So my one week “holiday” starts today and it starts with me analyzing the Declaration of Independence. Oh Joy. This is part of an assignment my professor feels will help me better understand my poli sci research. I thought I might share some of the interestingness just because I feel the desire to talk (or type)…
It begins with Jacques Derrida, the Algerian-born father of deconstructionism. After spending an hour reading his text on the Declarations of Independence I make a shocking discovery: I have no frikin clue what the hell he’s talking about. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered him and I know what to do. So I read it again. And then again. And then again. Each time gaining some thing that I missed. Anyways, you know when you think of something, like for example a saying, and then suddenly someone says it to you and you’re like “whoa, I was just thinking of that”, and it’s usually not something that everyone is thinking about all the time or saying all the time. Well when I finished the reading I started to draw my own conclusions and the phrase that popped in to my mind was “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”. I took a small break to surf Jordan Planet and Jad Madi had a post entitled “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” (apparently it was the egg; who knew?)
In Declarations of Independence (as far as I understand it) he looks at the act of the American founding fathers signing a document. He says:
It is the “good people” who declare themselves free and independent by the relay of their representatives and of their representatives of representatives. One cannot decide – and that’s the interesting thing, the force and the coup’ of force of such a declarative act – whether independence is stated or produced by this utterance….Is it that the good people themselves have already freed themselves in fact and are only stating the fact of this emancipation in [par] the Declaration? Or is it rather that they free themselves at the instant of and by [par] the signature of this Declaration?
now here’s the interesting part…
The “we” of the declaration speaks “in the name of the people.” But this people does not exist. They do not exist as an entity, it does not exist, before this declaration, not as such. If it gives birth to itself, as free and independent subject, as possible signer, this can hold only in the act of the signature. The signature invents the signer.
aha! (this is where I woke up)
…in the Name and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies solemnly publish and declare, that these united Colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…
“ought to be” or “are”? There’s a difference between saying you are and saying that you ought to be. To be or not to be, that is the question.
This is a Matrix-type moment, a chicken and the egg moment. You have to pay really close attention to these moments; it’s like watching an M.Night Shyamalan movie and missing that scene in the end where everything is explained. Derrida is pulling at a small piece of string of a sweater. Here’s how it unravels…
If the founding fathers came together to write this declaration of independence, Derrida asks: were they already independent to begin with? Or in other words, was it the act of signing the document which made them independent, or were they independent before and are just uttering it out loud now? Because to draft and sign such a thing one would need already be independent. But then again, what’s the point of such a document declaring you are independent? Were they free before or free in the instant of pen touching paper?
What came first…
Why are these questions important? Because this document is important. It gives birth to the constitution and America as we know it and if you question its legitimacy it’s like being married for 50 years, basing all your life actions in those 50 years on a piece of legal document, and then finding out that the “authority” figure who signed it was never really legit. This is Derrida deconstructing, this is Derrida shaking the foundations, and this is Derrida playing Jenga with the world.
What he’s pointing out is that we have certain assumptions about such things which we believe are unquestionable truths. All these battles in American courts about laws and amendments and the constitution, are they all based on documents made of stone or castles made of sand?
The questions he asks here are really important in this world today because of all these nations that “gained” their independence. What is the difference between going to war, driving out the masters, declaring yourself free and independent and/or having your masters sign a document granting your independence? If we are controlled by a power do we declare our own independence or is it given to us? What’s the legitimate way to do it? It’s also strange that these questions now come to me during the week which Jordan celebrates its own independence. Everything happens for a reason I suppose.
Any who, I hope you found that interesting or worth your time reading. If not, we shall never speak of Derrida again.
In the meantime: question everything.
Derrida belongs to that group of Postmodern French “Intellectuals” whose ideas appear to willfully obscure. I had to deal with these guys in graduate school. He was fashionable when obscurity was mistaken for profundity. I wouldn’t waste any sleep over him.
Peter, perhaps then it’s our attempt to find profoundness in the obscurity that does the trick 😀
Nas. go to the bookstore and get Independence for Idiots, those books are ther for a reason…i think there is also a Chicken or the egg for Idiots…ur way overthinking this
Fad…can’t help it…im trained to overthink things (and hopefully will get paid to do it some day)