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Excerpt from Postmodern Theory

Table of Contents

In Search of the Postmodern

Archaeology of the Postmodern
The French Scene: From Structuralist to Postmodern Theory
The Poststructuralist Critique
The Postmodern Turn
Critical Social Theory and the Postmodern Challenge

Foucault and the Critique of Modernity

Postmodern Perspectives and the Critique of Modernity
Archaeology and Discontinuity
Nietzsche and Genealogy
Power/Knowledge/Subjectivity: Foucault's Postmodern Analytics
Domination and Resistance: Foucault's Political Fragments
Postmarxist/Postmodern Strategies: Politics of Genealogy
Ethics and Technologies of the Self
Foucauldian Perspectives: Some Critical Comments

Deleuze and Guattari: Schizos, Nomads, Rhizomes

Deleuze's Nietzsche
(Anti-Oedipus): Psychoanalysis, Capitalism, and Normalization
Desire, Modernity, and Schizoanalysis
The Micropolitics of Desire
(A Thousand Plateaus) for the Postmodern!
Critical Reservations: Bodies Without Politics

Baudrillard en Route to Postmodernity

Exploring Modernity
From Symbolic to Productivist Society
Symbolic Exchange, Micropolitics, and Cultural Revolution
From Modernity to Postmodernity
The Holy Trinity: Simulations, Implosion, and Hyperreality
Baudrillard vs. Foucault
Postmodernity, Metaphysics, and Postpolitics
Metaphysical Turn: Baudrillard in the 1980s
The End of History
Aporia and Blindspots

Lyotard and Postmodern Gaming

Drifting Along with Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche: Early Writings
Lyotard's Nietzschean Drift: Libidinal Economy and the Politics of Desire
Paganism, Gaming, and the Postmodern Turn
The Postmodern Condition
Between Kant and the Postmodern:(The Differend)
Postmodern Aporia
Language Games, Consensus, and the Fetishism of Difference
The Sociological and Political Deficit

Marxism, Feminism, and Political Postmodernism

Jameson's Postmodern Marxism
Postmodernism as the Cultural Logic of Capital
Cognitive Mapping and Cultural Politics
Laclau/Mouffe: Toward a Postmodern Politics
Hegemony and the Marxist Tradition
Socialism, Radical Democracy, and Discourse Struggle
Beyond Marxism: The Limits of Discourse Theory
Postmodern Feminism and the Politics of Identity and Difference

Critical Theory and Postmodern Theory

Critical Theory and Modernity
Adorno's Proto-Postmodern Theory
Habermas and Modernity
Modernity as Unfinished Project
Habermas vs. Postmodern Theory
Sibling Rivalries: The Habermas/Lyotard Debate

Toward the Reconstruction of Critical Social Theory

Toward a Multidimensional and Multiperspectival Critical Theory
Postmodernity, Postindustrial Society, and the Dialectics of Continuity and Discontinuity
Postmodern Politics: Subjectivity, Discourse, and Aestheticism
Social Theory, Culture, and Politics: Conflicting Models


Chapter 1: In Search of the Postmodern

For the past two decades, the postmodern debates dominated the cultural and intellectual scene in many fields throughout the world. In aesthetic and cultural theory, polemics emerged over whether modernism in the arts was or was not dead and what sort of postmodern art was succeeding it. In philosophy, debates erupted concerning whether or not the tradition of modern philosophy had ended, and many began celebrating a new postmodern philosophy associated with Nietzche, Heidegger, Derrida, Rorty, Lyotard, and others. Eventually, the postmodern assault produced new social and political theories, as well as theoretical attempts to define the multifaceted aspects of the postmodern phenomenon itself.

Advocates of the postmodern turn aggressively criticized traditional culture, theory, and politics, while defenders of the modern tradition responded either by ignoring the new challenger, by attacking it in return, or by attempting to come to terms with and appropriate the new discourses and positions. Critics of the postmodern turn argued that it was either a passing fad (Fo 1986/7; Guattari 1986), a specious invention of intellectuals in search of a new discourse and source of cultural capital (Britton 1988), or yet another conservative ideology attempting to devalue emancipatory modern theories and values (Habermas 1981 and 1987a). But the emerging postmodern discourses and problematics raise issues which resist easy dismissal or facile incorporation into already established paradigms.

