Butler (Re: cop shows, postmodernism and all that

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Mon Feb 8 09:27:37 PST 1999

Steve Perry wrote:

>Well, you're right, so far as you go--but it seems to me that all the
>post-whatever intellectual movements have contributed substantially to a
>diversion of energies from practical politics. They're kinda like video
>games in that regard; they advance the privatization of experience and of
>intellectual/emotional engagements. I mean, is it really going too far to
>suppose that they've got something to do with the utter lack of any new
>political movements (or leadership cadres) emerging from the universities
>in the last 20 years or so?

I think one reason that so many political intellectuals are obsessed with theory these days is that it's a symptom of defeat, and a hope that discourse can in part substitute for "action." But that's not all. I think people are also really at a loss over what to do and how to do it. How do you appeal to people today when capitalism seems mighty and permanent, our heads are saturated with advertisements, socialism and social democracy look totally discredited, and our day-to-day lives are hectic and atomized? What are the organizational strategies and the programmatic goals of radical politics today? Sure we can point to specifics - anti-prop 187 action, imprisonmnent issues, police violence - but those are just the kinds of micropolitics that anti-postmodernists decry. Lyotard is a blowhard and a faker, for sure, but if we're honest with ourselves, the grand narratives of progress and liberation look just a trifle wobbly, don't they? Most of the so-called Third World has been in depression on & off for the last 20 years, but where's the political resistance? Why is there so little? If you have some answers, Steve, please tell us.

A point of fact - AIDS and gay/lesbian/queer activism over the last 20 years was heavily influenced by that old Froggie theorist, Foucault. So I wouldn't say that the theory has had no practical issue.


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