From James Joyce to Howdy Doody: Deconstruction and deindustrialization after 1968

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Loren Gold­ner was an angry is­land of Marxi­an cri­tique sur­roun­ded in the 1980s and 1990s by a sea of post­struc­tur­al­ist and post­co­lo­ni­al hogshit. Even os­tens­ibly Marx­ist parties like the ISO in­tern­al­ized a lot of the re­lat­iv­ist garbage of this peri­od, however much they might claim to re­ject it.

I think Gold­ner is a bit un­fair in lump­ing the Frank­furt School in with all the oth­er stuff he dis­cusses in this es­say, but in terms of its re­cep­tion by the Anglo­phone academy he has a point. One might quibble with Gold­ner’s char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of this or that thinker, or some of his gen­er­al­iz­a­tions, but this is de­lib­er­ate and cal­cu­lated for po­lem­ic­al ef­fect.

This es­say was ori­gin­ally pub­lished in 2001, and can be read over at his web­site. I’ve taken the liberty of cor­rect­ing the vari­ous mis­spellings that ap­pear in it, and ad­ded first names of au­thors who might oth­er­wise seem a bit ob­scure. You should also check out his es­say on “The Uni­ver­sal­ity of Marx” re­pos­ted by Com­in Situ a few months back, an in­cis­ive cri­tique of Ed­ward Said and Samir Amin.

Foucault Deleuze SartreDeconstruction and deindustrialization
Ontological “difference” and the neoliberal war
on the social

Loren Goldner
Queequeg Press
January 2001
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Art without know­ledge is noth­ing.
[Ars sine sci­en­tia ni­hil.
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— Jean Mignot

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It was 1971. We were in our early twen­ties and we were mad. After the seem­ing pre­lude to apo­ca­lypse we had just lived through, who, at the time, would have be­lieved that we were at the be­gin­ning of three dec­ades (and count­ing) in which, in the U.S. at least, mass move­ments would all but dis­ap­pear from the streets? Even today, the evan­es­cence of the world-wide mood of 1968 seems slightly in­cred­ible. The funk of 1971 turned Wordsworth on his head: “Ter­rible in that sun­set to be alive, but to be young was hell it­self.”

The “six­ties,” in their pos­it­ive im­pulse, were over. In the U.S., the mass move­ment in the streets of 1965 to 1969 was quickly turn­ing co­matose. The ul­tra-Sta­lin­ist Pro­gress­ive Labor Party cap­tured SDS (Stu­dents for a Demo­crat­ic So­ci­ety), but cap­tured only a corpse made up only of its own rap­idly-dwind­ling mem­bers. The stock mar­ket crashed, Penn Cent­ral went bank­rupt, and the fin­an­cial mar­kets seized up in a gen­er­al li­quid­ity crisis (it would not be the last). Not many people of the 1960s New Left paid much at­ten­tion to these eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ments at the time, and few­er still un­der­stood that they signaled the end of the post­war boom. But a sense of the end of something was in the air. The Decem­ber 1969 Alta­mont con­cert of the Rolling Stones had turned ugly, as the Hell’s An­gels guard­ing the band­stand had beaten a young black man to death with pool cues. The Chica­go po­lice murdered Black Pan­ther Fred Hamp­ton in his sleep. Charles Man­son’s col­lect­ive had earli­er murdered preg­nant act­ress Shar­on Tate and oth­er party­go­ers in the Hol­ly­wood hills, leav­ing a fork in Tate’s stom­ach, and the Weather­men made the fork in­to a sym­bol of struggle at their next con­fer­ence. Some Weather­men, in turn, blew them­selves up in a Green­wich Vil­lage pent­house, though Ber­nad­ine Dohrn and the oth­ers would con­tin­ue to plant more bombs and to put out their de­men­ted mani­fes­tos for some time af­ter­ward. The postal work­ers struck mil­it­antly and the gov­ern­ment sent the Na­tion­al Guard — fu­tilely — to de­liv­er the mail be­fore cav­ing to the strike. Nix­on and the U.S. mil­it­ary in­vaded Cam­bod­ia; the Team­sters wild­cat­ted in Clev­e­land and else­where; the Na­tion­al Guard unit which had con­fron­ted the Team­sters went on to Kent State with little sleep and killed four anti-war stu­dents. A na­tion­al stu­dent strike fol­lowed, but it was (sig­ni­fic­antly) taken over in many places, for the first time in years, by left-lib­er­als who tried to turn its en­ergy to lib­er­al Demo­crat­ic polit­ics for the fall 1970 elec­tions. Huey New­ton, head of the Black Pan­ther Party (BPP), was re­leased from jail in sum­mer 1970, an­noun­cing at the en­su­ing press con­fer­ence his in­ten­tion to “lead the struggle of the people to a vic­tori­ous con­clu­sion,” ap­par­ently un­aware (after serving 2½ years on man­slaughter charges for killing an Oak­land cop) that the “struggle of the people” in the U.S. was, for the fore­see­able fu­ture, fold­ing up the tent. The sleaze and rot of the end of the six­ties were not a pretty sight: Tim Leary, the former P.T. Barnum of LSD, held pris­on­er by the break­away Eldridge Cleav­er fac­tion of the BPP in Al­gi­ers; the burnt-out meth freaks scroun­ging spare change; the grim de­term­in­a­tion, in dour New Left mi­lieus, to “smash” everything bour­geois.

More dif­fusely but with more of a fu­ture, at least in the pro­fes­sion­al middle classes, the “new so­cial move­ments” were gath­er­ing mo­mentum: wo­men re­jec­ted their second-class roles every­where in so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing in the 1960s New Left; gays rode the mo­mentum of the 1969 Stone­wall ri­ots; an im­port­ant minor­ity of blacks and Lati­nos moved in­to the middle class through af­firm­at­ive ac­tion pro­grams, the Club of Rome re­port on Lim­its to Growth and the Rock­e­feller-backed Zero Pop­u­la­tion Growth gave the eco­logy and en­vir­on­ment­al move­ments (and more dif­fusely, a good part of so­ci­ety) the Malthu­s­i­an agenda they have nev­er really shaken off.

