The Making and Unmaking of National Identity in the Postmodern Age: The 50 Quintessences of Englishness


MILLI FOLKLOR, no.130, pp.44-57, 2021 (AHCI) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Journal Name: MILLI FOLKLOR
  • Journal Indexes: Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts, MLA - Modern Language Association Database, TR DİZİN (ULAKBİM)
  • Page Numbers: pp.44-57
  • Keywords: National identity, grand narrative, hyperreality, capitalism, folklore
  • Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University Affiliated: No


Postmodernism emerged as a critical response to the long-established assumptions concerning language, politics, history, culture, arts and literature in the midst of the 20th century, and promptly began to dominate the philosophical and cultural conversation. It was a paradigm shift in the history of philosophy marking an incredulity towards grand narratives on the grounds that they are not objective realities but human constructs, and their claim for reliability and truthfulness is to be put in question. This ground-breaking paradigm shift necessarily altered the ways individuals perceive themselves and the world around them, and motivated them to change their perspective and question their most fragile beliefs and realities. National identity is obviously one of those domains. Inspired by the changing perspectives towards the notion of national identity particularly in Western societies in the postmodern age, this article argues that national identity is a grand narrative constructed within and by language and suited to the interests of the dominant ideology and to the spirit and needs of the age, and folklore which plays a vital role in the construction, legislation and internalization of national identity cannot escape the dominance of language and ideology either. This article elaborates on this idea by interrogating the close affinities between national identity and capitalism in the postmodern age defined by late capitalism, and by depicting how national identity is captured within and by capitalism and is turned into a commodity that can be made, unmade and remade according to its use-value. In so doing, this article narrows down its discussion to the idea of Englishness, poses critical questions on the possibility of making and unmaking Englishness and attempts to answer these questions with references to Julian Barnes's 1998 novel England England. Barnes's England England is perhaps the boldest novel written in the postmodern age to picture how the 50 Quintessences of Englishness are literally taken up in a process of making and unmaking the national identity of England and reproduced in the form of a living theme park as a miniature of England. The grim irony of the novel lies in the fact that the capitalist reproduction of the 50 folkloric elements of Englishness as a theme-park rapidly masks the absence of English national identity and England as a profound reality and begins to perform as the reality itself. This replacement perfectly summarises the postmodern condition of the present age which the French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard associates with "simulation". Baudrillardian notion of simulation indicates the idea that there is no authentic reality but simply hyperreality in the postmodern age. Barnes's novel accordingly dethrones national identity as a grand narrative and punctuates its position as a hyperreality by presenting us different versions of Englishness each of which is made, unmade and remade to different ends in his novel.