Emotions, identity, literature and national mythology: Bidirectional bonds

Nikolay Aretov.

Identity inter-weaves with the emotions of its bearer, both individual and group. Identity defines emotional attitude towards other people (be they 'own' or 'alien'), towards social and natural environment, towards the world as a whole.

On the other hand, emotional attitude determines the identity. This attitude could be spontaneously occurring, but very often it is culturally conditioned, and purposefully designed.

National identity is dynamic structure that has emerged relatively late and was superimposed on earlier identities (tribal, kinship, territorial, religious) and carries the associated emotional relations in the new (national) context. Wide range of items related to emotions can be found in the national identity. These elements are both positive and negative. The events that cause emotional reactions may be people and events of the past and nowadays, elements of natural and social environment, etc. As a rule this attitude is complex, ambivalent, one of its poles corresponds to the accepted (imposed) social norm, the other pole, which is in discord with the norm, is suppressed and pushed to the unconscious.

National identity as a deliberately designed structure forms in its bearers emotional relations, inspired by the ideologists of nationalism. These suggestions, reduced to a clear dogma on the surface, set up a specific secondary mythology that shapes the consciousness of its bearers and objects through different mechanisms of social impact. If identities are constructed for us by the discursive practices (Stuart Hall), a national mythology is exactly this kind of discourse that forges notions about the 'own' that could be perceived as Self-Categorization (J. Turner).

Postulates of national identity can take the form of imperatives like "Love your motherland!" Very often they are formulated in another way that replace imperative with allegations expressed by claims in first person (single or plural) or in impersonal form. Such statements are similar and operate (through repeated ritual) as spells. Although they often directly name desired emotion, this is not mandatory. As a rule, especially in more recent times, these postulates are calling for positive emotions from the semantic group of love, although they presuppose negative emotions directed towards the 'enemies'. Nineteenth century knows no such political correctness.

Even the most obvious spells, at least in the field of nationalism, need justification. It comes from the mythical truth carried by different narratives. They are most explicitly displayed in textbooks, especially for primary grades, where reading directly illustrates postulates declared in the title. In 19th century original formulation of the mythical truth can spring in texts from all sorts of genre. In the 20th century seems to have priority texts claiming to be part of humanitarian discourse (dominant or alternate).

Attitude towards 'own' is also ambivalent. It has both positive side attached to the norm and another, informal, some of its manifestations can be considered in the context of the so-called cultural intimacy (Michael Herzfeld). The most obvious Bulgarian example is probably Bay Ganyo.

Ambivalent attitude to the 'own' contains some negative elements. Their designation may indicate a trauma, frustration caused by some kind of lack (including lack of heroic deeds), inferiority complex. Trauma and shame can be pushed to the unconscious, but can also be productive as a cohesive element and as search for compensatory actions or verbal structures.

There exists an emotional complex, which grow up long before the Liberation - the elegiac feelings caused by the juxtaposition between the glorious past, which is absent and modest present. Sad feelings may be specified explicitly, using different names i.e. grief. They coexist with enthusiasm, and during different periods of different authors put different meaning in the notion of the glorious past.

Along with the dominant positive attitude to the 'own' is combined with suggesting for negative emotions to the 'others', to the enemy. The 'enemy' is a complex and dynamic category that covers various groups embodied in various pieces - the Byzantines, Turks, fascists ... In various periods national mythology puts different accents, there are also competing options.

Emotional attitude is not restricted to opposition love - hate. It may take the form of indulgence, jealousy, etc. As a rule if it is not necessarily ambivalent, at least complex and contains different elements - the hatred and jealousy, love and admiration, etc.

Analysis of "emotional content" implies a distinction between emotional and rational. However, something may be perceived by the subject as rational but in fact to be pseudo-rational; deeper unconscious motives that are more emotional could be found underneath. Such pseudo-rational motives are particularly typical for national identity. Indeed, in this case, most if not all elements have an emotional pseudo-rational explanation - pride of the glorious past and hatred of the enemies always has its (pseudo) rational motivation in history; completely understandable attachment to the 'own' territory also similarly finds pseudo-geographically motivation.

Analyzing the emotional content of national identity may be more productive when the emotions they are considered within the familiar oppositions (Robert Plutchik).