The fol­low­ing es­says were writ­ten over more than two dec­ades, yet they form a con­tinu­ous whole, even if it is one that only fully emerged over time. They were writ­ten “against the grain” of much of the ideo­logy of the past fifty years, above all in its left and far left guises, that might be sum­mar­ized with the term “middle-class rad­ic­al­ism.” While much of middle-class rad­ic­al­ism may have seemed, over the course of the 20th cen­tury, to over­lap with the Marxi­an project of com­mun­ism, they are as ul­ti­mately op­posed as Max Stirner and Mikhail Bak­un­in on one hand and Karl Marx and Rosa Lux­em­burg on the oth­er. One might use the Hegel­i­an term “neg­a­tion of the neg­a­tion” to de­scribe the former and the Feuerba­chi­an term “self-sub­sist­ing pos­it­ive” to de­scribe the lat­ter. The “fault line” between one and the oth­er is pre­cisely Marx’s re­lo­ca­tion of the “cre­at­ive act of trans­form­a­tion” with­in man’s re­la­tion­ship to nature, what the “Theses on Feuerbach” call sinn­liche umwälzende Tätigkeit or “sen­su­ous trans­form­at­ive activ­ity.” The fault line is moreover between Hegel’s view of nature as the realm of “re­pe­ti­tion,” as “bor­ing,” and Marx’s view of hu­man his­tory, and man’s his­tory in the trans­form­a­tion of nature, as the trans­form­a­tion of the laws of nature them­selves in his cri­tique of Malthus’ the­ory of pop­u­la­tion. In the lat­ter view, nature and nat­ur­al laws them­selves be­come his­tor­ic­al. “An an­im­al only pro­duces its own nature,” Marx wrote in 1844, “but hu­man­ity re­pro­duces all of nature.” An an­im­al is a tool; a hu­man be­ing uses tools. Hegel epi­tom­ized the “state civil ser­vant” view of his­tory, with his idea that the Prus­si­an mon­arch and his bur­eau­crats per­formed uni­ver­sal labor, where­as Marx pre­cisely trans­poses the idea of uni­ver­sal labor, i.e. cre­ativ­ity, to man’s sen­su­ous activ­ity with­in nature, an ex­ten­sion of nat­ur­al his­tory. This “uni­ver­sal labor” of course ex­ists only frag­ment­ar­ily and ab­stractly with­in cap­it­al­ism, scattered among the dif­fer­ent parts of the (pro­duct­ive) work­ing class, and some parts of the sci­entif­ic and tech­nic­al strata. But these frag­ments, along with oth­ers from in­tel­lec­tu­al and cul­tur­al life, are in­dis­pens­able fu­ture parts of a fu­ture activ­ity “as all-sided in its pro­duc­tion as in its con­sump­tion” which Marx, in the Grundrisse, sees as the su­per­ses­sion of the cap­it­al­ist work/ leis­ure an­ti­nomy in com­mun­ism.

Fol­low­ing in the same vein, one might just as suc­cinctly coun­ter­pose middle-class rad­ic­al­ism and Marxi­an so­cial­ism as fol­lows: middle-class rad­ic­al­ism con­ceives of free­dom as “trans­gres­sion,” as the break­ing of laws, the “re­fus­al of all con­straints,” as the Situ­ation­ist In­ter­na­tion­al put it more than thirty years ago, where­as the Marxi­an project of com­mun­ism con­ceives of free­dom as the prac­tic­al solu­tion of a prob­lem­at­ic which evolved the­or­et­ic­ally from Spinoza and Leib­n­iz to Kant, Hegel, and Feuerbach as the trans­form­a­tion of laws, up to and in­clud­ing the phys­ic­al laws of the uni­verse, man’s unique “Pro­methean” ca­pa­city. More than 150 years ago, Marx, in his cri­tique of the middle-class rad­ic­al­ism of the Young Hegel­i­ans, said that for Bauer, Hess, and Stirner the sci­ence, tech­no­logy, and hu­man his­tory of prac­tic­al activ­ity in nature was only “mass, mere mass,” to use the jar­gon of the day. For most of the West­ern left, far left, and ul­traleft which emerged from the 1960s, these phe­nom­ena are shown the door with the up­dated (and es­sen­tially Weberi­an) Frank­furt School man­tra “dom­in­a­tion, mere dom­in­a­tion.” For the middle-class rad­ic­al, “neg­a­tion of the neg­a­tion” view, the prob­lems are “hier­archy,” “au­thor­ity,” “dom­in­a­tion,” and “power”; for the Marxi­an com­mun­ist view, the prob­lems are the project of the ab­ol­i­tion of value, com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion, wage labor, and the pro­let­ari­at (the lat­ter be­ing the com­mod­ity form of labor power with­in cap­it­al­ism). From these lat­ter the “neg­a­tion of the neg­a­tion” prob­lem­at­ic is en­tirely re­cast, re­formed and su­per­seded, and its heavy over­lay of bour­geois ideo­logy — free­dom con­ceived without the trans­form­a­tion of ne­ces­sity — dis­carded.

What is truly ap­palling today in large swaths of the left and far-left in the West is the will­ful il­lit­er­acy in the cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy. Per­haps even more ap­palling, and closely re­lated, is the will­ful il­lit­er­acy, bore­dom and hos­til­ity where sci­ence and nature are con­cerned. It is cer­tainly true that the “cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy” can some­times be al­most as bor­ing as polit­ic­al eco­nomy it­self, bet­ter known today un­der its still more ideo­lo­gic­ally con­tem­por­ary name of “eco­nom­ics.” We re­call Marx writ­ing to En­gels (in 1857!) say­ing that he hoped to have done with the “eco­nom­ic shit” with­in a year or two. I my­self have stud­ied “eco­nom­ic ques­tions” for years, and have also spent years in re­cov­ery from the no­vo­cained, ashes-in-the mouth feel­ing brought on by ex­cess­ive ex­pos­ure to the “dis­mal sci­ence” — or even to its cri­tique.

But this is something rather dif­fer­ent than a cer­tain mood of the past thirty-five years, a mood whose cul­min­a­tion to date is the post­mod­ern, “cul­tur­al stud­ies” scene that has filled up book­stores with its ni­hil­ist pun­ning, its “white males nev­er did any­thing but rape, pil­lage, and loot” the­ory of his­tory, and its ig­nor­ant “everything and every­one is tain­ted” pro­jec­tions onto everything and every­one in some pot­ted no­tion of the West­ern “tra­di­tion.” This is the world view of de­mor­al­ized up­per middle-class people en­sconced in fash­ion­able uni­versit­ies, largely ig­nor­ant of the real his­tory of the fail­ure (to date) of the com­mun­ist project for a high­er or­gan­iz­a­tion of so­ci­ety, as­sum­ing that the his­tor­ic­al and in­tel­lec­tu­al back­wa­ter en­gulf­ing them is the fi­nal product of hu­man his­tory.