In view of the wide range of postmodern disputes, we propose to explicate and sort out the differences between the most significant articulations of postmodern theory, and to identify their central positions, insights, and limitations. Yet, as we shall see, there is no unified postmodern theory, or even a coherent set of positions. Rather, one is struck by the diversities between theories often lumped together as `postmodern' and the plurality - often conflictual - of postmodern positions. One is also struck by the inadequate and undertheorized notion of the `postmodern' in the theories which adopt, or are identified in, such terms. To clarify some of the key words within the family of concepts of the postmodern, it is useful to distinguish between the discourses of the modern and the postmodern (see Featherston 1988).

To begin, we might distinguish between `modernity' conceptualized as the modern age and `postmodernity' as an epochal term for describing the period which allegedly follows modernity. There are many discourses of modernity, as there would later be of postmodernity, and the term refers to a variety of economic, political, social, and cultural transformations. Modernity, as theorized by Marx, Weber, and others, is a historical periodizing term which refers to the epoch that follows the'Middle Ages' or feudalism. For some, modernity is opposed to traditional societies and is characterized by innovation, novelty, and dynamism (Berman 1982). The theoretical discourses of modernity from Descartes through the Enlightenment and its progeny championed reason as the source of progress in knowledge and society, as well as the privileged locus of truth and the foundation of systematic knowledge. Reason was deemed competent to discover adequate theoretical and practical norms upon which system sof thought and action could be built and society could be restructured. This Enlightenment project is also operative in the American, French, and other democrateic revolutions which attempted to overturn the feudal world and to produce a just and egalitarian social order that would embody reason and social progress (Toulmin 1990).

Aesthetic modernity emerged in the new avant-garde modernist movements and bohemian subcultures, which rebelled against the alienating aspects of industrialization and rationalization, while seeking to transform culture and to find creative self-realization in art. Modernity entered everyday life through the dissemination of modern art, the products of consumer society, new technologies, and new modes of transportation and communication. The dynamics by which modernity produced a new industrial and colonial world can be described as `modernization' - a term denoting those processes of individualization, secularization, industrialization, cultural differentiation, commodification, urbanization, bureaucratization, and rationalization which together have constituted the modern world.

Yet the construction of modernity produced untold suffering and misery for its victims, ranging form the peasantry, proletariat, and artisans oppressed by capitalist industrialization to the exclusion of women from the public sphere, to the genocide of imperialist colonialization. Modernity also produced a set of disciplinary institutions, practices, and discourses which legitimate its modes of domination and control. The `dialectic of Enlightenment' (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972) thus described a process whereby reason turned into its opposite and modernity's promises of liberation masked forms of oppression and domination. Yet defenders of modernity (Habermas 1981, 1987a, and 1987b) claim that it has `unfulfilled potential' and the resources to overcome its limitations and destructive effects.

Postmodern theorists, however, claim that in the contemporary high tech media society, emergent processes of change and transformation are producing a new postmodern society and its advocates claim that the era of postmodernity constitutes a novel state of history and novel sociocultural formation which requires new concepts and theories. Theorists of postmodernity (Baudrillard, Lyotard, Harvey, etc.) claim that technologies such as computers and media, new forms of knowledge, and changes in the socioeconomic systems are producing a postmodern social formation. Baudrillard and lyotard interpret these developments in terms of novel types of information, knowledge, and technologies, while neo-Marxist theorists like Jameson and Harvey interpret the postmodern in terms of development of a higher stage of capitalism marked by a greater degree of capital penetration and homogenization across the globe. These processes are also producing increased cultural fragmentation, changes in the experience of space and time, and new modes of experience, subjectivity, and culture. These conditions provide the socioeconomic and cultural basis for postmodern theory and their analysis provides the perspectives from which postmodern theory can claim to be on the cutting edge of contemporary devleopments.

