Post-modernism Today

A Brief Introduction



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Post-modernists/post-structuralists insist on "difference" and the fragmented nature of reality and human knowledge. Instead of accepting the structural process accessible to human knowledge, they hold the focus on differences. They emphasize "difference", on varied particular identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, on various particular and separate oppressions and struggles, on the fluid fragmented human self (the ‘decentered subject’), making our identities extremely variable, uncertain and fragile.

The guru of post-modernists / post-structuralists, Nietzche said that man becomes human by being the other of the non-human, he being the other of slave, etc. He argued and what his disciples echo that future humanity would have to be determined by accepting a variety of differentiated roles.[Friedriche Nietzche, The Gay Science, Vantage Books, 1966, p.38] He further said that man would have to act "as if" he were determined by instinct, without delving into the self in search of rules for action. (ibid. pp.279-300, 302-303). To him difference had to appear natural or all action would be ironic, detached and uncommitted. He went to the extreme by declaring that out of homogeneity, difference would be re-created, first through the difference of state and the resultant differentiation of consciousness. From this flowed his strong repugnance to socialist equality or even any sort of distribution of good for the greatest number in the bourgeois Benthamian sense. He preached that the root cause of decay "was brought to a peak by Jesus : with him every man was of equal worth, and had equal rights; out of his doctrine came democracy, utilitarianism, socialism, progress now defined in terms of these plebeian philosophies, in terms of decadence and descending life. [Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 1933, p.420] Post-modernist/post-structuralists worship Nietzche who preached eugenic breading, birth of the superman, eulogised the well-bred splendid stock of the ruling class in Germany, France, England, Italy, Russia, etc. He detested feminism, democracy, equality between man and woman. He thought that that splendid stock of ruling class was corrupted, first by Catholic praise for feminist virtues secondly by the puritan and plebian ideals or Reformation and thirdly by insufficient emphasis on ‘difference’ [ibid. p.429] Nietzche’s over-emphasis on ‘difference’ naturally led him to such a reactionary height. He became the father figure in Nazi Germany, which drew inspiration from his racialism and the notion of predatory modern hegemony of Will. Heidegger joined Nietzche in founding the philosophy of "difference" that has gained so much currency among the post-modernists. But for Heidegger, "difference" is never primarily a human contrivance, even though it changes. It must be, however, recalled, that his own thought was the carrying forward of Nietzche’s view. And he became directly associated with German Fascism.

One of the central issues of post-modernism is related to the problem of Nature overlapping with the question of "difference". Some post-modernists/post-structuralists think that they should transcend the anti-nature animus of modernity — not by Willing the natural as a myth, as with Nietzche, any more, than by affirming that no part of difference is a social construct — but by legitimising self-presenting difference, respecting it and the interactions that flow from it. Post-modernists/post-structuralists in their bid to follow the Nietzchean tradition prescribe that difference is preferable to identity, otherness to sameness and thus dismiss inadvertently that all universalism is oppressive. As a corrolary of this extreme view they dream of a human world free from all law and constraints, floating ambiguously from one "subject’s position" to another. Thus they posit human subjects as merely the effect of cultural forces, privileging culture over nature. They reject the notion of whole and without any programme to tackle the system of exploitation and oppression they describe the relations of production — if they are compelled to call them as such — as mere fragmented, diffused or disorganised ones. And along with the strong view on language, or discourse constructing ‘the real’, the notion of ‘difference’ is given all importance. Post-modernists/post-structuralists state that all difference is relational, based on the play of unstable surfaces, where, with Derrida for example, the surfaces are seen as signs that point to no ultimate signified or source. It is a thoroughly theoretical imposition upon the phenomena. These post-modernists/post-structuralists have written ‘natural’ difference out of existence "only to extol difference as a free-floating, ever-changing, contingent surface". This deification of surface is perfectly Nietzcheanism. It refuses to accept physis as self-presenting and not based on our projections. It must be admitted that physis presents itself in a variety of ways and there is very little primary Nature left to us to which we can return. In the common sense terms, Nature and habit always melt away making attempts to completely differentiate the parts of the whole difficult and so focussing the two separately opens a path to absurdity. Both unity and diversity should be counted in a dialectical way against such Nietzcheain tradition.

