Re: R: postmodernism and liberalism

On Thu, 4 Mar 1999, Bob wrote:

> >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.)
> Where does hooks say this?

I don't have the book on me at the moment but if I remember correctly its
in the first few pages of a book called Yearning: Race, Gender and
Cultural Politics.

> >*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.)
> But perhaps to a pomo that's a false distinction. Can you provide a
> citation for this Kant?

I can't give you page numbers right now but you could check out:
1. Political Writings edited by H. Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1973)
2. On History edited by L.W. Beck. (New York: Bobbs-Merril, 1963)

Also Christopher Norris deals with this in books like "The Truth About
Postmodernism" (Blackwell, 1993) and "Truth and the Ethics of Criticism"
(Manchester University Press, 1994)

> >Hence the Gulf War becomes more
> > important as a media spectacle than as a reality etc, etc.
> And that would be Baudrillard, no?

Yes but I've put it badly. Obviously its legitimate to argue that an event
is more important as spectacle than reality but it's highly problematic to
imply or in some way treat it as only a spectacle.

> I think the end of colonialism is up for debate -- of course again that
> depends on how one defines "colonialism"
> >end apartheid,
> as above

Sure. And this is one of the reasons why Fanon (liberation as a process
etc) is so important here in Africa. But that doesn't change the fact that
ending formal, explicit apartheid/colonialism etc is a very welcome first

> >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).
> What IS doing much for these peoples?

Well as usual when things happen people do it themselves. But there is
clearly a lot of emperical work (eg Anthony Richmond) and more abstract
theory that does make a valuable contribution. Especially some of the work
being done under headings like Post-colonial, post-development,
Africanism, critical theory, post-marxism etc, etc.

Theorists ranging from Fanon to Craig Calhoun, Hountondji, Chomsky
and Said are of direct and immediate relevance and theorists like
Foucault, Bourdieu etc are often applied very usefully to these sorts of
problems. (For example people have critqued the whole aid industry in
terms of pastoral care etc)

I can give plenty of concrete examples of work that has been valuable in
this sphere. For example Mahmood Mamdani's Citizen and Subject (Princeton
1996) has taken on and furthered Fanon's project in very valuable ways.
One of the arguments in this book is that in Africa ethnicity has been
both the form of colonial control and the form of the revolt against this
control and it contiunes to be both a form of (postcolonial) control (as
in 'traditional authority' and state nationalism) and a form of
resistence. eg as with progressive peasant movements like the Ruwenzurur
in Uganda, the Sungusungu in Tanzania etc, etc. He goes onto develop some
very useful principles for evaluating stuggles waged in the name of

I take your point about postmodernism being a very broad school of thought
and of course its caricature to assume that, for example, Derrida and
Rorty are both simply anything goes relativists. (And, as has often been
noted eg by Norris, Calhoun etc its equally true that postmodernists have
often given a reductive caricatured account of the Enlightenment) But even
though I accept that (this broad and contested) field of postmodernism
contains much of value the reality is that it is, in my experience, a set
of theories that is often used to defend privilege and deligitimise broad,
popular or macro-struggle. Even if none of the original theorists intended
this it is still a real problem worthy of attention.

But, as everyone says, lets talk about Foucualt.

I've got a lot to learn about Foucault but my feeling right now is that he
was, in some ways, bring some Marxist concerns up to date in a European or
Western context. That's a hugely valuable project in itself but he does
seem blind to, or disinterested in the neo-colonial relationship between
the West and Rest. That's fine - we can't all deal with everything - but
if it is the case then people should be aware that this is an area which
requires attention. (And postmodernism doesn't see to provide much help
here. I'm quite sympathetic to Craig Calhoun's argument that despite all
the rhetoric about alterity PoMo ultimately trivialises the Other.)

And while I can easily accept that Nietzsche's epistemology was essential
to Foucault's project I'm wondering if Foucault hasn't possibly taken on
some of Nietzsche's aesthetic aristocraticism. If this is the case it
would be seriously problematic for someone who wanted (at a subjective
level) to try and take seriously Marx's principle that "The free
development of each should be the condition of the free development of
all." After all you can't be a dandy when you're hungry or working in a


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