In additiona to the distinction between modernity and postmodernity in teh field of social theory, the discourse of the postmodern plays an important role in the field of aesthetics and cultural theory. Here the debate revolves around distinctions between modernism and postmodernism in the arts. Within this discourse, `modernism' could be used to describe the art movements of hte modern age (impressionism, l'art our l'art, expression, surrealism, and other avant-garde movements), while `postmodernism' can describe those diverse aesthetic forms and practices which come after and break with modernism. These forms include the architecture of Robert Venturi and Philip Johnson, the musical experiments of John Cage, the art of Warhol and Rauschenberg, the novels of Pynchon and Ballard, and filesm like Blade Runner or Blue Velvet. Debates centre on whether there is or is not a sharp conceptual distinction between modernism and postmodernism and the relative merits and limitations of these movements.

The discourses of the postmodern also appear in the field of theory and focus on the critique of modern theory and arguments for a postmodern rupture in theoyr. Modern theory - rangin from the philosophical project of Descartes, through the Enlightenment, to the social theory of Comte, Marx, Weber and others - is criticized for its serach for a foundation of knowlecdge, for its universalizing and totalizing claims, for its hubris to supply apodictic truth, and for its allegedly fallacious rationalism. defenders of modern theory, by contract, attack postmodern relativism, irrationalism, and nihilism.

More specifically, postmodern theory provides a critique of representation and the modern belief that theory mirrors reality, taking instead `perspectivist' and `relativist' positions that theories at best provide partial perspectives on their objects, and that all cognitive representations of the world are historically and linguistically mediated. Some postmodern theory accordinaly rejects the totalizing macroperspectives on socieyt and history favored by mdoern theory in favour of microtheory and micropolitics (Lyotard 1984a). Postmodern theory also rejets modern assumptions of social coherence and notions of causality in favour of multiplicity, plurality, fragmentation, and indeterminacy. In addition, postmodern theory abandons the rational and unified subject postulated by much modern theory in favour of a socially and linguistically decentered and fragmented subject.

Thus, to avoid conceptual confusion, in this book we shall use the term `postmodernity' to describe the supposed epoch that follows moderntiy, and `postmodernism' to descibe movements and artifacts tin the cultural field that can be distinguished form modernist movements, textx, and practices. We shall also distinguish between `modern theory' and `postmodern theory', as well as between `modern politics' which is characterized by party, parliamentary, or trade union politics in opposition to `postmodern politics' associated with locally base micropolitics that challenge a broad array of discourses and institutionalized forms of power.

To help clarify and illuminate the confusing and variegated discourse of the postmodern, we shall first provide an archaeology of the term, specifying its history, early usages, and conflicting meanings. Next, we situate the development of contemporary postmodern theory in the context of post-1960's France where the concept of a new postmodern condition became an important theme by the late 1970's. An in 1.3 we sketch the problematic of our interrogations of postmodern theory and the perspectives that will guide our inquiries throughout this book...


Chapter 2: Foucault and the Critique of Modernity

Is it not necessary to draw a line between those who believe that we can continue to situate our present discontinuities within the historical and transcendental tradition of the nineteenth century and those who are making a great effort to liberate themselves, once and for all, from this conceptual framework? (Foucault 1977: p.120)

What's going on just now? What's happening to us? What is this world, this period, this precise moment in which we are living? (Foucault 1982a p.216)

[T]he impression of fulfillment and of end, the muffled feeling that carries and animates our thought, and perhaps lulls it so sleep with the facility of its promises... and makes us believe that something new is about to begin, something that we glimpse only as a thin line of light low on the horizon - that feeling and impression are perhaps not ill founded (Foucault 1973b: p.384)

Foucault's critique of modernity and humanism, along with his proclamation of the death of man' and development of new perspectives on society, knowledge, discourse, and power, has made him a major source of postmodern thought. Foucault draws upon an anti-Enlightenment tradition that rejects the equation of reason, emancipation, and progress, arguing that an interface between modern forms of power and knowledge has served tog create new forms of domination. In a series of historico-philosophical studies, he has attempted to develop and substantiate this theme from various perspectives: psychiatry, medicine, punishment and criminology, the emergence of the human sciences, the formation of various disciplinary apparatuses, and the constitution of the subject. Foucault's project has been to write a critique of our historical era' (1984: p.42) which problematizes modern forms of knowledge, rationality, social institutions, and subjectivity that seem given and natural but in fact are contingent sociohistorical constructs of power and domination.

