Post-modernism Today

A Brief Introduction



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Cultural Studies The Tunnel View


Like the post-colonial theories, cultural studies emphasizing culture or cultural differences as fundamental, permanent and stable emerged in the end of the last century. The earlier British New Left in the 1950s and 1960s led by Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams contributed to the field of culture linking working class culture to domination and liberation rejecting the dogmatic reductionist view prevalent among some Marxists. Diametrically opposite to the optimistic, basically pro-poor orientation of the above, the recent Cultural Studies having genetic links with post-modernism that cropped up expressing itself as radical, but in reality when it toed post-modernism/post-structuralism, the result was depoliticisation. In the words of Probert W. McChesney, "The professionalization of Cultural Studies implicitly encourages depoliticization, which makes it far easier to get funding. for those who abhor radical politics or believe that radical politics must be secondary to institutional success, this depoliticization is a welcome turn of events, a sign of the field’s maturity..." [Robert W. McChesney, Is there Any Hope for Cultural Studies, Monthly Review, March 1996.] The very foundation that culture or difference among people based on culture as something permanent has its root in the orthodox religious and community ideologies of the past. Post-modernism identified the enemy in the Enlightenment reasons crudely regarding the threatened Enlightenment values themselves as the problem, the fountainhead of all oppression. What the Enlightenment consciousness did positively do to a great extent was separating the domain of politics from the domain of religion. The rich contributions in various fields of knowledge in the recent centuries had to stridently battle with the prejudiced and dogmatic view of cultural immutability. Like everything cultures are also changing but the recent theories of cultural specificity consider that differences between cultures are always decisive while similarities are only coincidence.

Edward Said’s, "Orientalism" is located in the cultural studies emphasizing European humanism’s complicity in the history of European colonialism. Such Foucaultian notions can be faulted on the basic question: this narrative of convergence between colonial knowledge and colonial Powers simply can not be assembled within Cultural Studies itself, because histories of economic exploitation political repression, military conquest, and ruthless colonial policies can not be simply assembled within such limited studies. It is true that colonial, European humanism, had a capitalist rationality and colonial culture had a role in the colonisation of the East. Yet it is sweeping and one-sided to lump them in the Cultural Studies itself as fundamentals of colonialism. The theoreticians of Cultural Studies virtually relegated to the backburner the role of political oppression, economic exploitation, military conquest, etc. With this almost exclusive target at the western ‘Metropolitan Culture’ Edward Said reached such a dangerous position.

"Resistance to imperialism does not, of course, only involve armed force or band of guerrillas. It is mainly with nationalism and with an aroused sense of aggrieved religious, cultural, or existential identity" [Edward Said, Orientalism, ibid, p.27-28 (emphasis ours)]

Thus resistance is not mainly the armed struggle along with such various levels of movements of the masses, of course inclusive of the struggles against colonial, feudal or reactionary bourgeois culture, but mainly the struggle against the alien culture. Such a view in practice begets a crop of arm-chair critics who can never dare to cut offf the foundations of the colonial or the capitalist system. Of course, in spite of his ideological problems, unlike many of the others, Said was a staunsh protagonist of the Arab/Palestine cause against Israeli Zionism.

Samuel Huntington, the head of national security under the U.S. president Jimmy Carter declared in The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of The World Order, that cultural differences are fundamental because they involve domains defining "relations between human beings and God, Nature, Power", is at one and the same time to reduce cultures to religions, and to regard that each and every culture emanates fixed specific concepts. Samir Amin has raised a very relevant question. To quote Amin, "...which ‘cultures’ are we talking about? Those defined by religious space, by language, by ‘nations’, by homogeneous economic region, or by political system? Huntington has apparently chosen ‘religion’ as the basis for his ‘seven groups’, which he defines as Occidental (Catholic and Protestant), Muslim, Confucian (although Confucianism is not a religion !), Japanese (Shintoist or Confucian?), Hindu, Buddhist, and Orthodox Christian ..." [Samir Amin, Imperialism and Culturalism Complement Each Other, Monthly Review, June 1996, p.5]. Such a view must be pleasing the religious fanatics who preach Hindutva or Islamic or Christian orthodoxy. This is also a very important question of methodology and orientation of a social scientist revolutionary. Huntington imaginatively and with definite purpose predicted that after the fall of the Soviet Union "... the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political or economic. In the new world the most pervasive, important and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor or other economically defined group". [Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, ibid. p.28]. Such mapping of history or painting the course of unfolding history informed by a purposely ‘grand narrative’, is an incitation to religious clashes. This does not mean we do not support struggle of religious minorities against discrimination or such struggles against religious domination. Such a USA-endorsed view rejects or banishes the emancipatory politics against the capitalist system and considers capitalism as universal and permanent. The BJP, the main Fascist political force in India must draw inspiration from Edward Said’s formulation on mainly national or cultural resistance or Huntington’s prediction on basically the rise of religion-based civilization. Hitler denounced the class politics of the Communists in Germany and instead raised successfully the ghastly anti-human battle-cry of German nationalism based on anti-Jew, anti-class so-called Aryan culture of the past.

The communal Hindutva ideologues in India carry on an insidious propaganda that the Hindus are turning into minorities in their own land of so-called Hindu cultural heritage. The RSS supremo M.S, Golwalkar publicly acknowledged his debt to Savarkar. He adopted Savarkar’s theory of "cultural nationalism". And what is this? It is embodied in the BJP’s manifestos of 1996 and 1998 and expectedly fits perfectly with the orientation of post-modernist Cultural Studies. It reads: "Our nationalist vision is not merely bound up by the geographical or political identity of media, but defined by an ancient cultural heritage. From this belief flows our faith in cultural nationalism, which is the core of Hindutva." [Quoted by A.G. Noorani, Anti consensus, Pro-hate, Hindustan Times, 21 January 2003].

It should not, however, be misconstrued that Marxists altogether junk nationalism and the role of cultural identity. In various struggles cultures of the people have played an important role in rousing a spirit of oneness and a sense of identity against colonialism or the oppressive order. In various local level peasant resistances like the Wahabi movement, Moplah revolts, etc. religion of the oppressed peasants helped in the solidarity of the oppressed peasants. However, this appeal of a particular religion, as Islam in case of the Moplahs, had a limiting role in spreading the flame of revolt among the Hindu oppressed peasants living in the adjoining areas. The nationalist revolutionaries taking oath in the name of Hindu god or goddess during the armed struggle against the British alienated the Muslims. Instances abound. Marxists judge or support a movement in consideration of genuine anti-imperialist, anti-exploitative nature but may not subscribe to all the elements associated with the politics of such a movement. What Post-modernists provoke, preach, concentrate on and support is the view that religion or community-based identities are stable and a substitute for class identity and solidarity of the masses. Caste, community, religious and such bonds are inherently too narrow, weak-visioned and one-sided to ultimately face the global attack of imperialism and reactionary classes at home.


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