Re: Colonialism (long)

Robert Johnson (johnsorl@COLORADO.EDU)
Sun, 12 Feb 1995 20:27:37 -0700

On Mon, 13 Feb 1995, Anthro Students wrote:

> Reply to: RE>>>Colonialism (long)
> 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
> >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.
> 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
> criticise.
> >
> 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.
> Regards
> John Cook.