Re: Colonialism (long)

Anthro Students (anthro.students@ANTHROPOLOGY.SU.EDU.AU)
Mon, 13 Feb 1995 13:49:10 +1000

Matt Tomaso 10/2/95 2:47 PM wrote, in response to my response,

>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
>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'
>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
>(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
>Personally, I choose to use tools, goals, and ideas from both modernist
>what-calls-itself-postmodrnist writing.

Look, I think a lot of what you say is spot on. Foucaultian analysis has a
severe problem with it's ability to posit the basis for practical action in
the world. Everything, including politics has been discoursed out of
existence. The only way to stop this from falling around your ears is by a
slight of hand, an, as you say, implicit agenda that lies outside the frame
of analysis. Thus for Foucault, there is an implicit argument about the
"rightness" of his sexual choices that stands outside his frame of analysis.
Its really quite sneaky because it claims that everything is discursively
constructed except for the value held behind its back. Hence its tendency to
be utilised for prodigeous moralising in endless numbers of arenas.
Simultaneously this hidden agenda, in combination with the techno
bureaucratic conception of human subjectivity has meant that it has moved
rapidly into educational institutions etc. Ironically Foucault himself has
become the principle vehicle of everything he himself was trying to
Derridean deconstruction is a slightly different kettle of fish. An
interesting reference with respect to your commment would be Jean Pierre
Dupuy "Carnival and the Logic of Deconstruction" and "Deconstruction and the
Liberal Order". He says almost exactly what you do. However, I think there is
a tendency to characterise deconstruction a totalising philosophy, mostly on
the part of its practicioners than its critics. "Ha, Ha I've deconstructed
you, now you're gone. etc." As I take deconstruction, it is not intended as a
refutation, or destruction of Truth or totality, but a different way of
thinking about totality. In particular the tendency is to deconstruct with
the assumption that deconstruction is itself unaffected by the process of
deconstruction, as you say, the critique of totality that assumes it is
itself a totality. If it is to be taken seriously it cannot be a totality,
but is itself subject to the same fluctuations of identity as its referent. I
hope I'm not sounding like a pomo text here. It's not easy. I think what I'm
trying to say is that you're right, but that this is primarily a function of
the fact that a great many of the people espousing these theories (as with
many past theories) are primarily interested in self-gratification, rather
than useful thought (oops a modernist concept). Basically there's just a lot
of shitty analyses out there.

You go on to discuss "post-colonialism"

>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.

I would perhaps discuss "poco" in a number of ways. To start with poco is
simply a registering of the fact that there are a large number of people from
previously colonised, silenced, arenas finding themselves in a position to
occupy while critiqueing (and this is a problem) the critical space of "the
West". The "other" is indeed speaking back. What that means is another
question altogether. In terms of anthropology, poco, and cultural studies
ingeneral I think of as an attempt on the part of disciplines previously
concerned with capital C notions of culture (Literature, Aesthetics etc) to
move into the anthropological domain of the concept of culture. This in part
explains the vehemence of many of the attacks upon anthropolgy as a
discipline, but only partly. The rest of the vehemence is explained by the
kind of response recieved by R Johnson to his suggestions. These responses
have been almost absurdly directed primarily at his personal style and have
attempted to in any way "hermeneutically engage" with the larger and perhaps
less bombastic issues that he brings up. It just seems to me that there's no
point in trying to just shut out the poco, pomo, cult. studies stuff. It's
here to stay and is central part of the intellectual and institutional milieu
of the late twentieth century. There's no cause for guilt fear, embaressment
in this situation (and I'm not suggesting you are, these are just some of the
words used by others), but I don't think we as anthropologists can afford not
to engage with this material.

This is all I've got time for now.


John Cook.