Day 14: Mapping The Anti-Oedipus


Dear all, I woke up this morning and was all out of sorts. What used to make sense to me in my dissertation all of a sudden has taken on a degree of complexity that has surpassed my own control, which is ironic, as part of my dissertation focuses on complexity theory. In any case, it seems as though my dissertation has grown into an autonomous entity (I long suspected it had a life of its own, but this morning it basically presented with with its official declaration of secession from the union that used to be my mind). I am still producing apple turnovers, have run out of good coffee and just noticed that just yesterday I purchased two giant tubs of cream cheese, which expired two days ago. So I am not really sure what to do today. I should be working toward finishing another chapter, but now I am wondering if I even agree with the things I wrote over the course of this last week. Tricky. I am thus wondering what to do in order to avoid that problem. I am currently looking into the possibility of also suing for the rights to Anna Nicole Smith’s deceased body. I do not really have a plan for what to do with it, but I assume having her dead body and writing a monograph on how that changes my life can still get me a job in a cultural studies program. Ok, that was mean. Maybe I should just re-read White Noise today.

As I increasingly felt that I was indeed all out of sorts, I decided to, well, get me some new sorts. So I figured what better place to look for new sorts than the place where you can get pretty much anything: amazon. Upon looking for sorts, the first things that came up, however, were a “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” T-shirt, a novel called The House of All Sorts (which I should probably read–could provide me with a possibility to inform myself about what kinds of sorts are our there before I decide to purchase new ones), as well as a DVD of Pimp my Ride. Strange. Made me think, though. Not sure if I want to look into pimping my sorts, or pimping my dissertation first. Again, it seems as though it would increase my job prospects for cultural studies departments if I put some nice rims and maybe an LCD screen that plays episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my dissertation. Ok, sorry, I will stop now.

By the way, I would like to propose a new sport called “extreme amazoning.” Two disciplines: 1) find the weirdest thing amazon sells, 2) find something amazon in fact does not sell (amazon’s seller-network included). I will put one out there: they do sell a guide for how not to get burned while trying to obtain mail order brides.

Now my actual concern for today: postmodernism. Figured when things get too complicated I need to get back to the basics. My question for you today is: where do we locate the beginning of postmodernity (i.e. the actual period, including socioeconomic changes, corresponding subjectivity, etc.)? I would like this explanation to be as precise as possible. What is the date? If there is not a precise date, what historical moment do we consider the marker? Yes, we are all familiar with Lyotard, Jameson and all those people, but when did the whole thing practically begin? By this I mean: we talk about decentered subjectivity, all of us becoming postmodern etc. If we look at postmodernity as a state of Being (in a Heideggerian sense) the question is simply: are we postmodern? Why? Why not? If so, how precisely does that manifest itself (in actual, practical consequences on the level of being)? Can anyone help bring more precision to this debate apart from quite imprecise theoretical cliches that dominate this debate. Just to put that out there: I would argue that we have not become truly postmodern when it comes to Being until recently. I disagree with Jameson on the timeline here. But there are other timelines as well (Harvey: 1973, Nick Brown: 1964, …). This is precisely what I mean by being all out of sorts. This is a very basic question with large consequences. What does it really mean to be postmodern? Is this a cultural dominant, or something emergent? When has it become dominant? May it even be over? How so? Just wondering if people have ideas here, or if you can suggest someone who has put this in writing other than the already slightly dated biggies (Jameson, Haraway, Lyotard, Hassan, Baudrillard, Foucault, Harvey, Deleuze/Guattari, etc.).



  1. Some sadly unhelpful thoughts:
    1.) Post-modernity probably began with the first cultural studies program–somewhere in Kansas, I imagine.

    2.) Poe has some ideas about how to appreciate dead women–and might provide a nice way to contextualize your Anna Nicole research. 😉

    3.) With regard to sorts–it sounds like you’re suffering from dialectical-dissertation syndrome. You’ve got to negate it and confirm your consciousness before you can again share an identity. Amazon might help here.

    I wish I actually had something useful to say about postmodernism. I remember you talking about post-fordist production. At risk of sounding vulgar, what are the constitutive economic changes in the 20th century? I guess that would be where I’d start.