It is true modernism of the West preached history as only universally valid and universal. Such unilinear notion rejected localised and other histories outside the universal as outmoded. It is an element of exclusivism of modernity which can be justly criticised. Marxism admits difference obviously not in the post-modernist way which abandons the concept of whole, truth, emancipation and so on. Marx’s understanding of the movement of history was not based on a simple belief in progress. Much of Marx’s intellectual energy was devoted to a monumental critique of Enlightenment thought related to capitalism’s exploitative nature and its inherent contradictions. At the same time he projected the alternative to the path of capitalism.

In the name of ‘difference’, Foucault’s view on cultures and traditions remaining outside the universalist norms of concrete progrmmme of action quite naturally leads to worshipping pre-modern elements and depoliticised passivity. And this settles for a different mode of domination, locally different understandings steeped in cultural practices in the societies: what is ironic that the violence in those societies, each being different from the other, however, does not get minimised by their multiplicity. But to worship the ‘difference’ as being intrinsic to societies is to legitimise and provide feudal moral licence accepting all the horror-inspiring practices in such colonial or semi-feudal societies of the East. This is the danger of irrationally worshipping orthodox practices in the name of legitimising "difference". Lyotard is in agreement with Foucault in rejecting Marxism and Reason as meta-narratives in support of ‘little narratives’ of ethnic, minorities, local communities and traditional beliefs. He posits ‘culture and ‘customary knowledge’ against the rational and the scientific. Culture of a people is supposed to be ‘constituted’ as a ‘difference’. The ‘difference’ is clearly a primordial difference. In addition, such culture is knowable to the insiders, not to the outsiders, the ‘foreigners’. Such extreme rightist views on the ‘difference’ between insiders and outsiders is an extremely welcome concept to the BJP and its sister organisations, the RSS and the VHP in India. Such organisations too highlight such ‘difference’ posing that material minded Europe can never reflect that so-called spiritual culture of India. Ethnic cleansing, exclusionary concepts are rooted in such ‘difference’. Ideologues of Post-modernism/post-structuralism fulminate against all rationality, science and the rebel spirit grown out of the Renaissance presumably to force us into the pre-modern world. But it is curious that they themselves are much too dependent on the luxuries of the West or the East aided by modern-facilities and state-of-the-art gadgets. Marxism condemns such uncritical worship of the past as conservation and hypocrisy while favouring critical assimilation of the best of the past and the present.

The communal Hindutva ideologues in India carry on an insidious propaganda that Hindus are turning into minority. The RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar’s teachings were to see the "difference" with the Muslims and so if not physically, paralyse them economically and ostracise them socially. Such dangerous obsession with the notion of this "difference" and emphasizing it like something unchangeable and stable have always been menacing to all progressive people. Hitler’s philosophical guru Nietzche advocated eugenics and Hitler’s eugenic sterilization victims included a part from tens of thousands of Jews, the Communists, gypsies, the mentally challenged, etc. Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the dark days of Emergency period in 1975-77 in the name of family planning through vasectomy killed 1,774 men primarily poor, overwhelmingly from the scheduled castes and minorities.[Hindustan Times, Dec 19, 2002]

What is ridiculous and illogical is that post-modernists/post structuralists are given to stretching things to an extreme point trampling upon commonsense and reality. Marxists allow space for ‘difference’ positing it in proper perspective as they focus on identity. And all depends on the bedrock of the crucial question of people’s interests and social progress. The post-modernist protagonists of ‘difference’ absolutise it and thus abandon the very scope and concept of united struggles or cementing the unity of the wretched of the earth.


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