On PoMo Contradiction
April 11, 2007
In responding to yesterday’s post on Carolyn Guertin, several commenters noted the contradictions that arise in various strands of PoMo theorising and its political connotations. These contradictions are often summarised as: “All cultures are equal in merit, but the West is uniquely oppressive, imperialist and corrupting. All values are subjective, but sexism, racism and imperialism are definitely evil and must be struggled against.” With these contradictions in mind, I thought I’d post a brief extract from an interview with Stephen Hicks, author of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault:
“If all you want to do is destroy, it doesn't matter to you if the words you use contradict each other… I sometimes think of an analogy here to a stereotypically unscrupulous lawyer who will use any argument, even one that contradicts one he's already made, if he thinks it will be rhetorically useful in convincing a jury. If one is driven by anti-capitalism, then one knows that attacking technology harms capitalism and one knows that attacking unequal distribution harms capitalism. So who cares if those two arguments contradict each other? You're harming capitalism!”
As most of the major figures in politicised postmodernism have favoured various forms of collectivism, anti-capitalism and deranged authoritarianism, it’s easy to see how the argument above might apply. Relativistic arguments may be used against the enemy – to flatten hierarchies, for instance - but they’re less readily applied to the collectivist or reactionary politics that PoMo enthusiasts so often advance. (Thus, sceptics among us might suspect the relativism is actually a ruse to further an absolutist agenda.)
If one’s ‘work’ is based on being oppositional – or being seen to be oppositional - against capitalism, racism, sexism, imperialism (real or imagined), white male patriarchy, etc, then liberties can, and probably will, be taken. Attempts to fathom truth, or to be consistent, meaningful and accurate, can, and probably will, be dispensed with in order to advance The Great Cause. (Or The Great Oppositional Posture, depending on one’s scepticism.) And it’s worth noting that in Criticism and Social Change, the left-wing theorist, Frank Lentricchia, announced that the postmodern movement “seeks not to find the foundation and conditions of truth, but to exercise power for the purpose of social change.” Achieved, one might suppose, even at the cost of truth.