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March 18, 2008

Works For Me

Though I suppose misunderstandings are inevitable given the short-sighted deontological emphasis so sadly prevalent in today's world:

On the matter of Jeremiah Wright, conservatives remain encased in an adamantine literalism. From the perspective of either deconstructionism or postcolonial theory, Wright’s utterances are neither controversial nor disturbing. Lack of general familiarity with these critical discourses accounts for the deep-lying anti-Wright bias of both the blogosphere and talk-radio. The conservative misdirection here parallels the literalist condemnation of Paul de Man.

Let us invoke Homi Bhabha’s encomium to Franz Fanon (Location of Culture, Chap. 2), including Fanon’s meditations on the liberatory effects of anti-European violence. As with Fanon in Bhabha’s gaze, Wright appears as the purveyor of a transgressive and transitional truth. His voice is most clearly heard in the subversive turn of a familiar term, in the silence of a sudden rupture: (not God bless America but...) God damn America. This line of thought keeps alive the dramatic and enigmatic sense of change. That familiar alignment of colonial subjects — Black/White, Self/Other — is disturbed with one sharp reversal, and the traditional grounds of national identity are dispersed. It is this palpable pressure of division and displacement that pushes Wright’s sermons to the edge of things — the cutting edge that reveals no ultimate radiance but, in his words, an "audacity of hope."

Through repeated sonic replication (which Wright surely anticipated, having released the sermon on DVD), the phrase is effectively broken up, or opened up, in a moment of Lacanian jouissance, migrating, so to speak, from God damn America into God(d) am(n) America. The evident echoing of late-capitalist discourse-games (Toys "R" Us) turns God Am America into what is simultaneously a discreet invocation of early-American providentialism, an appeal to business interests, and an identificatory excursus on the Illinois subaltern.

Spivak is no less apt on the problem of literalism (Spivak Reader, Chap. 9). The denial of contingency is a particular loss on the matter of Wright. Deconstruction has taught us that taking contingency into account entails the immense labor of forging a style that seems only to bewilder. On Wright, we must question staying within the outlines of rational agency and instead give a hint of postcolonial heterogeneity in opposition to the impoverished conventions of mere reasonableness. That "high" register, where sermonic production is in the same cultural inscription as the implied listener, cannot be employed for the epistemic ruses of the South Chicagoan subject.

In short, from the standpoint of deconstruction and postcolonial theory (and only from that standpoint), Wright’s remarks are undisturbing, and in fact most welcome. Since the most eminent universities in the United States have consistently valorized these discourses it follows that (unless you’ve got a problem with deconstruction or postcolonial theory — and how could you possibly?) Wright is to be commended. To be sure, the aporias of Wright’s populist discourse are more implicit than in deconstruction or postcolonial theory. Yet in substance (insofar as substance can be attributed), Wright’s views and those of scholarly theorists are quite similar. If anything, the theoreticians are more radical. Obama’s ability to act as both the revelatory sign and unifying signifier of the discourses of Harvard or the University of Chicago, on the one hand, and the demagoguery of South Chicago, on the other, ratifies and validates his location in culture.

Posted by Cassandra at March 18, 2008 07:58 AM

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Can I get a "Huh?" here? :)

I know it's a spoof of de-constructionism by Stanley Kurtz, and that just proves how impenetratably dumb the whole excercise is.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 18, 2008 09:01 AM

Deconstructionism is a wonderfully pleasant diversion for a young mind -- what fun to think about the problems of language, and difficulty in communication!

At some point, though, we have to get back to the real problem: solving those problems, and fixing those difficulties as well as we can. Ultimately, if the only lesson learned is that it is hard to commmunicate, or that words can have multiple meanings, you have not taught someone something useful. You've only attacked their capacity to use, and believe in, Reason; and you have likewise undermined their ability to participate in any reasonable method of resolving social problems. For if language cannot be relied upon to carry my meaning, what can do so unmistakably?


Posted by: Grim at March 18, 2008 09:13 AM


Barny Song Grim. That's more violent than the sound of two howitzers.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 18, 2008 09:55 AM

From the perspective of either deconstructionism or postcolonial theory, Wright’s utterances are neither controversial nor disturbing.

Well, yes, I guess when looking at things from the perspective that, whatever it is, it's America's fault, nothing that the good Reverend has said would be controversial or disturbing.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 18, 2008 10:36 AM