While Foucault has decisively influenced postmodern theory, he cannot be wholly assimilate to that rubric. He is a complex and eclectic thinker who draws from multiple sources and problematics while aligning himself with no single one. If there are privileged figures in his work, they are critics of reason and Western thought such as Nietzsche and Bataille. Nietzsche provided Foucault, and nearly all French poststructuralists, with the impetus and ideas to transcend Hegelian and Marxist philosophies. In addition to initiating a postmetaphysical, posthumanist mode of thought, Nietzsche taught Foucault that one could write a genealogical' history of unconventional topics such as reason, madness, and the subject which located their emergence within sites of domination. Nietzsche demonstrated that the will to truth and knowledge is indissociable from the will to power, and Foucault developed these claims in his critique of liberal humanism, the human sciences, and in his later work on ethics. While Foucault never wrote aphoristically in the style of Nietzsche, he did accept Nietzsche's claims that systematizing methods produce reductive social and historical analyses, and that knowledge is perspectival in nature, requiring multiple viewpoints to interpret a heterogeneous reality.

Foucault was also deeply influenced by Bataille's assault on Enlightenment reason and the reality principle of Western culture. Bataille (1985, 1988, 1989) championed the realm of heterogeneity, the ecstatic and explosive forces of religious fervor, secularity, and intoxicated experience that subvert and transgress the instrumental rationality and normalcy of bourgeois culture. Against the rationalist outlook of political economy and philosophy, Bataille sought a transcendence of utilitarian production and needs, while celebrating a general economy' of consumption, waste, and expenditure as liberator. Bataille's fervent attach on the sovereign philosophical subject and his embrace of transgressive experiences were influential for Foucault and other postmodern theorists. Through his writings, Foucault valorizes figures such as Holderlin, Artaud, and others for subverting the hegemony of modern reason and its norms and he frequently empathized with the mad, criminals, aesthetes, and marginalized types of all kinds.

Recognizing the problems with attaching labels to Foucault's work, we wish to examine the extent to which he develops certain postmodern positions. We do not read Foucault as a postmodernist tout court, but rather as a theorist who combines premodern, modern, and postmodern perspectives. We see Foucault as a profoundly conflicted thinker whose thought is torn between oppositions such as totalizing/detotalizing impulses and tensions between discursive/extra-discursive theorization, macro/microperspectives, and a dialectic of domination/resistance...


Chapter 3: Deleuze and Guattari: Schizos, Nomads, Rhizomes

We live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers... We no longer believe in a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: p.42)

A theory does not totalize; it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself... It is in the nature of power to totalize and ... theory is by nature opposed to power (Deleuze 1977a: p.208)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have embarked on postmodern adventures that attempt to create new forms of thought, writing, subjectivity, and politics. While they do not adopt the discourse of the postmodern, and Guattari (1986) even attacks it as a new wave of cynicism and conservativism, they are exemplary representatives of postmodern positions in their thoroughgoing efforts to dismantle modern beliefs in unity, hierarchy, identity, foundations, subjectivity and representation, while celebrating counter-principles of difference and multiplicity in theory, politics, and everyday life.

Their most influential book to date, Anti-Oedipus (1983; orig. 1972) is a provocative critique of modernity's discourses and institutions which repress desire and proliferate fascists subjectivities that haunt even revolutionary movements. Deleuze and Guattari have been political militants and perhaps the most enthusiastic of proponents of a micropolitics of desire that to precipitate radical change through a liberation of desire. Hence they anticipate the possibility of a new postmodern mode of existence where individuals overcome repressive modern forms of identity and stasis to become desiring nomads in a constant process of becoming and transformation.

