Hey Paul! (Pomo Ground-clearing)

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at gte.net
Sat Mar 6 21:06:08 PST 1999

digloria wrote:

> Paul writes:
> >> Who says this PoMo stuff won't clear your head and revitalize your
> >> revolution for you?
> >>
> >> Not me! Not anymore!
> while i don't have the post in question, you went on to make some remark
> maintaining that pomos maintained that all is a text. please, point to
> specific *evidence* of this phenom.


Good one!

> >(2) Inheriting sensible ideas, and distorting them out of all
> >proportion, turning them into fetishes, is far worse. And this what PoMo
> >seems to do with incredible ferocity.
> again, evidence? specific texts? passages?
> >(3) I don't deny for a minute that oppositional pairs bear scrutiny. I
> >just think that PoMo approaches have a strong tendency to be rigid,
> >schematic, static, ahistorical and decontextual. Let's see, the
> >oppositional pair position would be flexible, fully-realized, dynamic,
> >historical and contextual.
> clearly you haven't really read a great deal of it have you, for this is
> precisely NOT the goal of much pomo theorizing.

(1) No I haven't read a great deal (allocation of scarce resources, you know). I'm basing this First on the fountainheads -- long-ago readings of Foucault (lots of fun) and Derrida (not) which did not in the least incline me to want to read more in this vein as serious philosophy (plus a dab of Lacan that was even worse). Second on my a few scattered readings of things since then -- sort of temperature takings. Third on discussions -- online, at very rare conferences, parties, etc. I was open to PLP, but you never came through.

(2) I was quite intentionally pointing precisely to the enormous gap between what PoMos claim to be up to and what they acutally do. This was very much the WHOLE POINT.

> see for example, Steve
> Seidman's _Contested Knowledge: Social Theory in the Postmodern Era_ Very
> accessible, very readable, and very much about a pomo project that
> recognizes the ethical impulse of social theory, that is local, specific,
> historical. Linda Nicholson's work might also be useful as well.

I'll put that in my file.

> >(4) For example, PoMo attacks on "reason" don't do very much at all to
> >advance our understanding of what reason actually is. On the other
> >hand, cognitive science is making a good deal of headway in
> >deconstructing the old reason/emotion dichotomy.
> what something actually *is* sometimes doesn't matter as much as what we
> *believe* it is. no one has been able to identify the 'cause' of
> alcohholism or a gay gene the 'causes' homosexuality. it seems to me that
> a pomo analysis of the various ideologies and ways of
> defining/understanding homosexuality sheds light on anumber of things.
> one is a revelation of the very historical, contextual character of these
> definitions in western societies.

But when it comes to something like "reason", it very much DOES matter what it is, and the relation between what it is and how it's theorized matters quite a bit as well.

> >(2) I want to understand where Marxism has gone wrong, using its
> >profoundest success to help understand its failure, rather than finding
> >new, more superficial ways to fail. Hence I find the mere listing of
> >similarities you offer as entirely besides the point -- except of course
> >as advertising.
> some pomo analyses seek to do precisely this: revealing the binarie of
> science/not-science, man/woman, white/black, western/non-western,
> developed/underdeveloped in marxist thinking.

Which, to me, is ham-fisted in the extreme.

> as much as i generally despise their work for certain reasons, have look at
> laclau and mouffe for this sort of critique.
> >(3) One way in which Marxism went wrong was by assuming a sort of
> >positivist scientism, which was amittedly altogether rampant at the
> >time.
> very much
> >PoMo, with its (non-exclusive) binary obsessions construes itself both
> >as positivist and anti-positivist: positivist in its emulation of
> >science (the jargon is the evidence of this, not its essence) and
> >anti-positivist in its arguments, which totally overlook the posibility
> >of construing science on non-positivist grounds.
> not all pomo can be characterized as anti-science in the way you've done
> here. you might want to look at the work of *social scientists* who've had
> to wrestle with this question in serious ways. Sandra Harding's Whose
> Science, Who's Knowledge would certainly be a place to start.

There's NO WAY I would categorize Sandra Harding as PoMo. Certainly not *Whose Science, Whose Knowledge*. Different antecedents, different methodology, different language, different everything. I had Sandra Harding as a presenter in a public lecture/discussion series I put on at radical bookstore several years ago. It was perfect.

> Richard
> Harvey Brown's work on the Rhetorical Construction of Sociological Truths
> as well as Norman Denzin's work which I can't think of off the top of my head.
> >(4) As an extra added bouns, William James was already deconstructing
> >the reason/emotion dichotomy 100 years ago in his exploration of "The
> >Sentiment of Rationality."
> so were some of the folks associated with the Scottish Enlightenment. So?

Indeed. The Scottish Enlightenment deserves a whole lot more attention from leftists than it has ever received. Especially if we're interested in playing for keeps on the American political landscape.

> >Needless to say, my problem with this whole gestalt gets down to the
> >very way that individualism is conceived, so your attempts at
> >clarifications & disavowels here is pretty much beside the point for me.
> so how do you think individualism ought to be conceived?

Think of Coltrane taking a solo when when played with Miles.

> >To repeat : This is emblamatic of my whole problem with PoMo -- it
> >DESTROYS the specific in its infatuation with its own holy
> >meta-narrative.
> not necessarily, but this sort of response certainly paints over all the
> differences by collapsing everything into one category such that there is
> no way in which to rescue the baby from the fate of the disposable diaper.

No post can be all things to all people.

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at gte.net

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

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