All this can be cri­tiqued and re­jec­ted on its own terms. It goes hand-in-hand with an ever-linger­ing “mood” which as­serts that there was nev­er any­thing his­tor­ic­ally pro­gress­ive about cap­it­al­ism, a mood so per­vas­ive that it does not even both­er to ar­gue the case, since it re­jects out of hand the idea of pro­gress — lin­ear, non-lin­ear, or oth­er­wise — and there­fore the ques­tion is fore­closed be­fore it even comes up. Once the idea of an or­gan­iz­a­tion of so­ci­ety su­per­i­or to cap­it­al­ism is re­pu­di­ated, cap­it­al­ism it­self ap­pears to the post­mod­ern­ists as un­prob­lem­at­ic, just as it is to the rest of bour­geois ideo­logy. While some post­mod­ern­ists might stop short (though God knows why) of one French Heide­g­geri­an’s call to “bring the in­hu­man in­to the com­mons” [don­ner droit de cit(c) a l’in­hu­main], their un­der­ly­ing world out­look eas­ily moves to­ward the same re­pu­di­ation of the tired word “hu­man­ism.” This coun­ter­pos­i­tion sur­faced in the 1987-1988 Heide­g­ger and De Man con­tro­ver­sies in such for­mu­la­tions as “Is Nazism a Hu­man­ism?” [Le Nazisme est-il un Hu­man­isme?] The ar­gu­ment was as fol­lows. Hu­man­ism was the West­ern meta­phys­ic of the “sub­ject,” cul­min­at­ing in Hegel and re­shaped by Marx. Trapped in and con­sti­tuted by the meta­phys­ics of “pres­ence,” the re­duc­tion of everything to a “rep­res­ent­a­tion” (im­age), hu­man­ism was the ideo­logy of the sub­jec­tion — the PoMos would of course write (sub­ject)ion — of the en­tire earth to “rep­res­ent­a­tion,” in what Heide­g­ger called the world­wide dom­in­a­tion of “tech­no­lo­gic­al ni­hil­ism.” Ni­et­z­sche had already ar­rived at im­port­ant an­ti­cip­a­tions of this ana­lys­is. For a cer­tain, “post-1945” (!) Heide­g­ger, Nazism had cul­min­ated this drive to “tech­no­lo­gic­al ni­hil­ism.” (When he was a Nazi, up to 1945, Heide­g­ger had gamely ar­gued that lib­er­al cap­it­al­ism was the cul­min­a­tion of “tech­no­lo­gic­al ni­hil­ism.”) The French Heide­g­geri­ans thus ar­gued that Nazism was a hu­man­ism in its drive to com­plete West­ern “tech­no­lo­gic­al ni­hil­ism,” and that the ap­par­ently Nazi Heide­g­ger, by at­tempt­ing to “de­con­struct” hu­man­ism, was thereby “sub­vert­ing” Nazism. Mean­while, of course, the op­pon­ents of Nazism, of whatever polit­ic­al stripe, were trapped in “hu­man­ism” and there­fore trapped on Nazism’s ter­rain, sim­il­arly fa­cil­it­at­ing the world­wide vic­tory of “tech­no­lo­gic­al ni­hil­ism.” One could pre­sum­ably count an old hu­man­ist such as Lux­em­burg (had she not been murdered in 1919 by proto-Nazis, abet­ted by So­cial Demo­crats) as someone else con­fusedly trapped in “tech­no­lo­gic­al ni­hil­ism,” hav­ing died a bit too early to ap­pre­ci­ate Heide­g­ger as the real op­pon­ent of Nazism.

It is im­port­ant, in passing, to try to re­con­struct the mood of deep de­com­pres­sion throughout the ad­vanced cap­it­al­ist world, ca. 1972, to un­der­stand how things came to their cur­rent state.

One fun­da­ment­al shift that has been al­most totally for­got­ten today is the dis­ap­pear­ance of the cli­mate as­so­ci­ated, for bet­ter or for worse, with the word “ex­ist­en­tial­ism” that reigned from the early 1940s to ca. 1965. This mood was ar­tic­u­lated in the works of au­thors who have for the most part faded away: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Ni­et­z­sche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Al­bert Camus, Maurice Mer­leau-Ponty, Feodor Dosto­evsky, Mar­tin Heide­g­ger, Karl Jaspers, Miguel de Un­amuno, Jacques Mari­tain. (Why only Ni­et­z­sche and Heide­g­ger are still widely read today, out of all these fig­ures, will be­come clear in a mo­ment.) “Ex­ist­en­tial­ism” seemed, in those years, to over­lap, or be on a con­tinuum with vari­ous con­tem­por­ary “av­ant-gardes” of the 1945-1965 peri­od, in­clud­ing the Amer­ic­an beats, the Brit­ish “Angry Young Men,” Par­is Lat­in Quarter cel­lar night clubs, be­bop, and free jazz, seri­al mu­sic, the films of dir­ect­ors such as Ing­mar Berg­man, Michelan­gelo Ant­o­nioni, Jean-Luc God­ard, the theat­er of Har­old Pinter, Samuel Beck­ett, and Eugène Ion­esco. The pop­ular­ized watch­words of “ex­ist­en­tial­ism” were des­pair, Angst, death, des­pair, naus­ea, ab­surdity, mean­ing­less­ness, ali­en­a­tion. The fu­ture of the plan­et, every­where, seemed to be high mod­ern­ist tech­no­cracy, ma­ter­i­al­ized in the aus­tere ar­chi­tec­ture of the in­ter­na­tion­al style that had tri­umphed in the 1930s and in the gi­ant in­dus­tri­al and in­fra­struc­tur­al projects that littered the “so­cial­ist” bloc or the Third World (steel mills, dams, en­tire cit­ies like Oscar Niemey­er’s Bra­sil­ia or his equally sin­is­ter French Com­mun­ist Party headquar­ters in Par­is), and but­tressed by the eco­nom­ic myth of the “af­flu­ent so­ci­ety,” “built-in sta­bil­izers,” and de­pres­sion-proof state-guided eco­nom­ic policies. Ex­ist­en­tial­ism caught the self-in­dul­gent cli­mate of the middle classes in the West which took this trend as a bed­rock per­man­ent as­sump­tion, and ex­pressed the at­ti­tude of the em­battled, lonely in­di­vidu­al, for whom col­lect­ive ac­tion either did not ex­ist or smelled too strongly of 1930s Sta­lin­ist pop-front­ism.

Symp­to­mat­ic of polit­ic­al thought out­side the main­stream, in those years, (when people of the “ex­ist­en­tial­ist” per­sua­sion on oc­ca­sion turned their thoughts, fleet­ingly, to polit­ics) was the de­bate over wheth­er the dysto­pia of George Or­well’s 1984 or Al­dous Hux­ley’s Brave New World best cap­tured the fu­ture.