Deleuze is a professor of philosophy who in the 1950s and 1960s gained attention for his studies of Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson, Proust and others. Guattari is a practicing psychoanalyst who since the 1950s has worked at the experimental psychiatric clinic, La Borde. He was trained in Lacanian psychoanalysis, has been politically active from an early age, and participated in the events of May 1968. He has collaborated with Italian theorist Antonio Negri (Guattari and Negri 1990) and has been involved in the autonomy' movement which seeks an independent revolutionary movement outside of the structures of organized parties. Deleuze and Guattari's separate careers first merged in 1969 when they began work on Anti-Oedipus. This was followed by Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1986; orig. 1975), A Thousand Plateaus (1987; orig. 1980), and numerous independent works by each author.

There are many interesting similarities and differences between their work and Foucault's. Like Foucault, Deleuze was trained in philosophy and Guattari has worked in a psychiatric hospital, becoming interested in medical knowledge as an important form of social control. Deleuze and Guattari follow the general tenor of Foucault's critique of modernity. Like Foucault, their central concern is with modernity as an unparalleled historical stage of domination based on the proliferation of normalizing discourses and institutions that pervade all aspects of social existence and everyday life.

Their perspectives on modernity are somewhat different, however. Most conspicuously, where Foucault tended toward a totalizing critique of modernity, Deleuze and Guattari seek to theorize and appropriate its positive and liberating aspects, the decoding of libidinal flows initiated b the dynamics of the capitalist economy. Unlike Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari's work is less a critique of knowledge and rationality than of capitalist society; consequently, their analyses rely on traditional Marxist categories more than Foucault's. Like Foucault, however, they by no means identify themselves as Marxists and reject dialectical methodology for a postmodern logic of difference, perspectives, and fragments. Also while all three foreground the importance of theorizing microstructures of domination. Deleuze and Guattari more clearly address the importance of macrostructures as well and develop a detailed critique of the state.

Further where Foucault's emphasis is on the disciplinary technologies of modernity and the targeting of the body within regimes of power/knowledge. Deleuze and Guattari focus on the colonization of desire by various modern discourse and institutions. While desire is a sub-theme in Foucault's later genealogy of the subject, it is of primary importance for Deleuze and Guattari. Consequently, psychoanalysis, the concept of psychic repression, engagements with Freudo-Marxism, and the analysis of the family and fascism play a far greater role in the work of Deleuze and Guattari than Foucault, although their critique of psychoanalysis builds on Foucault's critique of Freud, psychiatry, and the human sciences.

In contrast to Foucault who emphasizes the productive nature of power and rejects the repressive hypothesis', Deleuze and Guattari readily speak of the repression' of desire and they do so, as we shall argue, because they construct an essentialist concept of desire. In addition, Deleuze and Guattari's willingness to champion the liberation of bodies and desire stands in sharp contrast to Foucault's sympathies to the Greco-Roman project of mastering the self. All three theorists, however, attempt to decenter and liquidate the bourgeois, humanist subject. Foucault pursues this through a critical archaeology and genealogy that reduces the subject to an effect of discourse and disciplinary practices, while Deleuze and Guattari pursue a schizophrenic' destruction of the ego and superego In favor of a dynamic unconscious. Although Foucault later qualified his views on the subject, all three theorists reject the modernist notion of a unified, rational, and expressive subject and attempt to make possible the emergence of new types of decentered subjects, liberated from what they see to be the terror of fixed and unified identities, and free to become dispersed and multiple, reconstituted as new types of subjectivities and bodies.

