Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Addendum--Regarding Secrets

"What is a secret?"

In another context, Derrida answers his own question saying "A secret always makes you tremble." Why? Because of the frisson between what is known, and what cannot be made known. A secret is only a secret if no one knows you have it. "Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead." A secret is only kept as secret, if no one knows you have it at all. Once someone else knows you "have" a "secret," it is a "secret" no longer; it is merely knowledge withheld. It may be knowledge of interest, use, or value to another person; but if they know you have it, you are merely keeping it from them. You are no longer keeping its very existence "secret."

And that is the double nature of secrecy. It must be kept from being known, but it's very existence must also kept from being known. To say you have a secret is to no longer have a secret. To acknowledge the existence of the secret only to yourself, is to make something secret. But then the very fact of that secret, which must be kept as a secret, makes you tremble, makes you fear the releasing of the secret. It puts you in possession of, and possessed by, the mysterium tremendum, the secret which always makes you tremble; tremble, because you cannot acknowledge it; tremble, because you fear you will. Tremble, with the awful responsibility of it.

And that awful responsibility sharpens the double paradox of the secret de Polinichelle.

For how can a secret that is a secret for no one, remain a secret? How can that which is not secret, still be considered secret? By never being acknowledged; by its existence never being admitted. By being the elephant in the drawing room no one dares to see. And when it becomes a national secret....

As Toby Maquire said in American Beauty: "Denial is a powerful force."

It is not just denial, though. Racism is our national mysterium tremendum, the secret we keep from ourselves, that we don't even let ourselves know. And the very fact of that secret makes us tremble.

Tremble, and despair. And so we consider "racist" the filthiest epithet in the social lexicon. In all honesty, in American society, what is worse, than being a racist?

And that is precisely the problem.

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