Belated Foundations

of 39

  • date post

  • Category


  • view

  • download


Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Belated Foundations

  • 8/8/2019 Belated Foundations


    Belated Foundations

    Adam Rosen-Carole*

    The ethnoecocidal eradication of indigenous bodies, cultures,and cartographies in the United States, although not without re-

    sistance and remainder, gradually transformed densely texturednetworks of peoples and places into a cleared and open spaceupon which a nation could be imaginatively and materially com-posed. However, securing these lands as unambiguously Amer-ican required an elaborate extension of these violent and amnesiccartographic practices. A reading of the US Declaration of In-dependence and discourses surrounding the US Constitution isused to demonstrate this, with the point of documenting theincessant forgetting requisite for contemporary American self-representations to hold sway and the violent ramifications that

    are thereby enabled. KEYWORDS: foundations, US Constitution,cartographic practices, politics of forgetting

    A foundation is a promise.Jacques Derrida, Force of Law

    The ethnoecocidal eradication of indigenous bodies, cultures, andcartographies gradually transformed densely textured networks ofpeoples and places into a cleared and open space upon which a na-

    tion could be imaginatively and materially composed; although notwithout resistance and remainder. Securing these lands as unambig-uously American, that is, producing the conditions for the UnitedStates to represent itself as a self-identical nation-state situated withina state-centric geopolitical cartography required, and still requires, anelaborate extension of these violent and amnesic cartographic prac-tices. An incessant effort of suppression and forgetting (paradoxically,an effort of self-suppression and self-forgetting that puts the integrity,the very selfhood of the self into question) is required for American

    Alternatives 34 (2009), 299337


    *Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-5000. E-mail:

  • 8/8/2019 Belated Foundations


    self-representations to hold sway, for practices in the name of USsovereign self-interest to proceed without the hesitations and inter-

    ruptions that would result from the sort of questioning that resistsdevolution into techno-strategic calculations of preset state problem-atics. Through these efforts, that which must be forgotten is revived,reinvigorated: the constitutive exclusions of competing claims and al-legiances that have always already wounded the heart of the nationalbody, subverting its projected integrity in advance. Precipitously declar-ing itself sovereign (self-enclosed and self-determined, unaccountablebut to itself even if this means appearing wildly capricious, irrational,bestial) despite, or perhaps in view of, the manifest dangers entailedtherein and exacerbated thereby, the United States returns inces-

    santly, in the mode of stalwart denial, to its fragility and permeability,its self-incommensurability, its unavoidable failure to meet the sover-eign ideality it establishes for itself, its complicity in a legacy of brutal-ity that piles in the wake of its security and prosperity, its constitutivelydamaged self-image, its inhabitation by or cohabitation with inassim-ilable claims and allegiances. We can follow the fates of these disavowalsin every policy, both foreign and domestic, that is pursued in the nameof US national interest.

    Could it be that it is in partbecause ofthe enormous risks entailedby sovereign self-assertion that US sovereignty is so frequently and so

    vigorously put on public display? Might the obsessive enactment ofsovereignty signal, albeit obliquely, a (self-)destructive melancholia,even express a death drive? Can the recurrent staging of US self-de-termination as absolute be read as a paranoid testing of survivability,a testing of both the ability of the United States to survive its vulner-ability and others capacities to survive its raging independence?Might the risking of abundantly obvious dangers entailed by belliger-ent assertions of US sovereignty symptomatize an ambition to sufferpunishment at its own hands, for example, as a form of preemptive orpreventative exculpation in the service of aggressive intentions, as aform of retrospective reparation, or as a conflicted, omnivorous iden-tification with its victims? Would the staging of sovereignty put in playa masochistic parody of agency? If frenetic assertions of sovereignty be-speak an effort to forget (and to forget the difficultiesone mighteven say the aporiasof the continual effort of forgetting), an effortof (self-)avoidance, (self-) oblivion, or even (self-)annihilation; if thequasicompulsive enactments of self-absorbed sovereign prerogativeon the part of the United States signal an effort to forget the pain thatits (anti-)memorial practices bear upon the pleasures they promise yet

    never fully bring; if rather than risking a sustained confrontation withthe complications, allegations, and nightmarish visitations residuallyinsisting themselves and disquieting the dream of sovereign integrity;