All three writers have shown high regard for each other's work. In his book Foucault (1988; orig. 1986 p.14), Deleuze hails Foucault as a radically new thinker whose work represents the most decisive step yet taken in the theory-practice of multiplicities'. For his part, Foucault (1977; p. 213) claims that Deleuze and Guattari's work was an important influence on his theory of power and has written a laudatory introduction to Anti-Oedipus. In his review of Deleuze's work in "Theatrum Philosophicum" (1977: pp. 165-96), Foucault praises him for contributing to a critique of Western philosophical categories and to a positive knowledge of the historical event'. Modestly downplaying his own place in history, Foucault even claims (1977; p. 165) that perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian'. In the dialogue "Intellectuals and Power" (Foucault 1977: pp.205-17), Foucault and Deleuze's voices freely interweave in a shared project of constructing a new definition of theory which is always -already practice and local and regional' in character...


Chapter 4: Baudrillard en route to Postmodernity

Jean Baudrillard has emerged as one of the most high-profile postmodern theorists. He has achieved guru status throughout the English-speaking world and his works are rapidly being translated into Spanish, Italian, German, and other languages as well. Baudrillard's acolytes praise him as the talisman' of the new postmodern universe, as the commotion who theoretically energizes the postmodern scene, as the supertheorist of a new postmodernity. Moreover, whereas Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari never adopted the discourse of the postmodern, Baudrillard eventually identified with the postmodern turn and was crowned as a high priest of the new epoch. Furthermore, Baudrillard has developed the most striking and extreme theory of postmodernity yet produced and has been highly influential in cultural theory and discussions of contemporary media, art, and society.

A professor of sociology at the University of Nanterre from the 1960s until 1987, Baudrillard provided a series of provocative analyses of objects, signs, and codes in the consumer society in his early works. These writings attempted to synthesize the Marxian critique of political economy with semiology and were part of many attempts to revitalize revolutionary theory in the aftermath of the 1960s. The then carried out a sharp critique of Marxism in The Mirror of Production (1975; orig. 1973) and provided alternative, arguably postmodern, perspectives on contemporary society in L'echange symbolique et la mort (1976). In a series of widely discussed books and articles in the 1970s and 1980s, Baudrillard attached the fundamental presuppositions of modern theory and politics, while offering postmodern perspectives...


Chapter 5: Lyotard and Postmodern Gaming

In many circles, Lyotard is celebrated as the postmodern theorist par excellence. His book The Postmodern Condition (1984; orig. 1979) introduced the term to a broad public and has been widely discussed in the postmodern debates of the last decade. During this period, Lyotard has published a series of books which promote postmodern positions in theory, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. More than almost anyone, Lyotard has championed a break with modern theory and methods, while popularizing and disseminating postmodern alternatives. As a result, his work sparked a series of intense controversies that we address in this and the following chapters.

Above all, Lyotard has emerged as the champion of difference and plurality in all theoretical realms and discourses, while energetically attacking totalizing and universalizing theories and methods. In The Postmodern Condition, Just Gaming (1985; orig. 1979), The Difference (1988; orig. 1983) and a series of other books and articles published in the 1980s, he has called attention to the differences among the plurality of regimes of phrases' which have their own rules, criteria, and methods. Stressing the heterogeneity of discourses, Lyotard has, following Kant, argues that such domains as theoretical, practical, and aesthetic judgement have their own autonomy, rules, and criteria. In this way, he rejects notions of universalist and foundationalist theory, as well as claims that one method or set of concepts has privileged status in such disparate domains as philosophy, social theory, or aesthetics. Arguing against what he calls terroristic' and totalitarian' theory, Lyotard thus resolutely champions a plurality of discourses and positions against unifying theory.

Many of Lyotard's positions are of fundamental importance for contemporary postmodern theory and in this chapter we shall discuss those ideas which we find to be most central to current controversies and debates. Since his career encompasses almost four decades of diverse theoretical activity, our focus necessarily will be selective and will ignore many of his interesting interventions in theory, aesthetics, and politics. While we shall point to some important shifts in Lyotard's works from the standpoint of postmodern theory, there is also a continuity to his development. For at all stages, Lyotard sharply attacks modern discourses and theories, while attempting to develop new discourses, writing strategies, politics, and perspectives...


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