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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

Liberalism Today, with tangents

Long story short: when I asked why, my Aunt said she got rid of broadband because she didn’t know how much “memory” it used on her computer, and thus installed AOL instead— this story reminded Sam of the recent AOL lawsuit settlement, in which AOL “‘vigorously denies any liability in relation to these allegations’ [and] has agreed to settle the claims to avoid the ‘undue burden and cost of further litigation and to resolve an ongoing matter'”(*). Essentially, “Shut UP and we’ll pay you! We’re losing anyway.” I responded sarcastically, “Damn capitalistic bureaucracy!” and rounded the corner to head to the water-fountain saying quasi-sarcastically, as an afterthought to no one, “And assorted other ‘liberalisms…'”

Now I know the horse has rotted away and been beaten into a pile of skeletal debris by now, but this is a perfect example of how fluid language is, how it can carry multifarious meanings playing on all different both auditory/vocal and semantic/textual levels. It is also a perfect example of how (this horse it still rotting— sorry) the extreme conservative movement has been so successful: by redefining ‘liberal,’ a word already carrying several definitions ranging from “showing or characterized by broad-mindedness” to “a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform.” And now including the recent definition that shares a cabin with “Commie” and its ilk. I was reminded of a passage that struck me as particularly poignant (and prescient, though I’m too young to judge the political climate of 1996— especially the national status of a movement in which I was involved almost exclusively— I am not willing to risk venturing forth my shaky and incomplete conception of the past thirty or so years of political history) from the Derrida reader I picked up recently:

“Like others before, the new ‘wars of religion’ are unleashed over the human earth (which is not the world) and struggle even today to control the sky with finger and eye: … in three words, digital culture, jet, and tv without which there could be no religious manifestation today, for example no voyage or discourse of the Pope, no organized emanation of Jewish, Christian, or Muslim cults, whether ‘fundamentalist’ or not. Given this, the cyberspatialized or cyberspaced wars of religion have no stakes other than this determination of the ‘world,’ or ‘history,’ of the ‘day’ and of the ‘present'” (61-62).

There’s more that’s relevant preceding and following this quote, but this is the juicy bit. In what I’ve read, I’ve always found Derrida’s ideas about technology a little whacky— slightly 50s-sci-fi of the more paranoid strain. But much like those outdated concepts, there is an uncanny resemblance, despite an inaccurate manifestation. I find this passage particularly eye-catching because of Derrida’s occasional playfully poetic diction (given, I’m reading in translation, but I’ve noticed the tone in other texts by different translators), one of my favorite instances of which appears in the footnote to the word ‘fundamentalist’ from the passage above: “over Jerusalem and its three monotheisms, over the multiplicity, the unprecedented speed and scope of the moves of the Pope versed in televisual rhetoric.” I’m going tangential here, but what are blogs for? The playfulness, the willingness to indulge, characterized by that kind of language being used in such a penetrating manner (what a sentence to run through ‘Des Tours de Babel’), — I just love it.

Anyway, enough of the aesthetic pleasure of Derrida. The meat of the idea, where I was going with this: the far-right (or whichever of its heteronyms you prefer) has been freakishly skilled at “this determination of the ‘world’, or ‘history,’ of the ‘day’ and of the ‘present.'” It differentiated from and supplanted the many definitions of liberal with every negative political feature in American history: shades of socialism and communism, anti-patriotism or ‘apatriotism,’ spinelessness, snobbery. It is no longer a wrong definition of the word, though. It is another definition of the word, on a scale at least large enough to include the semantic debate over it in the dead, beaten horse category. It successfully recreated American history, making “In God We Trust” immortal and all our forefathers Bible-thumping Christians. It created the eventually too effective ‘with us or against us’ mentality both within and without US borders.

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Filed under: Derrida, Tangents

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