Re: R: postmodernism and liberalism

On Thu, 4 Mar 1999 sjpri1@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

> Just a thought,
> is there a way of providing a more adequate ground for this
> discussion? Perhaps it would be useful to be clear about what or who is
> referred to by the term 'postmodernism'. Criticisms of postmodernism and post-
> structuralism often assumes some homogenous position or theory......
> however, there is plenty of bad thinking going on under the name of '
> Marxism'......

Ah, the voice of reason!

Sure, I agree with everything you say here. Although, given that this is
a Foucault list and that (as has been noted) Foucault is a
poststructuralist rather than a postmodernist, this obviously isn't the
place to get seriously involved in discussions about postmodernism,
Marxism, critical theory or anything else outside of the context of
Foucault. That's why I refered people to some books that deal with this
debate in an interesting way. (Like, on the philosophy side, Christopher
Norris's "The Truth About Postmodernism" and in the cultural studies vein
Ziauddin Sardar's "Postmodernism and the Other.")

We all know that theories are contingent social constructions that can't
hope to do more than generate tools that may improve our understanding of
the world; that all representations are to a degree fiction; that any
"we" implies some sort of reduction; that metanarratives of liberation
like Marxism have resulted in barbarism etc, etc.

But what I was actually trying to point out was that:

1. A lot of people who want to defend a version of postmodernism that
makes any macro-politics appear totalitarian (against, say, some version
of critical theory) don't make arguments. They simply say things like
"this is tired, cliched, boring" etc. This kind of response is just denial
and it's a denial that refuses to take cognisance of the fact that The
Market, the whole spectrum of dictators, The World Bank, American foreign
policy etc, etc have real power which many real people *want* to resist in
real social movements. Concepts like freedom, justice and democracy still
have work to do. It's also a denial that gives support to the view (of
Said and others) that postmodernism is, to some degree, an intellectual
cult rather than a serious attempt to understand the world.

2. While postmodernism has many valuable insights it does often serve as
ideology which gives a radical/progressive gloss to what are in practice
very conservative positions. (And, to paraphrase bell hooks, it seems a
little too convienient that the postmodern critique of the subject has
arisen at the same time that many subjugated people feel themselves coming
to voice for the first time.)

Of course no label (postmodernist, marxist, postmarxist, liberal whatever)
tells us much about a person's actual life and contribution and all of
these schools of thought have valuable insights and serious blind spots.
But that doesn't change the fact that:

*A lot of postmodern thought doesn't seem to have understood
Kant's distinction between conviction (inward revelation) and
belief (the public sphere of openly accountable reasons,
arguments, principles, values.) Hence the Gulf War becomes more
important as a media spectacle than as a reality etc, etc.

*Postmodernism is blind to the political nature of many macro events,
systems and structures and is not well equipped to speak to us
about, for example, the fact that wealth is flowing at an ever
faster rate from Africa to the West. This doesn't mean that
everyone must rush out and join the Jubilee 2000 campaign (on the
contrary there's an endless proliferation of important struggles
at all levels from the global to the personal)
but it does mean that you can't call yourself progressive if you
deny other people the right to theorise about resistence to global
injustice. (And calling it boring *is* a way of trying to
deligitimise it)

Oh, and Tony Roberts - we've all got junkie friends, we all know what
prison looks like from the inside, we all know more that we'd like to
about guns and even if some of us don't have problems getting hold of
paper, and some of us don't have classes where 25% of the students are HIV
positive so what? It's hardly a competetion. The original question was
"Is postmodernism complicit with the (neo) liberal global order?" I said
"yes" and referred anyone who's interested to some appropriate readings.
Tom said no and implied that people who disagreed were unfashionable...
But it is a good thing that you didn't bet your rent money because your
little sketch was very wrong.

And Anita, I've got no idea what NAS is but I did find your attempt at
cyber-pyscho analysis very amusing. But why do people keep assuming that
any attempt to politicise injustice (in the language of modernity)
automatically leads to the Gulag and Aushwitz? After all the personality
cults in the USSR and Third Reich were, surely, premodern and some of the
Nazi race stuff (incl SS ritual etc) was very much based on premodern
ideas - old mythology etc.

Of course political action at the macro level can be disasterous (we've
all read Popper etc) but struggles waged in the name of very modern ideals
did (in spite of the problems with modernity) win women the vote, largely
end colonialism, end apartheid, win the right to free access to education
etc, etc.

But it also seems pretty clear that postmodernism isn't doing much for
victims of the new holocausts (including the majority of the world's
population that is, quite literally, getting poorer ever day). That
doesn't mean PoMo has no role. It just means that any attempt to make it
hegemonic or deny a space for critical theory should be resisted.

But, lets talk about Foucault. That's what this list is for.


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