The second half of the 1960s ba­sic­ally swept away this mood, but in con­fus­ing and con­flict­ing ways. The world­wide middle-class New Left def­in­itely had an “ex­ist­en­tial­ist” di­men­sion to it. There was every­where the feel­ing that the cul­tur­al re­volt of the pre­vi­ous twenty to twenty-five years (be­gin­ning, at least in the U.S., in the early forties with fig­ures such as Jack Ker­ou­ac, Al­lan Gins­berg, Neal Cas­sady, and Wil­li­am S. Bur­roughs) some­how in­ef­fably blen­ded in­to the mass move­ments in the streets after 1965. (“We dug the first hole for today’s un­der­ground,” as one aging beat put in 1971. “Mod­ern­ism in the streets” was Daniel Bell’s phrase.) 20,000 in­di­vidu­als wandered around open-air war­rens of per­petu­al ad­oles­cence such as Berke­ley, Cali­for­nia, each ima­gin­ing him- or her­self to be Her­mann Hesse’s Step­pen­wolf. All of this con­tin­ued up to its par­oxysm ca. 1969 to the con­sti­tu­tion of the army of “100,000 Vil­lons,” as the crotchety Saul Bel­low called it.

By 1971, it was clear that this whole cul­ture of the pre­vi­ous thirty years was fad­ing away. In New Left bas­tions such as Berke­ley, people who only a year or two be­fore had wanted to be “pro­fes­sion­al re­volu­tion­ar­ies” were now scram­bling to be just “pro­fes­sion­als”: law­yers, doc­tors, aca­dem­ics, but of course in “an en­tirely new way.”

It was in­to this so­cial and cul­tur­al cli­mate of de­com­pres­sion of middle-class rad­ic­al­ism that the “new Ni­et­z­sche” and the “late Heide­g­ger,” fol­lowed hard by Michel Fou­cault and Jacques Der­rida, in­tro­duced a whole new turn, as epochal as any­thing of the pre­vi­ous three dec­ades, lay­ing the found­a­tion for what would be­come “post­mod­ern­ism” (we had also not yet heard words like “yup­pie” or “gentri­fic­a­tion”). This “new Ni­et­z­sche” and “late Heide­g­ger” emerged from al­most all the oth­er “ex­ist­en­tial­ist” dross of the 1945-1970 peri­od with a tre­mend­ous fu­ture be­fore them. For­got­ten were the ex­ist­en­tial­ist watch­words and in­di­vidu­al prob­lem­at­ics of des­pair, Angst, and dread, so ob­vi­ously su­per­seded in the eu­phor­ia of the re­turn of the re­volu­tion in 1968. And be­cause the 1973 oil crisis and the 1973-1975 world re­ces­sion had not yet happened (put­ting paid to all the eco­nom­ic myths of the pre­vi­ous three dec­ades, from the lib­er­als’ “af­flu­ent so­ci­ety” to the Situ­ation­ists’ “cy­ber­net­ic wel­fare state”) this emer­gence took place when it ap­peared to many that the battle was still against “tech­no­cracy,” “con­sumer ter­ror,” or the “ad­min­istered world.” Chaos, or its threat, had not yet be­come the rul­ing ideo­logy; it was rather still the specter of ho­ri­zons of ce­ment, Le Cor­busier’s béton brut, and tree­less vis­tas of high-rise apart­ments and of­fice build­ings, bump­er-to-bump­er free­way com­mutes, the quiet om­ni­present hum of elec­tron­ic devices, deep mono­tony and bore­dom that haunted middle-class ima­gin­a­tions. We were not “re­mem­ber­ing” the fu­tures of Le­ban­on, Somalia, Ethiopia, An­gola, Mozam­bi­que, Rwanda, Si­erra Le­one, Liber­ia, Chechnya, Afgh­anistan, the Ir­an-Ir­aq war, ex-Yugoslavia, the South Bronx or south cent­ral Los Angeles, but rather the end­less pal­lid chalky sun and wispy clouds of the Mallarméan sky open­ing in­to an etern­al empty fu­ture, the “en­tro­po­logy” that Claude Lévi-Strauss evoked at the end of Tristes Tro­piques.

This Mallarméan sky temp­ted some people to look back, through the eyes of Ni­et­z­sche’s and Heide­g­ger’s in­ter­pret­a­tions of the pre-So­crat­ics, to ar­cha­ic Greece, to where it seemed ἀλήθεια [dis­closed­ness] had be­gun its de­vol­u­tion in­to ver­itas [ver­ity or truth], where Sein [Be­ing] had de­volved in­to das Seiende [en­tity], when “West­ern meta­phys­ics,” with Par­men­ides and Zeno, had “in­ter­preted” Be­ing as “pres­ence,” as rep­res­ent­a­tion, and had be­gun its ca­reer of world con­quest as the Geschick [“des­tiny” or “sense of real­ity”] of the West. None of us, then, had ever giv­en a thought to an­cient Egypt, or an­cient Is­rael, or to Ir­an, or Is­lam­ic Spain as im­port­ant sources of our world; we lived in the era of the “reign of tech­nique,” and little pri­or to a pot­ted, pos­it­iv­ist­ic in­ter­pret­a­tion of the sci­entif­ic re­volu­tion and a Voltaire­an view of the eight­eenth cen­tury seemed of any real im­port­ance; if we ever thought about the Renais­sance and Ref­or­ma­tion of the 16th and 17th cen­tur­ies, it was only as re­spect­ive proto-ra­tion­al­ist mo­ments of sec­u­lar “pa­gan re­viv­al” and Max Weber’s Prot­est­ant Eth­ic. We looked to an­cient Greece and its philo­sophy — the fall in­to the in­ter­pret­a­tion of Be­ing as “pres­ence” and the ori­gins of meta­phys­ics — mainly as a dis­tant pre­curs­or of the tech­no­crat­ic, ad­min­istered world. Civil­iz­a­tions such as the Ir­a­ni­an, the In­di­an, the Chinese, not to men­tion the worlds of Africa, Poly­ne­sia or the Amer­in­di­ans, barely ex­is­ted for us; it was so ob­vi­ous that they had all but suc­cumbed, like ourselves, be­fore the end­less pal­lid sun at the me­ridi­an of mod­ern­ity, in the world where (as Raoul Vanei­gem put it) “the guar­an­tee of not dy­ing of hun­ger was ex­changed for the guar­an­tee of dy­ing of bore­dom.”

