Friday, June 18, 2010

Postmodernism, Difference and the Logic of Late Capitalism

Today's "what I'm reading" comes from Blake Higgins' blog, "(Ir)religiosity." In a post on the now "classic" critique of postmodernism as the logic of late capitalism (see especially the work of Frederic Jameson and David Harvey), Blake quotes from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire, pp.137-138 and 142-143.

In my doctoral thesis, I explored how emerging church discourse often positions the narratives and liturgies of consumerist capitalism as cultural forces that form subjectivities and socialities that are antithetical to the subjectivities and socialities formed by the narratives and liturgies of the Christian tradition. See, for example, the work of James K.A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, and the doctoral research of Jason Clark, for example this blog on the relationship between dieting and discpleship (desire). While many would argue that Hardt and Negri's critique is narrativally positioned not by the Christian tradition but by the Marxist tradition, this part of emerging church discourse nonetheless has much in common with the post-Marxist critique of postmodern culture.

"We suspect that postmodernist and postcolonialist theories may end up in a dead end because they fail to recognize adequately the contemporary object of critique, that is, they mistake today’s real enemy. What if the modern form of power these critics (and we ourselves) have taken such pains to describe and contest no longer holds sway in our society? What if these theorists are so intent on combating the remnants of a past form of domination that they fail to recognize the new form that is looming over them in the present? [...] In this case, modern forms of sovereignty would no longer be at issue, and the postmodernist and postcolonialist strategies that appear to be liberatory would not challenge but in fact coincide with and even unwittingly reinforce the new strategies of rule! When we begin to consider the ideologies of corporate capital and the world market, it certainly appears that the postmodernist and postcolonialist theorists who advocate a politics of difference, fluidity, and hybridity in order to challenge the binaries and essentialism of modern sovereignty have been outflanked by the strategies of power. Power has evacuated the bastion they are attacking and has circled around to their rear to join them in the assault in the name of difference. These theorists thus find themselves pushing against an open door." (137-38)

"The affirmation of hybridities and the free play of differences across boundaries, however, is liberatory only in a context where power poses hierarchy exclusively though essential identities, binary divisions, and stable oppositions. The structures and logics of power in the contemporary world are entirely immune to the 'liberatory' weapons of the postmodernist politics of difference. In fact, Empire too is bent on doing away with those modern forms of sovereignty and on setting differences to play across boundaries. Despite the best intentions, then, the postmodernist politics of difference not only is ineffective against but can even coincide with and support the functions and practices of imperial rule. The danger is that postmodernist theories focus their attention so resolutely on the old forms of power they are running from, with their heads turned backwards, that they tumble unwittingly into the welcoming arms of the new power. From this perspective the celebratory affirmations of postmodernists can easily appear naive, when not purely mystificatory." (142-43)

1 comment:

Blake Huggins said...

Hey, thanks for the link. And, on a completely unrelated note, thanks for creating and administering the new Jack Caputo page. I've been hoping that someone would do that.