The Bulgarian National Revival concluded with three events, which respectively provoked satisfaction, anger and again satisfaction: the March 1878 Treaty of San Stefano, which albeit on paper created a Bulgarian state, fully meeting the requirement of congruence between nation and state; the July 1878 Treaty of Berlin, which "dismembered" the Bulgarian state created in San Stefano; and the September 1885 Union with Eastern Rumelia, which joined at least one of the lost territories to the Bulgarian Principality.

In our presentation we investigate how the contemporaries of these historical events actually underwent them, which feelings of anger and satisfaction they experienced, and to what extent these nationalist feelings were contaminated with pragmatic feelings of a less romantic nature.

Basic emotion

Basic opposite


Advanced emotion

Composed of ...
Anticipation + Joy
Joy + Acceptance
Acceptance + Fear
Fear + Surprise
Surprise + Sadness
Sadness +Disgust
Disgust+ Anger
Anger + Anticipation

Advanced opposite

It is possible to use one another, more complicated classification that includes shades of primary emotion. (W. Gerrod Parrott)

Emotional content of national identity is structured around several key elements:

- Definition of the 'own', largely through excluding the 'other', which is combined with negative evaluation of the alien and positive - of the own. Primary forms of that distinction known from pre-nationalistic times are associated with clothing and other items of appearance (tattoos, ornaments, hairstyle), and especially the food, the prohibition of some foods and resolving other. These elements may look archaic, but in recent decades, they fact, acquire a new relevance.
Neighbouring groups regarded as 'own' according to pedigree, are often presented in a negative light because of conflicts caused by territorial proximity. Thus, Bulgarians and Serbs who often fought in the past presented one another negatively despite their alleged common Slav origin. That not only does not exclude, but even suggests ambivalence of the emotional attitude.

Differentiation from the 'other' as a rule is associated with disgust and loathing (in a soft option - disregard) of their customs, clothing, food. Conversely, emotional attitude towards the 'own' is of adoption.

- Narrations of origin. As a rule they are associated with pride for the antiquity of the own origin and a wide range of negative emotions to 'primordial' enemies. Narrations of origin set some basic ideas about the 'own', which as a rule have several competing versions.

- History - heroic and traumatic events.

- Pantheon of secular heroes and saints.

All three are associated with feelings from oppositions like admiration (pride) - contempt and, of course, love - hate and their nuances, and ambivalent overtones (e.g., hatred and contempt are combined with attraction).

The concept of the 'own' and its associated emotions build more complex structures, which also enter into some kind of oppositions. The main opposition is Messiah complex - inferiority complex. At some level they are probably always presented, but in different proportions.

At first glance it seems that national mythology is built primarily on the basis of narrations about the glorious deeds of great ancestors, mostly victories, but also about peaceful creation, be it material or spiritual. Another issue is that one event, depending on perspective, can be seen both as a victory, as well as defeat. Stories of glorious deeds are supplemented by narratives of suffering and traumatic events that glue the community through other mechanisms, in which emotions play a crucial role. Some change of approach and the ratio between victories and defeats can be traced after the emergence of nation-state, through its institutions nation-state not only builds and maintains the national mythology, but also gives it a much more systematic nature where the positive should dominate, at least on the surface. However, the importance of trauma remains high and this could be detected with the naked eye.

There is one specific secondary emotion associated with historical myths; after Nietzsche, Max Scheler and many others named it ressentiment. This in turn has a direct connection with the so-called Occidentalism (Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit).

Emotions like ressentiment may associate not only with foreign oppressor, but also with the 'own'. They can be caused by unrealized heroism and other not particularly praiseworthy deeds. As a rule, the memory of them and related emotions was pushed to the unconscious. As the memory of these events and emotions generated by them is not fully deleted from memory, various compensatory mechanisms appear to explain and justify them.

Religious affiliation (including confessional distinctions Orthodox - Catholic - Protestant) is undoubtedly one of the key elements of identity, including national, and its emotional content. Religion is associated with ideas of the 'own' past, but it is not limited to them. Religious institutions consciously form a wide range of emotional attitudes through ancient, but more or less adapted to modern times mechanisms. Consciously or not, these mechanisms have been introduced in secular ideologies.

