From: "Geoff Boucher" <geoff.boucher- at -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.

In essence:

  1. I think we have to know what it is we are talking about in "postmodern philosophy" since the beast is notoriously hetrogeneous.
    Proposed remedy - short evaluation of the rival positions of Eagleton, Jameson and Callinicos on postmodernism
  2. 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.
  3. 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 etc.
    (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" (jouissance).
    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 entire thought.
    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).
  4. 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 directly.
    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. 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 pomo phenomenon.
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.