Those years, 1971-1972-1973, were eer­ie. It seemed that all the re­volts of the pre­vi­ous three dec­ades had faded away with re­mark­able speed, leav­ing be­hind only the “new so­cial move­ments” of wo­men, blacks, Lati­nos, gays, and eco­lo­gists, mainly bat­tling their way in­to the main­stream. De­com­pres­sion: all the dark un­der­side, all the “repressed,” all the “il­li­cit” of the pre­vi­ously-cloistered mi­lieus of cul­tur­al op­pos­i­tion of the earli­er peri­od had sur­faced vi­ol­ently to be­come li­cit and ex­pli­cit. “Un­der­ground” was the be­labored, much-over­used word of the day, but these were find­ing their place in the dom­in­ant or­der. Long be­fore Fran­cis Fukuyama made him in­to a fad, we were delving in­to Kojève’s In­tro­duc­tion to the Read­ing of the Philo­sophy of Hegel, which seemed to echo our sense of be­ing at the end of something, if not ex­actly the “end of his­tory.”

In this at­mo­sphere, some turned to Fou­cault, whose idea of épistème in The Or­der of Things seemed lif­ted from Heide­g­ger’s no­tion of Geschick, the “des­tiny” or “sense of real­ity” be­neath all con­scious­ness or ac­tion of a cul­ture that oc­ca­sion­ally dis­ap­peared as mys­ter­i­ously as it came. (That Geschick for the West was the meta­phys­ics of “pres­ence,” or Be­ing re­duced to “rep­res­ent­a­tion.”) It was a wide­spread feel­ing at the time, pop­ular­ized above all in Kuhn’s the­ory of sci­entif­ic re­volu­tions, that in­deed his­tor­ic­al epochs were un­der­pinned by deep, un­spoken, shared as­sump­tions. Kuhn called them paradigms. The suc­ces­sion from one to the oth­er could not be called “pro­gress” to­ward any kind of “truth” out­side such paradigms, however, and cer­tainly could not be linked to any­thing like cap­it­al­ist ac­cu­mu­la­tion. The post-1960s funk was giv­ing way, willy-nilly, to the “post­mod­ern” be­lief that one could know only “sig­ni­fi­ers,” and per­haps to the be­lief that there were only sig­ni­fi­ers; few re­cog­nized then (as few re­cog­nize today) that such ideas were the night thoughts of cap­it­al in the same years, as it ac­cel­er­ated its muta­tion in­to its in­creas­ingly fict­ive form, seem­ingly de­tached from any re­la­tion­ship to pro­duc­tion or re­pro­duc­tion.

The war cry was the “over­throw of meta­phys­ics,” as meta­phys­ics had be­gun after Her­ac­litus. We were taken aback and in­trigued by the fact that the two op­posed views of Hegel and Heide­g­ger took off from the same Her­ac­litean frag­ment. So totally did ele­ments of the “real­iz­a­tion of meta­phys­ics” and the “over­throw of meta­phys­ics” re­semble each oth­er and yet were as ships passing in the night.

For Ni­et­z­sche, “meta­phys­ics” was the Pla­ton­ic world of ideas that fused with Judeo-Chris­ti­an uni­ver­sal­ity in late an­tiquity, the “lie on life” erec­ted “above” “real­ity,” from which life was to be judged, and found lack­ing. “Bet­ter lo­gic than life” was the view in­her­ited from Par­men­ides and Zeno, and at­tacked by Ni­et­z­sche in his early work Philo­sophy in the Tra­gic Age of the Greeks, and this view of a supra-tem­por­al, supra-spa­tial “concept” hov­er­ing over “life” re­mained a con­stant of his in­dict­ment of “West­ern ni­hil­ism” throughout. The West­ern tra­di­tion was “ni­hil­ist” be­cause this “concept,” this supra­tem­por­al supra­spa­tial vant­age point was pre­cisely “noth­ing,” empty, a diabol­ic­ally clev­er mani­fest­a­tion of weak-willed re­sent­ment con­trived to pull the “strong” down to the level of the “weak,” that later be­came the philo­sophy of Chris­ti­an mono­the­ism.

Heide­g­ger took over this prob­lem­at­ic and car­ried it much fur­ther. In his early peri­od (Be­ing and Time, 1927) he began where the late Ni­et­z­sche left off, and with the prob­lem­at­ic of the Ni­et­z­schean Su­per­man, the in­di­vidu­al shap­ing his own real­ity through an aes­thet­i­cized will-to-power con­strained only by the lim­its set by oth­er such wills. (Heide­g­ger, however, de­veloped an en­tirely dif­fer­ent lan­guage for this ana­lys­is, deeply marked by Kierkegaard, Husser­li­an phe­nomen­o­logy and pre-1914 Leben­s­philo­soph­ie.)But in his own later peri­od, he de­cided that both Ni­et­z­sche as well as his own early work had con­cluded West­ern meta­phys­ics, cul­min­at­ing in a plan­et­ary will-to-power to trans­form all real­ity in­to “pres­ence,” an im­age, a rep­res­ent­a­tion, as em­bod­ied in sci­ence and tech­no­logy.

Heide­g­ger, like Fou­cault after him, was aim­ing his cri­tique dir­ectly at dia­lect­ic­al thought, against the reas­on that tends to ab­sorb the oth­er in­to it­self, that un­der­stands all “oth­er­ness” as ali­en­a­tion. Or as Marx said, quot­ing the an­cient play­wright Ter­ence, “noth­ing hu­man is ali­en to me.” Against this kind of ra­tion­al­ity, Heide­g­ger tried to erect the wall of Dif­fer­enz, dif­fer­ence that was not dia­lect­ic­ally me­di­ated or su­per­seded by any his­tor­ic­al pro­cess, but just… dif­fer­ence.

In those years 1971-1972-1973, this vis­ion was made to ap­peal. As we at­temp­ted to un­der­stand the ab­stract cel­lo­phane in which cap­it­al­ism was wrap­ping all sen­su­ous real­ity, to see this ter­rible ab­strac­tion ori­gin­at­ing in the pre-So­crat­ics was all too in­triguing. Of course we knew too that this grew out of the ab­strac­tion of the com­mod­ity, though we paid less at­ten­tion to Marx­ist ana­lyses by Maurice Corn­forth, Al­fred Sohn-Reth­el show­ing the pre-So­crat­ics in ex­actly that con­text.

