Academic journal article MELUS

Unwelcome Remainders, Welcome Reminders

Academic journal article MELUS

Unwelcome Remainders, Welcome Reminders

Article excerpt

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.

Send these, homeless, tempest tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door

Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"

Give me your hungry, your tired,

your poor, I'll piss on 'em, that's

what the Statue of Bigotry says.

Lou Reed, "Dirty Boulevard"

Although the fault's been

corrected, the crossings out still

remain. They're left as a token, a

reminder of something, something

left-over.... My something

left-over has come to remind me of

previous incarnations of previous


Colin Newman, "The Classic Remains"

In any consideration of national community in the United States the theoretical significance of the remainder or left-over is immediately apparent. Emma Lazarus's poem of invitation inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and the desired assimilation of those answering that call by means of the "melting pot" imply the foundation of community through the integration and rehabilitation of that "wretched refuse" of European societies.(1) That which was left-over from other societies would found a new nation of mutuality and accommodated differences. National community and subjectivity would be given in the totalization of these remainders and so a projected nationalism was to be derived from the resulting play of Otherness. In the light of this endeavour, I will examine how a nation comprising the surplus of other communities constitutes its own excess under the guise of ethnic pluralism and the implications of that manoeuvre.

The conceptualization of ethnicity has been and remains an integral factor in the formation of national community in the United States. For that which has emerged as the national group, ethnicity attests to a heterogeneity of non-hierarchical identities. Thus, cultural diversity is posited as evidence of the perpetuation of a melting-pot ethos of a community of process and transformation stemming from intersubjective accommodation. Moreover, that totalizing project which the melting-pot comprises would be an assimilation of Others into an ongoing national self which would be defined as the play of its diverse components.

However, the melting-pot has always been an ideological mechanism concealing its socio-politically oppressive effect resulting from a fundamental repression.(2) Its dynamic of inclusion is inextricably linked with exclusion as that ethnic pluralism, which it ostensibly guarantees, belies practices of liminalization of those displaying difference. The totalizing process of assimilation effected through the melting pot allegory requires the expulsion of a left-over, the naming of some nonessential Otherness by means of which the national community may negotiate its centrality. Accordingly, the supplementary codification of an ethnic remainder comprises a strategy by which national community mediates its identity.

My inquiry traces the paradox of inclusion-exclusion as symptomatic of that lack of the Other which is the very condition of possibility for national community. I will show how ethnicity is repressed precisely because it is the remainder-reminder of Otherness which is at the core of national identity yet escapes symbolization. The critical articulation of this lack of and consequent desire for the ethnic Other inherent in the national community authorizes a rereading of the national-ethnic binarism. Through such an articulation the left-over term emerges as the constitutive state of American community which is necessarily repressed in order for the latter to form itself.

First it is necessary to examine how repression underlies the ideological dynamics of community formation. The writings of the Puritans are crucial in this respect as they document a primal repression effected with the naming and deprivileging of ethnicity. …

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