Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri

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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? What if the dominating powers that are the intended object of critique have mutated in such a way as to depotentialize any such postmodernist challenge? In short, what ifa new paradigm of power, a postmodern sovereignty, has come to replace the modern paradigm and rule through differential hierarchies of the hybrid and fragmentary subjectivities that these theorists celebrate? 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. We do not mean to suggest that postmodernist and/or postcolonialist theorists are somehow the lackeys of global capital and the world market. Anthony Appiah and ArifDirlik are ungenerous when they cast these authors in the position of "a comprador intelligentsia" and "the intelligentsia of global capitalism."[1] There is no need to doubt the democratic, egalitarian, and even at times anticapitalist desires that motivate large segments of these fields of work, but it is important to investigate the utility of these theories in the context of the new paradigm of power. This new enemy not only is resistant to the old weapons but actually thrives on them, and thus joins its would-be antagonists in applying them to the fullest. Long live difference! Down with essentialist binaries! To a certain extent postmodernist and postcolonialist theories are important effects that reflect or trace the expansion of the world market and the passage of the form of sovereignty. These theories point toward Empire, but in a vague and confused way, with no awareness of the paradigmatic leap that this passage constitutes. We have to delve deep into this passage, elaborate its terms, and make clear the lineaments that constitute the new Empire. Recognizing the value and limitations of postmodernist and postcolonialist theories is a first step in this project.
Politics of Difference
In order to appreciate fully the critical powers of postmodernist discourses, one must first focus on the modern forms of sovereignty. As we saw in the previous sections, the world of modern sovereignty is a Manichaean world, divided by a series of binary oppositions that define Selfand Other, white and black, inside and outside, ruler and ruled. Postmodernist thought challenges precisely this binary logic of modernity and in this respect provides important resources for those who are struggling to challenge modern discourses of patriarchy, colonialism, and racism. In the context of postmodernist theories, the hybridity and ambivalences of our cultures and our senses of belonging seem to challenge the binary logic of Self and Other that stands behind modern colonialist, sexist, and racist constructions. Similarly, the postmodernist insistence on difference and specificity defies the totalitarianism of universalizing discourses and structures of power; the affirmation of fragmented social identities appears as a means of contesting the sovereignty of both the modern subject and the modern nation-state, along with all the hierarchies they imply. This postmodernist critical sensibility is extremely important in this regard because it constitutes the proposition (or the symptom) of a break with respect to the entire development of modern sovereignty.
It is difficult to generalize about the numerous discourses that go under the banner of postmodernism, but most of them draw at least indirectly on Jean-Fran‡ois Lyotard's critique of modernist master narratives, Jean Baudrillard's affirmations of cultural simulacra, or Jacques Derrida's critique of Western metaphysics. In the most basic and reductive formulation, postmodernist theories are defined by many of their proponents as sharing one single common denominator, a generalized attack on the Enlightenment.[2] From this perspective the call to action is clear: Enlightenment is the problem and postmodernism is the solution.
We should take care, however, to look more closely at what exactly is intended by "Enlightenment" or "modernity" from this postmodernist perspective.[3] We argued earlier that modernity should be understood not as uniform and homogeneous, but rather as constituted by at least two distinct and conflicting traditions. The first tradition is that initiated by the revolution of Renaissance humanism, from Duns Scotus to Spinoza, with the discovery of the place of immanence and the celebration of singularity and difference. The second tradition, the Thermidor of the Renaissance revolution, seeks to control the utopian forces of the first through the construction and mediation of dualisms, and arrives finally at the concept of modern sovereignty as a provisional solution. When postmodernists propose their opposition to a modernity and an Enlightenment that exalt the universality of reason only to sustain white male European supremacy, it should be clear that they are really attacking the second tradition of our schema (and unfortunately ignoring or eclipsing the first). It would be more accurate, in other words, to pose postmodernist theory as a challenge neither to the Enlightenment nor to modernity in toto but specifically to the tradition of modern sovereignty. More precisely still, these various theoretical contestations are brought together most coherently in a challenge to the dialectic as the central logic of modern domination, exclusion, and command-for both its relegating the multiplicity of difference to binary oppositions and its subsequent subsumption of these differences in a unitary order. If modern power itself is dialectical, the logic goes, then the postmodernist project must be nondialectical.
Once we recognize postmodernist discourses as an attack on the dialectical form of modern sovereignty, then we can see more clearly how they contest systems of domination such as racism and sexism by deconstructing the boundaries that maintain the hierarchies between white and black, masculine and feminine, and so forth. This is how postmodernists can conceive their theoretical practice as heir to an entire spectrum of modern and contemporary liberation struggles. The history of challenges to European politicaleconomic hegemony and its colonial rule, the successes of national liberation movements, women's movements, and antiracist struggles, are all interpreted as the heritage of postmodernist politics because they, too, aim at disrupting the order and the dualisms of modern sovereignty. If the modern is the field of power of the white, the male, and the European, then in perfectly symmetrical fashion the postmodern will be the field of liberation of the nonwhite, the non-male, and the non-European. As bell hooks says, in its best form radical postmodernist practice, a politics of difference, incorporates the values and voices of the displaced, the marginalized, the exploited, and the oppressed.[4] The binaries and dualisms of modern sovereignty are not disrupted only to establish new ones; rather, the very power of binaries is dissolved as "we set differences to play across boundaries."[5]
Postmodernist thinking has been received by a wide range of scholars as a clarion call to a new paradigm of academic and intellectual practice, and as a real opportunity to dislodge the dominant paradigms of scholarship in their own field.[6] One of the most important examples from our perspective is the postmodernist challenge in the field of international relations.[7] Here the "modernist" paradigm of research is more or less identified with the methods of realism and neorealism, and thus centered on the concept of sovereignty, commonly understood as synonymous with the power of nation-states, the legitimate use of state violence, and territorial integrity. From a postmodernist perspective, this "modernist" international relations, because of its acceptance of and focus on these boundaries, tends to support the dominant power and the sovereignty of nation-states. Authors in this field thus make a clear connection between the critique of the binary dualisms of the "Enlightenment" developed in the context of the philosophical and literary postmodernists and the challenge to the fixed boundaries of modern state sovereignty. Postmodernist international relations theorists strive to challenge the sovereignty of states by deconstructing the boundaries of the ruling powers, highlighting irregular and uncontrolled international movements and flows, and thus fracturing stable unities and oppositions. "Discourse" and "interpretation" are presented as powerful weapons against the institutional rigidities of the modernist perspectives. The resulting postmodernist analyses point toward the possibility of a global politics of difference, a politics of deterritorialized flows across a smooth world, free of the rigid striation of state boundaries.
Although many of the various postmodernist theorists are lucid in their refusal of the logics of modern sovereignty, they are in general extremely confused about the nature of our potential liberation from it-perhaps precisely because they cannot recognize clearly the forms of power that have today come to supplant it. When they present their theories as part of a project of political liberation, in other words, postmodernists are still waging battle against the shadows of old enemies: the Enlightenment, or really modern forms of sovereignty and its binary reductions of difference and multiplicity to a single alternative between Same and Other. 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.
What we find most important in the various postmodernist currents of thought is the historical phenomenon they represent: they are the symptom of a rupture in the tradition of modern sovereignty. There is, of course, a long tradition of "anti-modern" thought that opposes modern sovereignty, including the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School (along with the entire republican line we have traced back to Renaissance humanism). What is new, however, is that postmodernist theorists point to the end of modern sovereignty and demonstrate a new capacity to think outside the framework of modern binaries and modern identities, a thought of plurality and multiplicity. However confusedly or unconsciously, they indicate the passage toward the constitution of Empire.
The Liberation of Hybridities, or Beyond Colonial Binaries
A certain stream of postcolonial studies also proposes a global politics of difference and might be well situated in line with postmodernist theory. Our analysis of modern sovereignty in the preceding sections poses already a strong potential rationale for an accord between postcolonialist and postmodernist theories. Insof ar as modern sovereignty was identified with Europe's tendency toward global domination, and more important, insofar as colonial administration and imperialist practices were central components in the constitution of modern sovereignty, postmodernist and postcolonialist theories do indeed share a common enemy. Postmodernism appears in this light to be fundamentally post-Eurocentric.
Postcolonial studies encompasses a wide and varied group of discourses, but we want to focus here on the work of Homi Bhabha because it presents the clearest and best-articulated example of the continuity between postmodernist and postcolonialist discourses. One of the primary and constant objects of Bhabha's attack are binary divisions. In fact, the entire postcolonial project as he presents it is defined by its refusal of the binary divisions on which the colonialist worldview is predicated. The world is not divided in two and segmented in opposing camps (center versus periphery, First versus Third World), but rather it is and has always been defined by innumerable partial and mobile differences. Bhabha's refusal to see the world in terms of binary divisions leads him to reject also theories of totality and theories of the identity, homogeneity, and essentialism of social subjects. These various refusals are very closely linked. The binary conception of the world implies the essentialism and homogeneity of the identities on its two halves, and, through the relationship across that central boundary, implies the subsumption of all experience within a coherent social totality. In short, the specter that haunts Bhabha's analysis and that coherently links together these various opponents is the Hegelian dialectic, that is, the dialectic that subsumes within a coherent totality the essential social identities that face each other in opposition. In this sense one could say that postcolonial theory (or at least this version of it) is, along with postmodernist theories, defined above all by its being nondialectical.
Bhabha's critique of the dialectic-that is, his attack on binary divisions, essential identities, and totalization-is both a sociological claim about the real nature of societies and a political project aimed at social change. The former is in fact a condition of possibility of the latter. Social identities and nations were never really coherent imagined communities; the colonized's mimicry of the colonizer's discourse rearticulates the whole notion of identity and alienates it from essence; cultures are always already partial and hybrid formations. This social fact is the basis on which a subversive political project can be conducted to destroy the binary structure of power and identity. In summary form, then, Bhabha's logic of liberation runs like this: Power, or forces of social oppression, function by imposing binary structures and totalizing logics on social subjectivities, repressing their difference. These oppressive structures, however, are never total, and differences are always in some way expressed (through mimicry, ambivalence, hybridization, fractured identities, and so forth). The postcolonial political project, then, is to affirm the multiplicity of differences so as to subvert the power of the ruling binary structures.
The utopia Bhabha points toward after the binary and totalizing structures of power have been fractured and displaced is not an isolated and fragmentary existence but a new form of community, a community of the "unhomely," a new internationalism, a gathering of people in the diaspora. The affirmation of difference and hybridity is itself, according to Bhabha, an affirmation of community: "To live in the unhomely world, to find its ambivalences and ambiguities enacted in the house of fiction, or its sundering and splitting performed in the work of art, is also to affirm a profound desire for social solidarity."[8] The seeds of the alternative community, he believes, arise out of close attention to the locality of culture, its hybridity, and its resistance to the binary structuring of social hierarchies. We should be careful to recognize the form of the dominating power that serves as the enemy (and really the negative foundation) in this postcolonialist framework. Power is assumed to operate exclusively through a dialectical and binary structure. The only form of domination Bhabha recognizes, in other words, is that of modern sovereignty. This is why, for example, he can say "hierarchical or binary" as if the two terms were interchangeable: from his perspective hierarchy as such is necessarily grounded in binary divisions, so that the mere fact of hybridity has the power to destroy hierarchy tout court. Hybridity itself is a realized politics of difference, setting differences to play across boundaries. This is where the postcolonial and the postmodern most powerfully meet: in the united attack on the dialectics of modern sovereignty and the proposition of liberation as a politics of difference.
Like the postmodernist theorists, postcolonial theorists such as Bhabha interest us primarily insofar as they are symptoms of the epochal shift we are undergoing, that is, the passage to Empire. Perhaps the discourses themselves are possible only when the regimes of modern sovereignty are already on the wane. Like postmodernists too, however, postcolonialist theorists in general give a very confused view of this passage because they remain fixated on attacking an old form of power and propose a strategy of liberation that could be effective only on that old terrain. The postcolonialist perspective remains primarily concerned with colonial sovereignty. As Gyan Prakash says, "The postcolonial exists as an aftermath, as an after-after being worked over by colonialism."[9] This may make postcolonialist theory a very productive tool for rereading history, but it is entirely insufficient for theorizing contemporary global power. Edward Said, certainly one of the most brilliant to go under the label of postcolonial theory, manages to condemn the current global power structures only to the extent that they perpetuate cultural and ideological remnants of European colonialist rule.[10] He charges that "the tactics of the great empires [that is, the European imperialisms], which were dismantled after the first world war, are being replicated by the U.S."[11] What is missing here is a recognition of the novelty of the structures and logics of power that order the contemporary world. Empire is not a weak echo of modern imperialisms but a fundamentally new form of rule.
Fundamentalism and/or Postmodernism
Another symptom of the historical passage already in process in the final decades of the twentieth century is the rise of so-called fundamentalisms. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the great ideologues of geopolitics and the theoreticians of the end of history have consistently posed fundamentalisms as the primary danger facing global order and stability. Fundamentalism, however, is a poor and confused category that groups together widely disparate phenomena. In general, one might say that fundamentalisms, diverse though they may be, are linked by their being understood both from within and outside as anti-modernist movements, resurgences of primordial identities and values; they are conceived as a kind of historical backflow, a de-modernization. It is more accurate and more useful, however, to understand the various fundamentalism not as the re-creation of a premodern world, but rather as a powerful refusal of the contemporary historical passage in course. In this sense, then, like postmodernist and postcolonialist theories, fundamentalisms too are a symptom of the passage to Empire.
Often today in the media the term "fundamentalism" reduces the variety of social formations that go by that name and refers exclusively to Islamic fundamentalism, the complexity of which is in turn reduced to a violent and intolerant religious fanaticism that is above all "anti-Western." Islamic fundamentalism itself, of course, takes various forms and has a long history extending throughout the modern era. Islamic revivalism and reformism were strong at different times in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the current forms of Islamic radicalism bear distinct similarities to those previous movements. Islamic fundamentalisms are most coherently united, however, in their being resolutely opposed to modernity and modernization. Insof ar as political and cultural modernization has been a process of secularization, Islamic fundamentalisms oppose it by posing sacred texts at the center of political constitutions and religious leaders, both priests and jurists, in positions of political power. In terms, too, of gender roles, family structures, and cultural forms, an unchanging, traditional religious norm is commonly meant to stand against the progressively changing secular forms of modernity. Counter to modernism's dynamic and secular society, fundamentalism seems to pose a static and religious one. In this light, then, as an anti-modernism, Islamic fundamentalisms seem to be engaged in an effort to reverse the process of social modernization, separate from the global flows of modernity, and re-create a premodern world. The Iranian revolution of 1979, for example, would from this perspective be seen as an anti-revolution, resurrecting an ancient order.
Christian fundamentalisms in the United States also present themselves as movements against social modernization, re-creating what is imagined to be a past social formation based on sacred texts. These movements should certainly be situated in line with the long U.S. tradition of projects to create in America a new Jerusalem, a Christian community separate from both the corruption of Europe and the savagery of the "uncivilized" world.[12] The most prominent social agenda of the current Christian fundamentalist groups is centered on the (re)creation of the stable and hierarchical nuclear family, which is imagined to have existed in a previous era, and thus they are driven specifically in their crusades against abortion and homosexuality. Christian fundamentalisms in the United States have also continuously been oriented (in different times and different regions more or less overtly) toward a project of white supremacy and racial purity. The new Jerusalem has almost always been imagined as a white and patriarchal Jerusalem.
These common characterizations of fundamentalisms as a return to a premodern or traditional world and its social values, however, obscure more than they illuminate. In fact, fundamentalist visions of a return to the past are generally based on historical illusions. The purity and wholesomeness of the stable, nuclear heterosexual family heralded by Christian fundamentalists, for example, never existed in the United States. The "traditional family" that serves as their ideological foundation is merely a pastiche of values and practices that derives more from television programs than from any real historical experiences within the institution of the family.[13] It is a fictional image projected on the past, like Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, constructed retrospectively through the lens of contemporary anxieties and fears. The "return to the traditional family" of the Christian fundamentalists is not backward-looking at all, but rather a new invention that is part of a political project against the contemporary social order.
Similarly, the current forms of Islamic fundamentalism should not be understood as a return to past social forms and values, not even from the perspective of the practitioners. According to Fazlur Rahman: "Actually it is even something of a misnomer to call such phenomena in Islam 'fundamentalist' except insofar as they emphasize the basis of Islam as being the two original sources: the Qur'an and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammed. Otherwise they emphasize ijtihad, original thought."[14] Contemporary Islamic radicalisms are indeed primarily based on "original thought" and the invention of original values and practices, which perhaps echo those of other periods of revivalism or fundamentalism but are really directed in reaction to the present social order. In both cases, then, the fundamentalist "return to tradition" is really a new invention.[15] The anti-modern thrust that defines fundamentalisms might be better understood, then, not as a premodern but as a postmodern project. The postmodernity of fundamentalism has to be recognized primarily in its refusal of modernity as a weapon of Euro-American hegemony-and in this regard Islamic fundamentalism is indeed the paradigmatic case. In the context of Islamic traditions, fundamentalism is postmodern insofar as it rejects the tradition of Islamic modernism for which modernity was always overcoded as assimilation or submission to Euro-American hegemony. "Ifmodern meant the pursuit of Western education, technology and industrialization in the first flush of the post-colonial period," Akbar Ahmed writes, "postmodern would mean a reversion to traditional Muslim values and a rejection of modernism."[16] Considered simply in cultural terms, Islamic fundamentalism is a paradoxical kind of postmodernist theory-postmodern only because it chronologically follows and opposes Islamic modernism. It is more properly postmodernist, however, when considered in geopolitical terms. Rahman writes: "The current postmodernist fundamentalism, in an important way, is novel because its basic ‚lan is anti-Western . . . Hence its condemnation of classical modernism as a purely Westernizing force."[17] Certainly, powerful segments of Islam have been in some sense "anti-Western" since the religion's inception. What is novel in the contemporary resurgence of fundamentalism is really the refusal of the powers that are emerging in the new imperial order. From this perspective, then, insofar as the Iranian revolution was a powerful rejection of the world market, we might think of it as the first postmodernist revolution.

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