But did any­one ever no­tice that Friedrich Ni­et­z­sche emerged in the 1870s sim­ul­tan­eously with neo-clas­sic­al eco­nom­ics? Did any­one ever see him in re­la­tion­ship to the in­tens­ive phase of cap­it­al­ist ac­cu­mu­la­tion which, in the U.S. and in Ger­many, first took shape in that dec­ade?

The emer­gence of neoclas­sic­al eco­nom­ics (Wil­li­am Stan­ley Jevons, Carl Menger, Léon Walras) re­placed pro­duc­tion with con­sump­tion and in­di­vidu­al “pref­er­ences” as the bour­geois per­spect­ive on “eco­nom­ics” (as the re­place­ment for polit­ic­al eco­nomy came to be called). (Con­tem­por­ar­ies of the Aus­tri­an school, a dec­ade or two later, ex­pli­citly called this the “sub­jec­ti­fic­a­tion” of eco­nom­ics). Every­one knows that this shift in­volved the buri­al of the pre-Marx­ist labor the­ory of value as it had cul­min­ated in Ri­cardo and the Ri­car­d­i­an so­cial­ists of the 1840s. Most com­ment­ary has fo­cused on the link between post-1870s “eco­nom­ics” as a re­sponse to the ap­pear­ance of the so­cial­ist work­ers’ move­ment out of the 1848 re­volu­tions and the Par­is Com­mune; in the new cli­mate, it was ne­ces­sary to scrap nearly two cen­tur­ies of suc­cess­ively sharp at­tempts to show that labor was the source of all wealth. But less at­ten­tion has been de­voted to the shift in world ac­cu­mu­la­tion from pro­du­cer goods to con­sumer goods, closely tied to the world agrari­an mar­ket and the post-1873 world agrari­an de­pres­sion. This is the real­ity that pro­duced Ni­et­z­sche, and later Heide­g­ger. Ni­et­z­sche’s brack­et­ing of truth, the idea that “truth” was an aes­thet­ic cre­ation im­posed on chaos by the Su­per­man’s will-to-power, was the ex­treme ab­stract “high” the­or­iz­a­tion of the be­gin­ning of the era in which world ac­cu­mu­la­tion began, above all in Eng­land (still the cen­ter of the sys­tem at that time and for many dec­ades to come), to in­clude an im­port­ant fict­ive-ren­ti­er di­men­sion, and thus seemed to sim­il­arly brack­et any con­crete re­la­tion to pro­duc­tion and re­pro­duc­tion.

But there is more: Ni­et­z­sche’s and Heide­g­ger’s pro­foundly anti-dia­lect­ic­al stance, aimed against Hegel but re­bound­ing onto Marx, is a dir­ect at­tack on Marx’s the­ory of labor power.

The ap­pear­ance of the com­mun­ist move­ment in 1848 — the June days in Par­is, the Mani­festo — “cut his­tory in two,” just as Ni­et­z­sche him­self claimed to do a few dec­ades later. As the­or­ized by Marx, the ap­pear­ance of com­mun­ism posed in prac­tice the real­iz­a­tion and su­per­ses­sion of all pre­vi­ously ex­ist­ing philo­sophy, polit­ic­al eco­nomy and cul­ture. Com­mun­ism said in ef­fect: all pre­vi­ous cul­tur­al forms were ex­pres­sions of what so­ci­ety (i.e. hu­man powers) could not do; they were com­pens­a­tions and con­sol­a­tions for the fact that so­cial pro­gress pro­ceeded at the ex­pense of the in­di­vidu­al. The dis­tance between Na­po­leon I and Na­po­leon III as por­trayed in Marx’s Eight­eenth Bru­maire is pre­cisely this dis­tance between the two peri­ods. All bour­geois cul­ture after 1850, con­sciously or not, was a re­sponse to the chal­lenge posed by com­mun­ism, an at­tempt to main­tain the isol­ated in­di­vidu­al view­point in which it was in­creas­ingly clear what so­ci­ety could do, in which so­cial pro­gress no longer needed to pro­ceed at the ex­pense of the in­di­vidu­al but, on the con­trary, the in­di­vidu­al could at last ap­pro­pri­ate so­cial powers as his/her own.

Be­cause Marx’s the­ory of labor power was ex­actly the re­lo­ca­tion of Hegel’s world spir­it in the “in­di­vidu­al­ity as all-sided in its pro­duc­tion as in its con­sump­tion” (Grundrisse). It was a the­ory of self-re­flex­ive glob­al prax­is [sinn­liche umwälzende Tätigkeit], a the­ory of activ­ity in which the ob­ject was sim­ul­tan­eously the act­or. Com­mun­ist man “would fish in the morn­ing, hunt in the af­ter­noon and write crit­ic­al cri­ti­cism in the even­ing,” that is he would be not any spe­cif­ic pre­dic­ate but a re­la­tion­ship to a series of spe­cif­ic pre­dic­ates, and as such a re­la­tion­ship to him­self, and “the mul­ti­plic­a­tion of hu­man powers is its own end.” This is the so­cial real­iz­a­tion of Nich­olas of Cusa’s ac­tu­al in­fin­ity, and it is against this re­la­tion­ship that relates it­self to it­self [sich-selbst-ver­hal­tendes-Verhältnis] that all bour­geois thought, led by Ni­et­z­sche and Heide­g­ger, semi-con­sciously or con­sciously, was dir­ec­ted. And it is this at­tack on cre­at­ive labor power which the ter­ribly rad­ic­al post­mod­ern­ists take over lock, stock, and bar­rel. It may be a stretch to see Ni­et­z­sche’s and above all Heide­g­ger’s at­tempt to found an ir­re­du­cible, anti-dia­lect­ic­al dif­fer­ence (Der­rida later called it différance) as the the­or­et­ic­al an­ti­cip­a­tion of the flex­ible small firm, seg­men­ted mar­ket­ing and niche con­sump­tion, and “post-Ford­ist” meth­ods of pro­duc­tion (though it is ex­actly right to see them in re­la­tion­ship to post-1870 neoclas­sic­al eco­nom­ics). The in­ef­fable sense of hos­til­ity to “big­ness,” in the form of “bur­eau­cracy,” “mas­ter nar­rat­ives” of his­tory, large-scale pro­duc­tion, and so­cial ser­vices, i.e. everything that was the hall­mark, in bur­eau­crat­ic form, of the So­cial Demo­crat­ic, Sta­lin­ist and Third World stat­ist re­gimes of the first three dec­ades after World War II, hardly needed such eso­ter­ica, par­tic­u­larly in the U.S. But it is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion whatever to say that these the­or­ies swept the world, be­gin­ning in the early 1970s, as part of a gen­er­al war on the so­cial at every level, which was the cap­it­al­ist re­sponse to the 1968 up­surge and its af­ter­math. And be­hind the all-too-fa­cile at­tacks on “mas­ter nar­rat­ives” and “bur­eau­cracy,” the cap­it­al­ists and their ideo­logues — the the­or­eti­cians of “dif­fer­ence” — were after the real game of the unit­ary work­ing-class “sub­ject” which had ser­i­ously frightened them from 1968 to 1973. The pul­ver­iz­a­tion of any­thing that might be con­strued as a “gen­er­al in­terest,” the break­ing up of the big “work­er fort­resses” of De­troit, Manchester, Bil­lan­court, and Tur­in, the stag­ger­ing re­versal throughout the West, after 1968, of earli­er post­war trends to­ward great­er in­come equal­ity, the “iden­tity polit­ics” of vari­ous groups as­sert­ing they have noth­ing in com­mon with any­one else, the seem­ingly lim­it­less abil­ity of cap­it­al to at­tack, out­source and downs­ize without en­coun­ter­ing any “con­tra­dic­tion” un­der­min­ing it, all cre­ate the cli­mate for the post­mod­ern de­ri­sion of such “found­a­tion­al­ism,” for their “etern­ity of bad jokes,” while hope for a high­er or­gan­iz­a­tion of so­ci­ety bey­ond cap­it­al­ism seems to fade away by the day.

