From: "Geoff Boucher" <geoff.boucher@rmit.EDU.AU>
Postmodern Philosophy and the Law of Value
Andy - looking forward to our meeting on Tuesday 7 July. I have
prepared a short, point form summary of some ideas, which I will
e-mail to you as a postscript document on the weekend.
- I think we have to know what it is we are talking about in
"postmodern philosophy" since the beast is notoriously
Proposed remedy - short evaluation of the rival positions of Eagleton,
Jameson and Callinicos on postmodernism
- I think Derrida and Foucault are the privileged objects of
analysis because (a) they are the most coherent, comprehensive
and able to be taken to represent an entire 'worldview' (b) many
of the others deliberately aim at eclecticism and refuse synthesis,
whereas at least D&F insist over and again on rigour.
- By mediations I meant two things:
(a) I think it's important to recognise the way that culture reflects
human social relations *as displaced through hegemonic discourses*.
I will attempt to make that more precise on Tuesday, but roughly,
I think this is the modern way of saying, not as immediate reflection.
So in a sense, both predominant Marxist theories are right - postmodernism
is the "cultural logic of late capitalism" (Jameson)
AND a "pessimistic retreat of the intellectuals in the face
of the winding down of the workers movement and the defeat of
student radicalism" (Eagleton/Callinicos).
Moreover, it's not a question of saying that 'the cultural logic
is the primary quality and the retreat the secondary quality'
(ie. synthesising the positions by empiricist method), but of
saying that the apparent opposition between the two positions
("Jameson evaluates pomo positively whereas Eagleton regards
it as negative") are in fact different moments of the analysis
where the negative evaluation turns out to be the immediate reflection
of reality in the minds of the postmodernists, but the positive
evaluation (which is in fact far from positive) is the mediate
working out in culture of the lawful tendencies of economy.
In fact, I would suggest, the negative evaluation identifies certain
specific themes eg. "micropolitics", hostility to negation
and totalisation, celebration of indeterminacy, which are conjunctural
in relation to the themes that the positive evaluation identifies
- depthlessness, fragmentation, dispersion of the subject, immanence
(b) I think it is important to identify exactly how value appears
as a concept in the books of F&D. For instance, Lacan directly
copies Marx's concept of surplus value and appropriates it as
"surplus enjoyment". So in Lacan you can directly track
what happens to value through Lacan's theorisation of "enjoyment"
My suggestion in relation to D&F is as follows: in Derrida,
the opposition which structures his whole work, between writing
and speech has the same function as the commodity in Marx's analysis
- it is the object embodying the key contradiction (necessary
labour time and surplus labour time, let's say) that will structure
all of the other contradictions in society. Likewise, the opposition
between speech and writing (between the living presence of the
subject and the dead absence fo the object) structures derrida's
Foucault, I propose, is different. Foucault does not have a comprehensive
project, but wants to remain immanent in certain historical moments
of power/knowledge analysis. I think he's talking about bureaucracy,
and so the idea here would be to look for the ways bureaucratisation
works in late capitalism (including in the dws), and try to relate
this to the law of value (ie. be as non-reductive as possible).
- Finally, another thought - Deleuze and Guattari are sort of
left or anarchist postmodernists, advocating a tortuous 'bad infinity'
of "micropolitical" social movements whose transient
activities never amount to a labour of the negative, but instead
create momentary "lines of escape". Now doubtless, in
their monumental attack on Marx and Freud, "Anti-Oedipus"
can be found a reflection of value. But sometimes, it's more important
to simply attack on the superficial level of what they're saying
D&F are sort of 'safe' - they're so abstract it kind of no
longer matters what they purport to be saying. What matters is
how their general horizon of thought (anti-totalisation, celebration
of indeterminacy etc) reflects real social processes.
- 5. Last (I promise) thought."The philosophy of the credit
card" should not be confused with a "philosophy of the
virtual economy", which has yet to emerge.
Postmodernism arises (more or less) in the late 1960s and is really
really clearly a response to the breakdown of postwar stability
and the convulsive struggles of the period.
In fact, in many respects it simply realises trends which had
been developing quantitatively since the 1940s.
The credit card, electronic banking and so on are relatively recent.
I think it would be a grave mistake to give postmodernism a predictive
value - I think it's largely reactive, as most culture is.
After all, one consequence of arguing that postmodernism is a
response to virtualisation would be to admit that we think it'll
be with us for a while to come.
I'm not sure that's true - and it's certainly not wholly desirable.
I don't think you are saying this - I'm making an argument for
definitional clarity and setting limits to the boundaries of the
Actually, I suspect that it is possible to argue that a new hegemonic
cultural form must be maturing as we speak, in response to a qualitative
jump in globalisation, reification and the virtual economy.
But, like all cultural dominants before it, this unprecedented
new phenomenon will emerge convulsively as the synthesis of cultural
struggles within and against postmodernism, responses to a new
global reality, and the catalytic effect of the big struggles
that the future surely holds.