    300 Belated Foundations

  • 8/8/2019 Belated Foundations


    and if wearied by the work of sequestration and repression necessaryto defer such an encounter, the United States would, in some respect,

    welcome the brink of annihilation as that which phantasmatically con-tains both the resolution of its pains and difficulties in the scene of itsdestruction and the assurance of its sovereign invincibility consequentupon its survival, then sustaining a specter of self-destruction may bea complicated response to wounds already inflictedand in somesense self-inflictedthat the United States constantly seeks to deny. Atstake here will be nothing less than the pathology of sovereignty.1

    While we could trace the amnesic efficacy of literature or otherprint media, film,2 popular sentiment, or official rhetoric concerningthe various dangers with which the United States finds itself inces-

    santly embroiled, in this inquiry into the imaginary consolidation ofUS sovereignty and of the map of sovereign states within or uponwhich it situates itself, I will instead turn to the founding political ges-tures embodied in and performed by the Declaration of Independenceand Constitution. Through a reading of the Declaration, and, in thecase of the Constitution, also through an analysis of the discourses thatorganized themselves around it, I will trace a narrative of determi-nate, fixed, and final founding that seeks to authorize and naturalizean imaginary wherein America would be once and for all situated asa coherent and sovereign national body within or upon a state-centric

    international topography. Responding to the insistent and troublingremainder of the violent, constitutive exclusions encoded as if in Amer-icas very landscape, these founding documents contribute to the pro-duction of a political imaginary that attempts to interpellate all (ornearly all) inhabitants of US territories as members of a singular andpersistent national body over which a decidedly American sovereigntyreigns. In order to illuminate the sovereign national body as consti-tuted through violent exclusions that are subsequently concealed andcovered over by the effect of autonomy, yet precisely as such are re- vived and reinvested as the sites around which collective memories(which is to say, collective repressions) organize, here I will focus onthe founding gestures embodied in (performed and covered by) bythe Declaration of Independence and the discourses attendant uponand organized by the Constitution.

    * * *

    The intelligibility of the nation as a unitary body is largely secured bythe sense of finality encoded into and presumptively performed by

    founding political gestures. The ambition of these founding gestures isto encourage those who had represented themselves as inhabitants of,say, a revolutionary-colonial space to now, once and for all, experience

    Adam Rosen-Carole 301

  • 8/8/2019 Belated Foundations


    themselves as, in the language of the Declaration, steadfastly situatedwithin a sovereign national body of separate and equal station to

    other powers of the earth. Commitments to the state, as this lan-guage suggests and as we will soon see in much greater detail, emergeinextricably intertwined with commitments to a state-centric interna-tional cartography: As Derrida would have it, there are only coun-tersignatures here. What these founding gestures seek to motivate isan acceptance of the state-centric imaginary that wouldretrospec-tively, circuitouslythen enable these acts of founding to function aspoints of no return (is it at all surprising that the zero point of sov-ereignty is distributed among a succession of momentsnot to men-tion a relay of placesa succession that, all the more scandalously,

    extends indefinitely into the future, i.e., that the sovereign instance isrent in advance by its incompletable futurity, by the inherence of thefuture as the indefinite delay and deferral of its self-integration?), asturning points after which commitment to the stateand the statesystembecomes supervenient, negating (which may mean abolishing,subordinating, or reorganizing and rearticulating) all anterior claimsof local authorities.3Anticipatorily projecting the self-representationof colonial-revolutionary subjects as ultimately committed to the UnitedStates as a sovereign nation-state though assertions of this state of af-fairs, and seeking to inaugurate that which they descriptively declare

    through a variety of interpellative strategies, such founding gestures,precisely through their anticipatory regulation of contexts and cir-cumstances that would threaten the nation-state as the primary locusof ethico-political commitments, as the sovereign instance organizingcollective imaginaries and practices, pro