Sunday, November 17, 2013

ModPo 2013 #70 The Justice in Juxtaposition: On Waldrop's "Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence"

Image of manatees from

Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence

We holler these trysts to be self-exiled that all manatees are credited equi-distant, that they are endured by their Creditor with cervical unanswerable rims. that among these are lightning, lice, and the pushcart of harakiri. That to seduce these rims, graces are insulated among manatees, descanting their juvenile pragmatism from the consistency of the graced. That whenever any formula of grace becomes detained of these endives, it is the rim of the peppery to aluminize or to abominate it. and to insulate Newtonian grace. leaching its fountain pen on such printed matter and orienting its pragmatism in such formula, as to them shall seize most lilac to effuse their sage and harakiri.

Information from Rosmarie Waldrop, “Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence” from Shorter American Memory. Copyright © 1988 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Reprinted by permission of Rosmarie Waldrop.

Source: Shorter American Memory (Paradigm Press, 2001)

The American Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

It does take an outsider to examine these "self-evident" truths. After watching the video discussion, I ended up researching the history of slavery in America. This would give me more fuel to go on when I finally read Tracie Morris' "Afrika(n)."

I like what was said in the video discussion. I think it was Amaris who said: "'Self-exile' restores the self-agency to declare oneself independent of a system that self-evidently does not encompass truth or knowledge."

I also liked the consistency that Waldrop used for certain words:

manatees = man
rims = rights
government = grace
power = pragmatism
form = formula
happiness = harakiri

I think each word was carefully chosen so that the reader would have to contemplate each of the original words and how far (or near) the substitute words are to the original. Manatees, for example, is very far from man. And yet, when one sees the word "man" one might remember that "man" is supposed to be a substitute for "human being." Women might actually have been excluded from "man" and other races of men might have been excluded by that term "man." We might as well have put manatees there to reference all the "people" who were excluded.

Rim was an interesting choice. Rim means the outer edge of something. When you put rims and rights side by side: you start seeing that one refers to boundaries while the other refers to moral entitlement. Both are properties of something. But one calls out to the edge while the other calls out to what is within (as in "within one's rights"). I thought that was very interesting because we are looking at this from an "outsider's" perspective. And therefore, rim, would be very concerned with the external.

Government and grace was also a great juxtaposition. Grace refers to goodwill while government refers to authority and power. I like that. I like how Waldrop draws our attention to the structure and the intent of certain words. Grace is something prayerful, sacred, it is a word "without a mean bone in its body." Government, on the other hand, deals with power...and not necessarily goodwill.

Power and pragmatism call attention to one as force, capacity and influence and the other as practical application. It makes you think. Two very different words and yet one has to do with capacity while the other has to do with what works. It makes you go "hmmm" with regards to the way anything is run.

Form and formula. They might not look very different. However, upon closer inspection, I saw that one has to do with the shape of a thing...while the other has to do with mathematical, scientific procedure. One is fixed, the other one depends on empirical evidence. I see that there is a pattern here.

Lastly, happiness and harakiri couldn't be further apart. And yet, when I looked closer at the two, I saw that one was a state to be achieved (in the declaration of independence it is to be pursued) while the other was an act of self-agency... an alternative way to deal with disgrace. One was an end. The other was a means. The pattern persists.

I appreciate what Waldrop did. Apart from "looking under the hood," I also see a call to continuously examine underlying assumptions. I see an invitation to challenge the "self-evident" and look at process, procedure, practical application in an ever-changing milieu. In a way, it is a meta-poem, calling attention to the structure and the process in order to see the content in a new and always-changing context.

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