This was the so­cial and ideo­lo­gic­al world of the rad­ic­al­ized middle classes in the early 1970s. What was end­ing then and there was the world-his­tor­ic­al ca­reer of neg­a­tion, the­or­ized for mod­ern his­tory by Hegel’s civil ser­vant philo­sophy, the civil ser­vant with no re­la­tion­ship to the trans­form­a­tion of nature.

Neg­a­tion had ul­ti­mately be­gun with the Greeks in the point- line- plane- cube cos­mo­logy de­rived from the “di­vi­sion of nature” con­sum­mated by Zeno and Par­men­ides’ meta­phys­ic of the in­fin­ites­im­al, the idea of in­fin­ity as an asymp­tot­ic ad­vance in either space or time to a goal that was nev­er reached, as in Zeno’s para­doxes. Hence­forth, for the West­ern con­cep­tion of nature, the “in­fin­ite” was con­ceived as an “in­fin­ites­im­al” in both space (the point) and time (the in­stant), which in the early mod­ern peri­od ma­ter­i­al­ized it­self in New­ton’s phys­ics and was gen­er­al­ized from there to a whole “on­to­logy” in vir­tu­ally all areas of sci­ence and cul­ture. This mo­ment was the so­cial and epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al be­gin­ning of the “dead nature” that seemed every­where dom­in­ant in the 1950s and 1960s. Nature was lin­ear, as the lines of high mod­ern­ist tech­no­cracy and its ar­chi­tec­ture were lin­ear.

But from the epoch of bour­geois re­volu­tions, in Eng­land, Amer­ica, and above all in France, West­ern cul­ture was in­vaded for the first time by a con­scious­ness of his­tory as a di­men­sion of real­iz­a­tion, as ul­ti­mately the­or­ized in the work of G.F.W. Hegel. West­ern thought, in­clud­ing West­ern thought about nature, was “in­vaded” by time. For the first time it was real­ized that the real­ity of spe­cif­ic people in so­ci­ety was defined not by some stat­ic supra­tem­por­al ideal of Man but by what they had the po­ten­tial to be­come as so­cial classes, their his­tor­ic­al tra­ject­ory. That, and that alone, is the mean­ing of Hegel’s as­ser­tion that the “real is ra­tion­al,” however much the for­mu­la­tion, in a totally re­duc­tion­ist in­ter­pret­a­tion, has been used or un­der­stood as an apo­logy for this or that status quo.

It is more dif­fi­cult today, after more than three dec­ades of eco­lo­gism and en­vir­on­ment­al­ism, to re­mem­ber to what ex­tent mod­ern cul­ture from the sev­en­teenth and eight­eenth cen­tury bour­geois re­volu­tions to the 1960s evolved with the in­creas­ing brack­et­ing of “dead nature.” The Hegel renais­sance of the 1950s and 1960s, so es­sen­tial for New Left Marx­ism (in com­bin­a­tion with the de­cant­ing of many of Marx’s pre­vi­ously un­known writ­ings, both from the 1840s and up to his writ­ings on the Rus­si­an com­mune and the Eth­no­lo­gic­al Note­books) was per­haps the cul­min­a­tion of this trend. Yet hard be­hind the Hegel renais­sance in Marx­ism was the re­cov­ery (elab­or­ated by Ernst Bloch, Leszek Kołakowski and oth­ers) of the more gen­er­al neo-Pla­ton­ic sources of the Marxi­an dia­lectic, in Plotinus, Erigena, Eck­hart, Cusa, Bruno, and Boehme; of the natura natur­ans view of nature of the same tra­di­tion, and side by side with that, the idea of ac­tu­al in­fin­ity first ar­tic­u­lated by Cusa and Bruno, and passing through Spinoza and Leib­n­iz in­to Hegel and Marx. The lat­ter two are com­pon­ents of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­cep­tion of nature and sci­ence. And yet it was ex­actly of the lat­ter two, and of such an al­tern­at­ive con­cep­tion of nature and sci­ence, that the New Left (along with the rest of so­ci­ety) was ut­terly ig­nor­ant in the 1960s.

Such ig­nor­ance was pos­sible and sus­tained by the re­ified view of his­tory in­her­ited from the 18th cen­tury En­light­en­ment, which cre­ated a pot­ted ret­ro­spect­ive in which this en­tire lin­eage, deeply en­twined with re­li­gion and mys­ti­cism, was largely in­vis­ible, or at best a series of sec­ond­ary trib­u­tar­ies, mak­ing pos­sible the view of meta­phys­ics against which Ni­et­z­sche and Heide­g­ger took over the field.

The Heide­g­ger vs. Hegel coun­ter­pos­i­tion could only emerge in a world that looked with pos­it­iv­ist lenses right through the peri­od 1450-1650 of the sci­entif­ic re­volu­tion cul­min­at­ing in New­ton, and the “re­birth of pa­gan­ism” that led to the En­light­en­ment, a world that paid no at­ten­tion to Plotinus, Erigena, Nich­olas of Cusa, Bruno, Kepler, Boehme, Leib­n­iz, Spinoza on the ques­tions of “ac­tu­al in­fin­ity” and natura natur­ans. Heide­g­ger was only pos­sible against a tra­di­tion ob­li­vi­ous to these real­it­ies. Al­most no one ex­cept Bloch, Kołakowski, and a few oth­ers re­cog­nized that Marx had trans­posed that tra­di­tion to a ma­ter­i­al­ist view of so­ci­ety and nature. Only a few re­cog­nize it, even today.

For the cul­ture of the 1960s — and “post­mod­ern­ism” and “cul­tur­al stud­ies” today still live off of the 1960s, or more spe­cific­ally off the de­feat of the 1960s — can­not be un­der­stood without a re­cog­ni­tion of how trun­cated its his­tor­ic­al sense was. It was not merely “Euro­centric.” With all the in­ver­ted pat­ri­ot­ism and cheer­lead­ing for the Vi­et­cong, Guevarist guer­ril­las, and Mao’s China, it was “Euro­centric” in a very spe­cial way. Moreover, it was blind to everything in the his­tory of the West it­self which did not lead to the tech­no­crat­ic, sci­ent­ist­ic “man­aged” world it pre­sumed to in­hab­it. Like the reign of Ur­izen that Blake warned against, mod­ern­ist cul­ture as­sumed the infâme trin­ity of Locke, New­ton, and Voltaire to be the un­ques­tioned (if of­ten un­re­cog­nized) founders of its world. It ac­cep­ted that six­teenth-sev­en­teenth cen­tury sep­ar­a­tion of Geist and Natur that did not ex­ist for a Bruno or a Kepler; it lived off it. It did not “see” ex­cept as an­ti­quar­i­an­ism the as­tro­logy, al­chemy, Kab­ba­l­ah, and Neo-Pla­ton­ism of the Renais­sance; it did not “see” the mul­tiple edi­tions of the works of the Ger­man mys­tic Jac­ob Boehme pub­lished at the height of the Eng­lish Re­volu­tion of the 1640s. Re­volu­tions, sci­entif­ic or polit­ic­al, were sec­u­lar, anti-re­li­gious af­fairs, and so the “mean­ing­ful past” was strictly sec­u­lar and anti-re­li­gious as well.

The cri­tique of the En­light­en­ment im­pli­cit or ex­pli­cit in the Bloch-Kołakowski et al. re­cov­ery of the neo-Pla­ton­ic sources of the Marxi­an dia­lectic (as some of the fol­low­ing es­says ar­gue) has noth­ing to do with most of the stu­pid cri­ti­cisms of the En­light­en­ment today pro­mul­gated by ig­nor­ant aca­dem­ics for whom his­tory began with the post-1968 trans­la­tions of the Frank­furt School and Fou­cault. It rather cri­tiques the tri­umph of the New­ton-Locke-Voltaire world view from the vant­age point of the “road not taken,” rep­res­en­ted by the Cusa-Bruno-Kepler-Boehme-Spinoza-Leib­n­iz stream of “ac­tu­al in­fin­ity” and “natura natur­ans,” and point­ing to a unit­ary sci­ence.

In­stead of the de­vel­op­ment of this “stream,” which pos­its a unit­ary the­ory en­com­passing both so­ci­ety and nature (“we know only one sci­ence, the sci­ence of his­tory” as Marx and En­gels wrote in The Ger­man Ideo­logy) we have today le­gions of people with a smat­ter­ing of know­ledge turn­ing out reams of books filled with buzz words that could be (and have been) pro­duced by a com­puter pro­gram, and could be (and are) picked up in peer-group shop talk in a few months at the nearest hu­man­it­ies pro­gram or aca­dem­ic con­fer­ence. Every­one these people don’t like is trapped in a “gaze”; every­one “con­sti­tutes” their “iden­tity” by “dis­course”; to the fuddy-duddy “mas­ter nar­rat­ives” that talk about such in­del­ic­ate sub­jects as world ac­cu­mu­la­tion these people coun­ter­pose pas­tiche and bri­c­ol­age, the very idea of be­ing in any way sys­tem­at­ic smack­ing of “to­tal­it­ari­an­ism”; it is blithely as­sumed that every­one ex­cept het­ero­sexu­al white males now and for all time have been “sub­vers­ives” (one won­ders why we are still liv­ing un­der cap­it­al­ism); Joyce schol­ars give way to Howdy Doody schol­ars, who of course look askance on “priv­ileging” any par­tic­u­lar kind of “writ­ing”; the Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion that spends an av­er­age of six hours a day watch­ing tele­vi­sion and three hours a day at shop­ping malls is thereby “res­ist­ing” and “sub­vert­ing” con­sumer cul­ture; a crip­pling re­lativ­ism makes it some­how “im­per­i­al” to cri­ti­cize pub­lic be­head­ings in Saudi Ar­a­bia or cliterodec­tomy prac­ticed on five-year old girls in the Su­dan (isn’t that an au­thor­it­ari­an im­pos­i­tion of stand­ards from out­side?). The French Re­volu­tion was an at­tempt to re­im­pose con­trol over wo­men, or was a the­at­ric “ritu­al” in­ven­ted by the nine­teenth cen­tury, and thus did in fact not oc­cur; for Baudril­lard, the Gulf War did not oc­cur either; we don’t know if the gen­o­cide of the Jews took place be­cause we have only dif­fer­ent “nar­rat­ives” about it (and everything is of course only a nar­rat­ive, and none are defin­it­ive). At in­ter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences Moslem and Hindu fun­da­ment­al­ist wo­men brush off cri­ti­cism of their ret­ro­gres­sion­ist move­ments with quo­ta­tions from Fou­cault and Der­rida; pop­u­lar sci­ence pro­grams in Third World coun­tries are sav­aged as “im­per­i­al­ist” with sim­il­ar quo­ta­tions. The post­mod­ern­ist re­lat­iv­ists thought out their views with West­ern im­per­i­al­ism in mind, and don’t have much too say when con­fron­ted by bar­bar­ic atav­isms from “sub­al­tern” cul­tures, whose first vic­tims are those trapped in this or that pa­ro­chi­al group by the very anti-uni­ver­sal­ism for which the post­mod­ern­ists led the charge.

7 thoughts on “From James Joyce to Howdy Doody: Deconstruction and deindustrialization after 1968

  1. This “critique” or perhaps lament, remains entirely trapped within the confines of petty-bourgeois intellectualism. Middle class intellectual ‘youth’–even once grown old–will not, were not ever be nor have been the motor force of history.
    5 years after 1971 South Vietnam surrendered to the North and the US, Eight years after 1971 the Sandinistas overthrew Somoza, twenty years later the Apartheid regime in South Africa was overthrown. History and class struggle only came to an end in the self- referential mirrored room of the ’68 ers.

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