Relationship between myth and postulates is bidirectional - the mythic narratives not only illustrate the postulates, they can serve as the basis which led to the formulation of new postulates or at least new variations. For its part, the process of forging national mythology also do not stick to historical chronology, this process is contextually conditioned but even closer to the reverse chronology - myths about almost contemporary persons and events seem to emerge first, later attention head back in time, more elaborated genealogy appears after the construction of the idea of the 'own'.

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Literature is a major tool for creating, transmitting and storing identity and related emotional attitudes. It has the advantage that quite accurately documents national mythology, and sheds light on the mechanisms by which mythology is forged and on ideologist's designs.

Considering the emotional content of Bulgarian national identity in literature one ought to distinguish at least three similar but not identical things. One is the expression of emotions of the characters and speakers in the text, the other is the emotions of the author introduced in one way or another, and third is an incentive to certain emotions that the author consciously (or unconsciously) introduces in the text. Literature, which is dynamic and volatile, can carry more direct stimuli (in earlier periods or in open propaganda works or in texts aimed at a wider audience), but can contain also more sophisticated suggestions.

When examining the emotions that the author is expressing or implying one must attempt to understand whether they are 'spontaneous' or culturally or ideologically conditioned or the author just follows some trend characteristic of the time. It is generally believed that the latter is inherent in journalism, which "follows the steps of the winners", also to official historiography, but all areas of literature, including private correspondence, are not immunized against such trend.

It must be taken into account and how the bearer of emotion (more precisely speaking the person who expresses it verbally in text) is an individual or collective, i.e. whether he or she speaks on its own behalf or on behalf of a group. One has to analyze the mechanisms by which the speaker (author or character in the text) legitimizes its claim, and to what extend the others (again, both within and outside the text) recognize him this claim.

Key data sources for understanding emotional content of national identities are texts related to important contemporary events - such as wars, coups, etc. Another important source of information is the presentation of significant events from the past in various types of texts (historiographical, journalistic, literary, and private), which are invariably linked with / or generate certain emotions. It would be fruitful also to examine texts from different areas that occurred relatively synchronously and were linked to one event viewed from different perspectives.

The dynamics of perception of the past is particularly interesting object for observation, including from the perspective of emotional content. It takes many forms. In some cases, changes are made gradually concealed and obvious reactions are relatively tiny and hardly noticeable. In other cases, the revision of the ideas about the past (or actions which can be viewed in a similar light) give rise to fierce debates (i.e. the Batak Project). Scrutinizing emotional content of national identity it would be useful to review such disputes for a longer period of time, ideally - for the last 100-150 years.

Analyzing the presence of emotions related to national identity in various texts can start with establishing a set of keywords or phrases necessarily considered in their context, distinguishing emotions associated with nationalism, from emotions generated by other motives and stimuli. More interesting, at least for literary scholars would be to focus on emotions and stimuli that are not at the surface of the text and on their ambivalent overtones. They could be traced in different layers of the text: authors choices of specific types of environments and subjects, the presence of 'other' in them and designed by the author reactions to it; introduction into the plot of objects and intangible markers (e.g. songs), relating to foreign and different.

Political journalism, literature, historians and humanitarian scholars forge and express emotional content of national identity. But one key sphere for investigation is everyday life from the past and nowadays. One of the richest and most interesting sources is the anecdotes and other forms of non-conventional folk-lore. In this field the problem of sources of information is particularly difficult and delicate. Not because there are no sources, on the contrary, they are numerous; even in respect of the recent past (19th - 20th centuries) the problem is to what extent they reveal an authentic state (more or less illusory, imagine) and to what extent they are also directly or indirectly affected by ideologues, without bearers of emotions to be aware of this.

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On the other hand, the literature, especially in later periods and in more sophisticated works, can undermine, subvert or deconstruct national (and each other) mythology. In such cases, dominant emotional complexes are also problematized. Academic texts, of course, can make and do the same, but their impact is more limited and can reach a wider audience only through intermediaries - media, political journalism, rarely - textbooks. A typical way in which these problematic and subversive ideas reach wider audience are through their opponents in the media, often very loud and passionate.

Centripetal forces of nationalism in literature and other arts are often supplemented by centrifugal forces which problematize and undermine social norms and canons. Sometimes they may be present in the works of the same authors, even in the same texts. Among the most prominent advocates of nationalism one can detect signs of centrifugal forces - the rejection of the national collective as an ideal community, the conflict between lonely individual rebel and national statuesque, etc.

Tags: Workshop 2009