Half-Life & After-Life of Postmodernism – Part 1

It is amusing that Postmodernism today has become a pejorative term for “a normative cultural relativism, a distrust of and excessive skepticism against objective knowledge, exaggerating the role of language.” Others think that Postmodernism describes not the diversity of reality and thought, but instead aims for a “reactive non-position”.

To Postpostmodernists [sic], those who think Postmodernism is a thing of the past, we want to answer: it is History in a completely different sense – Living History. In our opinion, there are ties between the Past and the Present which are interesting; but in order to discover them we need an historicist, ideology-critical method that is not content with looking in the rear-view mirror, but one that also sees Postmodernism’s delightfully horrendous traces well into the Present. Such an analysis leads us to the conclusion that not just a few of those who reject Postmodernism as a “reactive non-position”, as a matter of fact embrace Postmodernism indirectly de facto, albeit in an upgraded version as an apparently less committed ‘post-thought’ – a passively reactionary position.

The very notion of “Postmodernism” is ambiguous and contradictory, yet that does not mean that the phenomenon has lost relevance or that a useful definition cannot be made. It is possible to distinguish three basic concepts:

  1. First, it is about the actual time or state of society we live in, often called “Postmodern” or “Postmodernity” or even “Liquid Modernity” as per Zygmunt Bauman.

  2. Secondly, it is aimed at an aesthetic style, especially in architecture, in which realm Derridean Deconstructivist architecture as per the Anglo-Iraqi “Queen of the Curve” Zaha Hadid comes to mind.

  3. Thirdly, it can refer to a specific philosophical and political theory-building.

It is the third concept that interests us here. Postmodernism’s complex history and branches we will leave for another hypothetical future essay, as well as its use as a style or epoch concept. We see Poststructuralism as mainly a French opposition to the Structuralism of the 1960s; it constitutes an integral part of Postmodernism. All postmodern theory has a theoretical core of philosophical and ideological elements, namely:

  1. Distrust of total thinking (the world as totality);

  2. Priority to “Difference”, “Contradictions” and “Diversity” over Equality and Uniformity;

  3. Distrust of origin and ordering principle (the Unit Principle).

The politico-philosophical (epistemological-ontological) positions that Postmodernism results in are partly a nominalism, ergo the view that reality consists only of individualities; this is an anti-essentialism that – at least rhetorically – rejects all attempts to find the “essences” of things, that is deeper dimensions in history and society, and partly an anti-universalism that explicitly rejects universal moral and political doctrines.

For an examination of the forgotten or neglected connexions between “Classical” Postmodernism and contemporary Post-Thought, it is important to note that these theoretical core elements largely reside in contemporary neo-Nietzschean (political) philosophy. Here we have a red thread that can reveal something essential about the continuity between the Past and the Present.

The question, however, is whether this Niezschean thread is so ‘red’ after all.

If we restore an ideological perspective on Nietzsche as an anti-socialist and anti-democratic thinker with a Conservative Revolutionary agenda, we are faced with a political paradox: the intellectual New Left has built its Post-Thought on at the very least a debatable interpretation of a political philosophy with proto-Fascist elements.

This statement is hardly less paradoxical since this New Left, which de facto blocks qualified historical and social analyses critical of the current System, is primarily attacked from the conservative and reactionary Right. A culturally conservative two-front war against Neoliberalism and left-wing politics has become the framework for the ongoing culture war. We agree with some of the right-wing criticism, but insist that it still fails to hit the mark simply because the Postmodern rot is misinterpreted as an expression of a left-wing politics.

To be continued…


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