  2. Ok, I actually have an answer to your pomo question, but it’s one of my home-made reductions of complexity that I normally do not share with real academics, for precisely that reason.

    Postmodernism to me is nothing but the degraded version of poststructuralism, the rationalization offered to cope with the destabilization of meaning and the loss of structure and reliability of communication. Where poststructuralism observes semantic noise, postmodernism tries to gain control of that noise by treating it as a surface phenomenon (a mosaic, bricolage, pastiche, what have you). In that sense pomo is the rationalization of poststructuralism (and completely irrelevant in that sense).

    Erm. I suppose once can see why I normally keep this platitude to myself. But I would prefer if the world got hung up in poststructuralism, and not on postmodernism (which seems to be a tilt at windmills to me).

    Change of subject.

    What’s the title of the guide to mail order brides? Do you have a link? My Amazon hit probably isn’t so hip – it’s just the odd vibrator that is still called “massage rod” (Massagestab), as though nobody knew.

    By the way, now that you have learned to use tags, you should learn to use hyperlinks (then you could have linked to the mail order brides).

    For instance, you link to Don Delillo’s novel by first copying the hyperlink, then clicking on the ‘link’ button once, pasting the URL in the prompt that comes up, producing something like this:

    to which you add the link text, e.g.

    White Noise

    and clicking the link button again so that it looks like this

    White Noise.

    P.S. posting hyperlinks in comments works differently, just paste the plain URL

  3. Damn, WP transforms my code, meaning that what you see in the post above (from “to which you…. to plain URL”) wont’t make any sense to you.

  4. Ha! Thanks for trying to educate me, though. I will try to figure it out sometime. =)

    I’ve been wrestling with this postmodernism thing all day and I am still not a lot smarter. My latest inkling is that postmodernism is in fact over. Don’t ask me why. I seem to think that it has something to do with a temporal disjoint between postmodernist imagination and postmodernity proper. But I cannot be sure that that’s what I really think. Oh boy. Am I in trouble.

  5. Just to illustrate the degree of my devastation: I have been re-reading _Anti-Oedipus_ as well as _Being and Time_ today.
    Tragic, really.

  6. Having not quite figured out the whole link think, I will just post this old-school:

    this is by far not the weirdest thing I have seen on (yes, I gave myself a 15-minute writing break for some extreme amazoning–I did see a vaginal kegel exerciser together with a penis enlarger [family pack, I guess] and the interesting thing was that you were able to buy these things used–very nice!)–but this is as far as “literature” goes not bad:

    check out the book _How to Shit in the Woods: and Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art_ by Kathleen Meyer. This book can be supplemented with _Up Shit Creek: A Collection of Horrifyingly True Wilderness Toilet Misadventures_ by Joe Lindsay.

    Figured there was a lot of shit on amazon, entered the word “shit” and *bingo*–turned shit into extreme amazoning gold.


  7. Ok, I must definitely wrote my book on Lent now.

    Maybe Koselleck, Reiner. 1989. Sozialgeschichte und Begriffsgeschichte can help

    I haven’t read it myself, but I suppose that Begriffsgeschichte has to be dealt with to when asking where an particular epoch begins

  8. hey, it’s Harvey. I now have a blog:

    and will be skulking or skunking about.

  9. I promised dispatches from the African continent and I shall delivered them:

    Ok, so postmodernism in the African context. Whilst some would undoubtedly draw out the nexus of (post) modernism with (post)colonialism, it has always seem to me that postmodernism did not have a lot to say about the majority world, or in this case Southern Africa. This is NOT, I should add, a paternalistic argument by which, in trying to overcome the tradition/modernity dichotomy (or indeed the modernity/ postmodernity dichotomy) we in fact deny the majority world any kind of modernity (or postmodernity).

    I just think that it is important to engage in a more decentralised kind of critical thinking which allows for the existence of a plethora of modernities, dominant forms of which we have always found in the global North-West. Unfortunately, the biggies do not adequately address such issues, although there are always again attempts to apply i.e. Foucauldian understandings of modernity (such as governmentality) to one or several majority world contexts.

