To found a country and constitute a "people" on the basis of natural rights--rather than to commit an existing country or an existing people to such principles--is an improbable thing to do. It marks that country for utopian overreach or constructive despair. It produces forms of self-obsession that often lead one to forget that there is a world outside one's own country. It produces perennial disputes about the meaning of one's communal existence in the world. To the extent that the United States was founded by force of documents, texts, and clashing forms of rhetoric, the United States is bound to be a nation of competing readers and competing readings. And to the extent that even the most self-evident propositions are invariably confronted with local meanings and interests, the United States has always been a nation divided in trying to become one nation. There can be, then, no such thing as a nonpartisan American literature--political, historiographical, or otherwise.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Paragraph of the Week
From Frank Kelleter's "1776: A Dialectics of Radical Enlightenment," published in A New Literary History of America: