December 23, 2003

The Post-modernists

Gary, I wasn’t sure why you called your last entry ‘style is important’.

Whether or not the late 20th century French philosophers were a bunch of academics looking for career openings doesn’t really matter. Subjective motivations aren’t strictly relevant. Individuals might being trying to save the world or become rich. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that they work within what Deleuze called a specific territory – i.e., academia. A territory is a rule-governed space. So when they came at Bataille they came at him in a particular rule-governed way.

Subjectively, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Irigarary etc were strange guests in late twentieth century Australia. But I don’t know if I agree that they were ‘eventually domesticated’. Yes, they caused turbulence within conservative ranks but that is because they stood for progressive forces, indeed progressive forces in their most revolutionary mode. The question that must be asked is, what did it mean to be progressive in the twentieth century? The answer is simple. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton represent progressive forces. They represent the progressive realisation of corporate interests. And this does not take place within some neutral territory. The actions of Blair, Clinton, Bush, Howard, etc changed the territory into a corporate territory. The French post-modernists belong within this territory. They didn’t need to be domesticated. Their philosophy is corporate to its very core.

The conservatives, like our mate W (with whom I’ve been working all year), haven’t given up on reading the classics, even if they try to read them within a post-modern framework. In particular, W saw the new administrative arrangements as a chance to teach those aspects of our literary and philosophical culture excluded from the older ‘liberal’ university. The conservatives are disgruntled bedfellows but in the end they’ll go along with the progressives.

The people in the Philosophy Department are a strange phenomenon, appearing at first glance to resist the corporatisation of the university. But it is exactly that – an appearance. In fact the liberal philosophy department has already been dismantled. Instead of a group of people representing the various divisions of the philosophy curriculum, they have a group of so-called ‘cognitive scientists’. The strange part of the process has been the preservation of the departmental structure despite this transformation. Nonetheless, cognitive science is just an element of corporate bullshit and could be readily incorporated. They’ll probably eventually decide that they don’t need so many people in one area, then goodbye cognitive science, but that’s another matter. While all this has been going on, no one has noticed that philosophy has already been done away with.

So, goodbye to the herd animal? Well, yes, but in Guilty Bataille also writes of philosophy being eternal questioning. He writes of the absence of rest philosophy fosters. It is with this absence of rest in mind that I want to question the contemporary role of the destroyers of the old. That is the source of my attitude to the post-modernists. Talking about what is wrong with analytic philosophy doesn’t have the same relevance.

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