    Which is worthwhile work no doubt, but raises the question of whether one may not need African models to describe african modernities – or indeed, more contextual, less broad (less modernist) – South african modernities, tanzanian modernities, Zambian modernities and so on and so forth.

    This same logic can be applied to a socioeconomic history of postmodernism, in these very specific contexts. I do think it is an important point to bear in mind. So finally, onwards and upwards to your question of a timeline:

    The end of the third world as meaningful category would thus come to mind for me as a transitional point (whether from modern to postmodern I could not possibly say); the rise of newly emergent economies of East Asia; flexibility of labour conditions everywhere; structural adjustment policies in the wake of the OPEC crisis…. the list goes on…

    I KNOW this isn’t what you wanted to hear but I love shaking up all that ‘critical theory’ abstractness of yours with a bit of majority world politics 🙂

  10. Oooh, I like that. I am in fact looking for some less abstract evidence and Africa seems a good place to make such arguments.
    In that respect: Harvey: Nick’s book on African drama proposes a new date for the beginning of PoMO (1964)–have not read that completely, though (don’t tell him). Why 1964?
    The concept of decentralized modernities is a nice idea–have been thinking about that myself. This would then be a theory of postmodernity that takes into account situations of “uneven development,” or what could be called the peripheries of Western modernity and postmodernity.
    Is there any use for postmodern ideology in postcolonisal systems anyway? I forget who exactly said it, but the argument there seems to be that postmodernism is really cool, but only for white male Westerners (i.e. it is only cool to proclaim the end of centered subjectivity, the nation state, etc. if you were historically allowed to have a centered identity, or a nation state). So, is postmodernism at all relevant to African politics as you have experienced it?

  11. this is exactly what I was trying to say earlier – one must not make an argument FOR alternative (post)modernities an argument DENYING the possibility of such modernities to exist simultanously with however we choose to describe what happens in a North-Western context today. PM as a western luxury etc.

    there is obviously a link between postcolonial THEORY (not living in the postcolony) and postmodernism as we are discussing it here, but the ‘post’ is and has always been, as I am sure has been argued more convincingly elsewhere, a misnomer.

    both what I have studied and what I experience here on a daily basis and what I have experienced in radically different forms in Asia and South America (and I am sure you can make this argument about the US) is the constant ruptures in, and co-existences of, forms of modernities – which in my book includes postmodernities. both in economic and cultural terms this is visible in selective in- and exclusion in world systems (as opposed to THE world system). or ‘uneven development’, although as I think I must have mentioned once or twice ;-), the word development is a difficult one for me.

    A good example of what currently dominates the news here are the debates around chinese ‘neo-colonialism’ in Southern Africa (this is in the African elite media), aka ‘a new era of South-South development cooperation’ (Western ‘civil society’ actors) aka ‘holy shit, those poor fuckers are stopping trading with us’ (US and European business interests)… and the list could go on. You can argue that all this indicates is merely a plurality of discourses, but I think it indicates significantly different experiences of…for want of a better epxression…the experience of living in the present world.

    where am i going with this? not sure, but I guess I have personally never taken PM seriously as an analytical tool in the study of African politics.

    on a slight tangent, I can spell, although my previous comments may suggest otherwise.

  12. @jetsam: think 1964 may have been NB’s birth year? Shamefully I’ve only read the Achebe chapter because I was teaching Arrow of God. Need to see how NB works with the dialectic sometime soon.

  13. Ha! So Nick is the anthropomorphization of postmodernity?
    So weird for a Hegelian.
    I am off to a LONG meeting with Madhu now, maybe I will know more after that.
    Seems like the best we can do is become more confused, but on a higher level. =)

  14. Interesting enough, I had my first introduction* to postmodernism in South Africa and in Afrikaans. Moenie bang wees vir die postmodernisme!

    But it’s true, the African experience kind of sets the picture straight. I stopped watching TV when I returned because I was disgusted at the Western worlds self-centredness and decadence.

    *the first one that I understood.

  15. I need to correct my Afrikaans, dit vereis ‘n dubbele negatie: Moenie bang wees vir die postmodernisme nie!

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