Re: >Colonialism (long)

Matthew S. Tomaso (tomaso@UTXVMS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU)
Thu, 9 Feb 1995 16:14:45 -0600

At 11:52 PM 2/8/95, Cook wrote wrote:

>I'm sorry, I don't connect the list of authors you gave as proponents of
>"universalising generality", I would, however, connect them with the idea
>there is a time and a place for particular theoretical forms, but I would
>not claim that these were some replaced form of modernism, or even
>particularly strongly connected with modernism.

Here's the argument. I sometimes agree with it, and sometimes I don't.
Today I'm uncommitted:
Despite the long-awaited death of the metanarrative, this form is still
alive and well in postmodernism. I don't believe that Foucault was a
philosopher of praxis, but had he even intended to be, his
all-too-appreciative audience could never let the metanarrative die so
easily. Followers of Foucault and others do find a 'truth' in postmodern
writing, and most see it as an _advance_ over earlier forms. If this
sounds like the rhetoric of the enlightenment, then so be it. In other
words, most postmodernists _do_ have a wide variety of assumptions regarding
the constitution of an ontological reality or universal truth. In practice
then, the main difference between modernist belief in a unified reality and
the postmodern equivalent is that postmodernists leave that 'truth' implicit
and, therefore, somewhat interpretable. Following Foucault is destroying
the very value of postmodern critique and philosophy - a philosophy which
can only be 'true' in that its practitioners readily admit that it is not
'true', in any generalizing sense of the word. I believe that it is useful
to have an epistemological crisis every once in a while and that we need
radically creative thought to infuse new thought and perspectives into the
discipline. Here's the catch - in deconstruction we in fact legitimate the
fact that there is something to deconstruct - there is something to that
which is to be deconstructed, and we also construct or reconstruct something
(even if that something is a void or an undefined) in its place. Another
thing that I don't think is generally recognized is that postmodernism can
not really exist w/o a simultaneous modernism with which to contrast itself.
Personally, I choose to use tools, goals, and ideas from both modernist and
what-calls-itself-postmodrnist writing.

>As to the term post-colonial, there is a large body of theoretical and
>critical material (Bhaba, Spivak etc) that is generally included under the
>idea "post-colonialism". It is not " a term best reserved for ideologists
>promoting the
>existing power structure through propaganda." As for the question "When did
>the USA, for
>instance, give up colonialism?", well the question of what the "post" in
>post-colonialism means has been of major consideration to this genre.

Okay, I admit ignorance on this issue. Why bother with this term at all?
What _is_ the agenda? Is it the hope of making something real, factual and
actual by saying it over and over again? Or is it simply a move to make a
word that could have a common meaning ('post-colonial') the exclusive
intellectual property of those who are in-the-know? The term seems to have
such an obvious meaning that I can't help but wonder why it doesn't
necessarily mean what it says.

>My reference to a notion of "conclusive difference" was simply (and I take
>it that this is what you thrust of your disagreement is) that there is a
>level of particularity to the phenomenon of New World racism that means >that
>attempts to generalise a theory of racism beyond this particularity are very
>limited in their ability to account for the lived experience of New World
>racism. I would certainly agree that the Bible is intimately connected to
>the character of New World racism, but I would not neccesssarily agree that
>racism, as it occurred at the time of the Bible's writing is deeply
>connected to NW racism. I think most of us simply see NW racism in the

By see, I assume you mean 'project'. and by 'racism' I assume you mean the
twentieth centure form of racism. Our inability to do much beyond
projection our present into the past regarding ideational or abstract
phenomena is something archaeologists have been aware of for a long time.
I don't think there ius anything wrong or disfunctional with that, however,
I'm not sure that I've ever met anybody stupid enough to believe that the
racism in the bible is the same as the racism today. Perhaps its just a
semantic misunderstanding, but I interpret some of the gist of
colonial-genesis arguments for racism as 'racism as a concept has no meaning
until colonialism.'

>I agree with you that that Barth has a nice open conception of ethnicity. I
>wasn't trying too say I had a problem with that. I guess I was just trying
>to get at some sort of idea that ethnicities as they are frequently
>constiuted in the context of the late twentieth century are self
>consciousness aware of a notion of "cultural difference" and of the way in
>which one is percieved as "culturally different' to be central to the kind
>of political space an "ethnicity is able to occupy". I don't whether I'm
>still a bit muddy,but it's this kind of perception of "ethnicity" that I
>don't really think is contained within Barth.

I don't know whether its the mud or the content here that interferes with my
reception. Barth certainly does believe in an oppositional construction of
all forms of ethnicity. I, personally, center my understanding of ethnicity
and especially ethnogenesis around the oppositions it/they construct(s) and
reinforce(s) and this may or may not have come out of my reading of Barth.
part of it, at least, comes out of my desire to make archaeology somewhat
meaningful in a present-day context.

>Iwasn't suggesting that you were trying to respnd to R Johnson, but I think
>what you are both circling around is a similar set of issues.
>Common Ground is where you make it.

I certainly agree that there is a relation. But I am not providing
prescriptions, just some pointed questions.

>Happy to discuss this with you further

same here

>John Cook.

Thanks again.


Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin