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Tag Archives: Tarski

Sarah Silverman’s Subversive Loyalty to the Pledge

I found comedian Sarah Silverman’s “solution” to the church/state inclusion of the phrase “one nation, under God…” in the pledge of allegiance both hilarious and penetrating. (It is located at the 3:45 minute mark in the above clip.) Someone like Zizek finds in this quotational subversion a deeper entrenchment of belief, a disquieted distancing of oneself in the ultimate power of words. He, no slouch in the realm of humor, talks about the distancing, postmodern lover who comically says to his beloved, “As the poet says, ‘I love you'”. Silverman here seems to be doing something more I think. Because her act falls within the very formalized text of an oath, she is using the quotation powers of truth to draw attention to the very act of pledging. Think of the further consequences if the word “nation” were air-quoted, or “stands”. Soon we would have evacuated the entire act of any content. It then becomes mere staging, a circulation, which carries its own substance. (What of air-quoting the entire act?) A distance is opened up between the ennunciation and the form expressed, a distance that can be then further politicized.

I think this is related to the so called “disquotational property” of truth. Famously, “The sentence ‘Snow is white’ is true” is thought to be the equivalent of simply claiming “Snow is white” (Tarski, etc.); with truth, one can simply take the quotes off. Yet when we place a phrase or sentence in quotes, we isolate it, not in terms of truth (which remains indeterminate), but in terms expression. We allow it its social autonomy, while exercizing protest, decentering its enunciation. This an the interesting thing about Sarah Silverman’s subversion. It suspends the expressional qualities of the phrase “under God” while preserving its possibility of truth. Further though, Sarah’s potest occurs in the form a joke told on television, and not simply performed in context. As such, it becomes a kind of prescrition, instead of a proscription. Of interest as well is that this suspension is accomplished bodily, yet with near-linguistic precision (she is not merely making a face while saying the phrase). She selects out the phrase with a bodily performance (now grown common) of a typographic mark. In a sense, she inscribes her body with scriptive importance. She is bodily adjunct to the meaning of here words.

Sarah Silverman and Golda Mier

If we striked the phrase, instead of Sarahized it, would this be as subversive? Or if we merely mouthed it? Does God intrude upon the speaker of the Pledge interpellating her, (as Althusser would have it), no matter what? Has Sarah succeeded in renouncing or even denouncing the Divinity of America’s origins? Or is Sarah really saying something akin to a line attributed to former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Mier, when answering the question of whether she believed in God: “I believe in the Jewish people, and they  believe in God” (paraphrased here).

Rorty and Davidson Talk

See and hear this 1997 conversation between philosophical fellow travelers Richard Rorty and Donald Davidson, posted by Gundlegung, which ends:

Davidson: “Well, it sounds to me that by your standards I am a straight-forward pragmatist.”

Rorty: “Even in the romantic sense?”

Davidson: “Even in the romantic sense.”

Rorty: “That’s nice.”

One gets the dramatic sense that these two souls are still in tension from their ethos, even though they repeatedly come to agreements in principle. There is a bodily sense in which the comfort of ideas tugs each in opposite directions. Rorty seems to work with the breadth of thinking, and Davidson with the micro-structures. Agreement seems to be what they have agreed upon.

Closely Related Post: Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet