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Friday, July 6, 2007

Land of the free, and home of the flatulent

I could not look at any blogs on the Fourth of July. The patriotism of some bloggers takes the form of bad gas. Not like there is really any good gas. But when bloggers assume a sanctimonious fatuity about the Declaration of Independence, the gas gets insidious and intellectually lethal. It doesn't just anesthetize minds; it destroys brain cells, and instead of filling the air with the aroma of exploding firecracker and streaking rockets, it blankets the land with lethal and presumptious banalities. And so, I chose to avoid the hazards of the Internet and hoped that the kids next door would light the night with their sparklers and see how many firecrackers it takes to launch a garbage can, even if it happens to be mine.

But today I peeked at the Internet and found redemption. Now, I do not address other blogs or cite specific people very often in my posts. The reason is one I have explained before and is readily apparent and clear to those people who have made it through the first few chapters of a real book on rhetoric. But when someone does something original and remarkable, I acknowledge their work. Such is the case for the postings on the Fourth of July.

The first notable post was on the Madville Times by Cory Allen Heidelberger. He takes up what the rightwing ding-a-lings call prooftesting. It is a concept of interpreting written language that caused my profession, the teaching of language and literature, to fail to the point that it was reduced to diminished status on many university campuses. It was the literary theory of deconstruction which held that words and language have no independent meaning outside of the minds of people who hear and read the words. Language and literature was just a huge verbal Rorschach blot onto which people could impose their own interpretations and be perfectly correct in doing so. Of course, the basic theory of language is that it names phenemona that people experience in common and can recall and talk about with the words that name those things. But deconstruction seemed like an ultra-intellectual theory, like rocket science and field force physics, and it became a huge academic fad, despite the fact that it was contrary to the fundamental concept of language. In psychology, the concept of deconstruction and prooftexting is called schizophrenia. It is characterized by an inability to apprehend common realities and displaces them with hallucinations, usually of the demonic variety.

Cory Allen Heidelberger takes on how deconstruction gets a sectarian version in prooftexting, and the ding-a-ling bells are tolling out their interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. This is something that is important for educated people to note, and not be so distracted by Al Qaeda and the Taliban that we overlook the sectarian fruitloops winding themselves up in our own culture.

Then the second fortuitous post on the Fourth was by the Left Reverend Todd D. Epp in South Dakota Watch. He posted the entire text of the Declaration of Independence right down to the signatories, including
Samuel Adams of Massachusetts whose brewing legacy received many a salute yesterday. And we are reminded that all those signatories realized that in the eyes of the Crown, they were committing an act of treason in signing their names and could be tried and condemned for so doing.

The Declaration is a literary work. Thomas Jefferson, as good writers do, incorporated the thinking, the stylistics, and the critical ideas that expressed the aspirations of a people. It is literary in the genre of rhetoric. It presents the philosophic objectives of the revolutionaries and then details the reasons for declaring independence from Britain. We don't teach rhetorical works as literature very much any more. We have emphasized imaginative literature--fiction, poetry, and drama-- to the exclusion of literary forms that express our purposes and aspirations. So, it was truly good to look at Todd Epp's posting.

The Fourth of July might well have been the First of July except for one matter in the Declaration. It took many days for the signers to agree on what it should contain, and they ended up excising all mentions of slavery and language which militated against it. It was important to declare our freedom and independence from Great Britain and leave the slavery issue to be resolved 80-some years later. But in that literary history of how the Declaration was finally signed is an important fact of our democracy. Just because we defer some matters to attain agreement and move our country forward does not mean we give up on them. That is an important matter in the history and context of the Declaration that prooftexters can't change.

They, too, like slavery, can be surmounted. That is a fitting and encouraging thought to have in mind on July 5. It is also an antidote to the gas attacks from ding-a-ling school.

Now let's get down to business on Iraq.


caheidelberger said...

Thanks for the compliment yesterday! Am I correct in seeing irony in the theocrats' using a version of the deconstructionism that they would probably list as another of the signs of decadence and depravity of their mortal enemies, those evil secular humanist academics?

David Newquist said...

Yes. Precisely correct. Irony is the biggest fallout in the culture wars.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States