Acts of language
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“Acts of Language”. Derrida and the Problem of the Signature. Anti- Foundationalist Theories. Reassessing the logic of “origins” Anderson: “…nation- ness , as well as nationalism, are cultural artifacts of a particular kind” (4).

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“Acts of Language”

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Acts of language

“Acts of Language”

Derrida and the Problem of the Signature


Anti foundationalist theories

Anti-Foundationalist Theories

  • Reassessing the logic of “origins”

  • Anderson:

    • “…nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artifacts of a particular kind” (4).

    • “Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined” (6).

    • “…fiction seeps quietly and continuously into reality, creating that remarkable confidence of community in anonymity which is the hallmark of modern nations” (36).

  • Derrida:

    • “The signature invents the signer” (10).


Anti foundationalist theories1

Anti-Foundationalist Theories

  • Anderson:

    • Argues that print-capitalism and narrative logics are what made it possible to “think the nation” – first and foremost, an “imagined community.”

    • Gives us a historical framework and conceptual vocabulary for thinking about how cultural texts PRODUCE “national consciousness.”

  • Derrida is a reader of literature, and thus gives us a model for asking questions of texts from this perspective.

  • How can we read nationalist texts?


Declarations of independence

Declarations of Independence

  • Derrida’s main question: “who signs, and with what proper name, the declarative act that founds an institution?” (8)

  • Why the emphasis on the “signature” – on the act of signing?

  • Why the emphasis on the “proper” name?

  • What does he mean by “declarative” act? As opposed to what other kinds of acts?


Declarations of independence1

Declarations of Independence

  • Who signs?

    • What is the authority of the text?

    • Who or what does it “represent” (in both political and cultural senses of the word)? Who does it describe? Who does it speak through?

    • What is its nature?

      • Constantive/descriptive?

      • Performative/active?


Exploring the argument

Exploring the Argument

  • Our question for Derrida: How does representation work in the Declaration of Independence?

  • Each of you individually:

    • Find one passage that helps you to answer this question – write briefly on the passage in preparation for our discussion

    • Find one passage that confuses you or that (for whatever reason) you would like to pose to the class


Declarations of independence2

Declarations of Independence

“Is it that the good people have already freed themselves in fact and are only stating the fact of this emancipation in the Declaration? Or is it rather that they free themselves at the instant of and by the signature of this Declaration? It is not a question here of an obscurity or a difficulty of interpretation, of a problematic on the way to its (re)solution. It is not a question of a difficult analysis which would fail in the face of the structure of the acts involved and the overdetermined temporality of the events. This obscurity, this undecidability between, let’s say, a performative structure and a constantivestructure, is required in order to produce the sought-after effect” (Derrida 9).


Anti foundationalist approaches to lit

Anti-Foundationalist Approaches to Lit.

  • Anderson (History):

    • Print-capitalism and narrative are what made it possible to “think the nation” – an “imagined community.”

    • Narrative PRODUCES “national consciousness” with its presentation of simultaneity and modern temporality.

    • Narrative is supposed to work on a logic of “representativeness” or comparable-ness which describes and produces a consciousness of a larger anonymous community.

  • Derrida (Representation):

    • Representational logics often PRODUCE what they purport to describe

    • “The people” are called into being by “acts of language” that are simultaneously descriptive and performative.


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