Note 1: Inside/Outside. 12/25/98
Jacques Derrida, in his effort to deconstruct Western metaphysics, has had to do his work from the inside out and, as Derrida himself well knows, the position of the insider provides the benefit of familiarity with dominant cultural artifacts and interrelationships between and among them that outsiders are not as likely to know and understand. At the same time, there are always areas of cultural and intellectual blindness, so to speak, areas of bias that escape scrutiny even when the most rigorous effort is made to avoid the pitfalls dug out in a philosophical landscape by familiarity with the content of any given topic. Knowing in advance where a particular argument is going to take you, always already gets you there well before you actually could have arrived if you start out in a state of unfamiliarity with the terrain you have to cross.
For those of us who have been raised in and by cultural paradigms fundamentally different from those that gave Western metaphysical thought a bed to sleep in, as it were, face a much more difficult journey in reaching the state of ease(ment) that allows you to fall asleep in proximity to an idea as likely to cut your throat as it is to sing you a lullaby, to lull you into a state of contentment and outright forgetfulness. Take the idea of the relationship between the spoken and written word that Derrida outlines in the opening pages of his work on grammatology (Of Grammatology):
"The absolute logos was a infinite creative subjectivity in medieval theology: the intelligible face of the sign remains turned toward the word and the face of God." (13)
"As was the case with the Platonic writing of the truth in the soul, in the Middle Ages too it is a writing understood in the metaphoric sense, that is to say a natural, eternal, universal writing, the system of signified truth, which is recognized in its dignity. As in the Phaedrus, a certain fallen writing continues to be opposed to it." (15)
"Arche-speech is writing because it is a law. A natural law. The beginning word is understood, in the intimacy of self-presence, as the voice of the other and as commandment.
"There is therefore a good and a bad writing; the good and natural is the divine inscription in the heart and the soul; the perverse and artful is technique, exiled in the exteriority of the body." (17)
There is enough here to fill thirteen volumes of response, from a native American point of view, to the notion that the human use of language, which is the only language Europeans know and recognize, has some inherent connection to God. Derrida also says that "[t]he sign and divinity have the same place and time of birth. The age of the sign is essentially theological" (13).Why object to that connection, as Derrida seems ready to do, if only half-heartedly, from a native American point of view? What is it about the concept of the Logos that strikes me, and all other unconverted natives, as bizarre?
If it is true that the "sign" and divinity came into existence simultaneously, why is there no sign of God, divinity, or the supernatural in native American culture? One would have to argue, as many have done, that native Americans don't really have the capacity to use language, that they possess no legitimate sign-systems, or have ones that are so hopelessly inferior to European, i. e. civilized, types, so primitive, that they were not given to the task of articulating concepts as complex as the ones that become possible when saying the word (logos) God. Any European worthy of the name can get to that avowal without the necessity of taking a single step on the journey to reaching it.
A problem, however, arises in this context. Derrida, in his reference to Plato, raises the issue of speech versus writing as the best, if not the only, way that truth can be inscribed in the heart and soul of (wo)man. One of the arguments that has always already been used against us, in support of the notion that we are primitive, concerns the fact that most of us, tribally speaking, never evolved to the point of being able to conceive of and use written, phonetically alphabetized, systems of speech (writing). That had to be done for us by Europeans, as it were. We were mostly an oral people, not a writing one or a written one. If writing is the "original sin" of language use, as Derrida claims ("It is the natural relationship [of sound in speech to the sign] that would have been inverted by the original sin of writing."--35), then native Americans, because they did not develop written forms of their languages, were not guilty of being drawn away from the "natural, eternal, universal . . . system of signified truth" that speech alone, without writing, preserves. We were, of course, "meddled with" by good Christians and true who wanted to translate the Bible into native languages so they could corrupt our innocence with the introduction of the Word (Logos) made flesh. Hence, in order to become good Christians and true ourselves, we first had to be corrupted with original sin so there would be a just reason to convert us to God's truth, which in its written form is really only a lie.
Not only that, but after the linguists converted Navajo to an alphabetized formal structure of signs, they used it as a code for the encryption of secret communications and messages in a European war against the Japanese, who are genetically closer to native Americans than Europeans ever will be and who were removed to concentration camps (reservations) if unfortunate enough to have been born here instead of there; a war, furthermore, that was fought against other Europeans (Germans mostly) because they were committing genocide against members of their own kind (Jews mostly) who were evil because they were "Christ killers" and Eve was Jewish (?) and a (wo)man who ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and caused all of us collectively to fall from grace into a state of original sin for which we are damned to eternal suffering and death. All of us collectively, that is, if you are unforntuate enough to have been converted to Christianity and were taken up into that collectivity by virtue of the same; otherwise, I suppose, you are exempt from eternal suffering and death if you belong to some other collectivity that does not embace the notion of genocide as a methodology for achieving paradise.
Native Americans never came up with the idea of God, not because we did not have sign systems capable of fooling and mystifying the Japanese, but rather because the idea is too bizarre, too wierd, too violent, too destructive, too barbaric, too monstrous, too horrible, and too ugly to be believed.
We have the spirit of the grizzly. We know how to deal with that. When one comes around, you make yourself scent-less and invisible. You run. You hide. You play dead.
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