Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Whose Bones?

While teaching short poems, notably Catullus 85, I'm fond of saying that if you to put forth a mere two lines of poetry, they ought to be good. Well today in my Twitter feed I saw the image to the right. Putting aside policy, what does it mean?

First I thought he meant that we individually define ourselves as a nation of immigrants, but that can't be so because I don't define myself as a nation. So then I realized that the president must mean that we collectively define ourselves as a nation, and a nation of immigrants at that. Fine. We're too far into this administration's tenure for such a statement to up my libertarian dander.

How does that sentiment, though, gel with the second sentence? Bones are pretty individual things, to start, so the image of us collectively having bones is awkward. Does the image of "national bones" resonate with anyone? Or are we the bones? Either way we still have our own, actual bones, so when he says "bones," which set of bones is he talking about? Either way, are we a nation of immigrants in our bones, or are we people who define ourselves as a nation of immigrants in the bones? Since the latter seems more likely, I am, according to the president, myself defining the nation as one of immigrants, in the, or I guess one of, the national bones?

I ask again, then, what are the bones made of? Do we constitute the bones, or do we defining ourselves as a nation of immigrants, constitute the bones, or do we actually being, which has not been established, a nation of immigrants, constitute the bones? Does something else entirely constitute the bones? Presuming, though, we're talking about metaphorical bones, he of course means essence, but the image of a bone is not that of a substance which admits a multiplicity of essences, if such a multiplicity is possible politically, philosophically, or metaphorically.

So when he says, "We define ourselves" does he mean define absolutely or partially? He must mean partially since the nation can't be singularly "a nation of immigrants" with no other dimension, but then how can we be so in our bones? As I asked, can we be multiple things in our bones?

What about the reflexive, though, ourselves? This has to be meant with reference to individuals. Do we have collective selves and individual selves? Are we anything else? I guess he meant "We define ourselves constituting a nation of immigrants, but he wrote as. None of these thirty one definitions of as fits the sentence. Maybe he's being rhetorical, using a simile? But isn't his point, which he makes three words later, not that we're like a nation, but that we are a nation? Besides, a simile is between unlike things, of what else can a nation consist than people?

So what's going on here? What's he talking about? This is Ciceronian? It's like Jabberwocky run through an Enigma encoder.

Dear Whomever Wrote Those Words,

There are only two sentences. Why couldn't you get this right? Why?

Thank You.

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