thanks to Eviane Leidig from Oslo University’s Centre for Research on Extremism for reviewing it.
If any academics read this and want me to come in and chat with their students, get in touch.
Adrian gave me one of the best podcast experiences I’ve had, taking me back to my childhood school in the London suburbs to stand in pouring rain (that wasn’t his fault) and explain where my love of music came from, doing a full, fascinating interview about the book, and even getting me to do a reading.
In the episode, he also goes out on London’s streets to ask people what their anthem would be. And he tells a brilliant story about his (white, lower-middle class, British) parents trying to write Nigeria’s anthem when it became independent.
It’s a real fun and interesting listen. And few podcast presenters go to such efforts, so, seriously, head here to hear it.
Adrian’s done some amazing other podcasts on everything from the Fire of London to Bob Marley’s London home, so check out other episodes if you can. Huge thanks to him if he’s reading.
Before picking that up, I already knew Slovenia’s anthem had an insane story. Its original author was France Prešeren, a 19th century alcoholic who spent most of his life infatuated with a woman who didn’t love him back no matter how many poems he dedicated to her.
In 1844, he wrote one of those, a drinking song called A Toast (Zdravljica). There’s no doubt it was meant for getting drunk to. Prešeren wrote the verses so they looked like a wine glass, while its very first lines are, “Friends! Again the vines bore well / Let sweet wine liven our veins.”
But mixed in among the calls to drink were bouts of national sentiment like this: “God, let your Slovene girls bloom…There are no maidens more comely than ours.” Ok, bad example, but you get what I mean.
Were those lines enough to make it the natural choice to become Slovenia’s anthem following the Soviet Union’s demise? Apparently not. Instead, the reason A Toast became the anthem is apparently entirely down to Lačni Franz.
In 1987, the band recorded a parody of the song that repopularised the poem across the country and practically forced its adoption as the anthem two years later. God knows if that’s true, but this clip certainly shows people loving it. Dance Slovenes, dance!
Slovenia’s politicians disappointingly ignored all the drinking verses when they made it the anthem and went for this one instead:
Long live all folk everywhere
Who long to see the day
When wherever sun may roam
Strife holds none under its sway
Then all people, everywhere
Will be free
Not enemies, but dear neighbours
Yes, it’s an odd choice given it makes no reference to Slovenia, to that country’s landscape or its people. There’s nothing nationalist about it at all really. It’s like a country decided to take Michael Jackson’s Heal the World for its anthem.
Personally, I think it’s great for that, but if you want to read the political reasons behind that move, pick up ‘Identity and Nationalism in the Balkans’ (or order it at your local university library). The reasoning is just as bizarre as anything above.
Anyway, I should shut up – this post is already far too long! Here’s some more Lačni Franz for you.
The ‘For Corsica’ party won over 35% of the vote, which explains why their leader, Gilles Simeoni, looks so happy in the picture at the top of this post.
So should the people of the Mediterranean island stay part of the motherland or seize the day and go it alone?
Well, this blog believes there’s only one way to decide a matter of such importance: by looking at whose national anthem is better! And sorry, Corsicans, but your ‘anthem’ is not a shade on la Marseillaise. In fact, it’s awful.
If will hopefully take you all of about 5 seconds of listening to that to realise it’s a monastic hymn and an ancient one at that.
It was written in 1675 by a young Italian, Francis of Geronimo, and is meant as a love letter to the Virgin Mary. Here’s its first verse:
God bless you, Queen
And universal mother
By which one rises
What’s that got to do with Corsica? Absolutely bugger all! But there were a lot of Corsicans in Naples back then and they one day turned it into a bizarrely religious and solemn cry for independence – most likely due to its final verse which asks the Virgin to “give us victory over our enemies”.
So yes, it has been inspiring people for several hundred years. Gilles Simeoni even sung it to celebrate his win. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping. It doesn’t have the excitement of la Marseillaise. It doesn’t have that anthem’s great melody either. It doesn’t even have its gore or its blood. There is no contest. Corsicans, find a new one quick!
One of the big dogs of nationalism – the academic who came up with the term ‘imagined communities’ – died this month.
You should read his most famous book, now over 30 years old. It’ll make you think differently about your country; every country in fact. Here’s its main segment on national anthems – oddly, one of the book’s few paragraphs that is undeniably positive:
In an age when it is so common for progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love. The cultural products of nationalism – poetry, prose fiction, music, plastic arts – show this love very clearly in thousands of different forms and styles.
On the other hand, how truly rare it is to find analogous nationalist products expressing fear and loathing. Can the reader think immediately of even three Hymns of Hate [national anthems]?
Even in the case of colonised peoples, who have every reason to feel hatred for their imperialist rulers, it is astonishing how insignificant the element of hatred is in these expressions of national feeling.
Clearly he wasn’t as obsessed with anthems as I am. I can easily think of more than three hateful hymns. Take Algeria’s, which features lines like, “O France, your day of reckoning is at hand”, or read the final chapter of my book and learn about any of South America’s and just why they’ve stopped singing multiple verses.
But, yes, clearly if he had been as obsessed, he wouldn’t have written such a groundbreaking, thought-provoking work.
Simplify the Ukraine-Russia conflict to such a point it makes it seem like you’re taking Russia’s side
Sing some more
Offend everyone in Cornwall
Announce you have a pasty chest
With all that in mind, here’s a talk I did about nationalism that’s just been broadcast as part of Radio 4’s excellent Four Thought programme.
It’s a bit different from my usual book chat, but if you’d like some of that instead I was also on Monocle magazine’s Weekly show this week and you can listen here.
It features lots of really great questions about foreign policy, which is nice and they also say some lovely things about my book, which is even nicer!
I’m on from 13 minutes and straight afterwards is an amazing interview with the founder of Mubi, and there’s also a brilliant one about hip-hop and fashion to round things off. Basically, listen to it all, and then subscribe as, like Four Thought, it’s always an amazing listen.
Finally, yesterday, I did my first ever book talk! A proper one. Like for an hour and everything. It was a lot of fun, even the bits when I seemed to end up DJing national anthems, and seemed to go down really well so drop me a line if you’d like me to do one for you too. Call the Newham Bookshop (who booked it) or the Wanstead Tap (who hosted it) if you want an objective review!
I’m next at Birmingham Waterstones on 26 November, 7pm, in case any of you are nearby. Come! Singing not obligatory!