Chart for Marxism and Postmodernism

Marxism and Postmodernism   Socialism 2011   Dana Cloud

  1. Postmodernism defined: “the contemporary movement of thought which rejects totalities, universal values, grand historical narratives, solid foundations to human existence and the possibility of objective knowledge. Postmodernism is skeptical of truth, unity, and progress, opposes what it sees as elitism in culture, tends toward cultural relativism, and celebrates pluralism, discontinuity and heterogeneity” (Terry Eagleton, After Theory, 13). Postmodernism sees the “world as contingent, ungrounded, diverse, unstable, indeterminate, a set of disunified cultures or interpretations which breed a degree of skepticism about the objectivity of truth, history and norms, the givenness of natures and the coherence of identities” (Eagleton, Illusions of Postmodernism, vii).

François Lyotard: “incredulity toward metanarratives”

Baudrillard: simulacra, hyper-reality

  1. Origins (understood in materialist terms): post-WWII capitalism, history of Stalinism, 1968, history of defeats
  1. The “big 5” (minus deconstruction)
Camp Thinker Key concepts Implications
Poststructuralism Foucault Discourse, governmentality, biopower, biopolitics Anti-humanism

Relativism

Idealism

No explanatory theory

Micropolitics Deleuze Difference, lines of flight, deterritorialization, capitalism as set of “axioms” Freedom is matter of thinking differently. Resignation to status quo
Post-Marxism Laclau and Mouffe Hegemony, populism No fundamental class interests; relativism
Autonomism Negri Empire, Multitude, cognitive capitalism, immaterial labor Celebration of disorganization, refusal of grounded militancy
Queer theory Butler Performativity of gender, abjection Rejection of rights language and organizing around identities
  1. Marxist critique
    1. Idealism: Revolt against the rule of thoughts will not make reality collapse.
    2. Utopianism: One cannot conjure up a new society. Postmodernism as neoliberal utopia
    3. Anti-organization
    4. Relativism and resignation: “Lie back and think of Nike” (Wood)
    5. A world to win or Deleuze (thanks to Katie Feyh)

“No angel”: A disturbing, dehumanizing pattern

Let these facts be entered into evidence:

1. George Zimmerman was acquitted July 14 after chasing down and murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen. Zimmerman’s assumption was that because Trayvon was Black and wearing a hoodie, he was an “f***ing punk.” He was, after all, “no angel.”

2. Marissa Alexander, a Black woman in Florida, was sentenced July 18 to 20 years in jail for firing warning shots (not even aiming at a person) in self-defense against her abusive partner. The contrast with the Zimmerman case suggests that Alexander’s race, and perhaps the race of her spouse, determined the differential treatment and sentencing.

3. Larry Jackson, a Black resident of Austin, TX, was chased and shot in the back of the neck on July 26 by a police officer named Charles Kleinert. Today it was reported that the Austin Police Department is claiming that the shooting was an “accident”–even though Kleinert had no reason to chase, much less draw a weapon on, Jackson. (It was the third such police shooting this year.) Again, reporting suggests that one rationale for Kleinert’s actions was that Jackson, loitering near the bank, acted suspiciously, and that he had a record of committing fraud in 2003. Neither approaching a bank nor fraud is a capital crime. If a white man had pulled on the bank door, would Kleinert have given chase? I believe not–even though the persons who had robbed the bank earlier in the day were white. News reports insist that Jackson was “no angel”–as if one must either be guilty of absolutely no wrongdoing ever, or face death–but only if one is Black.

4. In Louisiana, a Black, 14-year-old girl in juvenile detention reported a guard for sexual abuse. A headline reporting her claim stated that she was no “little Miss Muffin,” suggesting that despite her age and the severely constrained capacity to determine her own actions, she consented to the sexual relationship. Prison attorneys argue that she “wanted to be raped.”

5. In many death penalty cases, evidence of innocence is overlooked after the original conviction, on the grounds that the defendant–in most cases, Black or brown–should die because they were likely criminals in any case. Indeed, TX governor Anne Richards, a Democrat who oversaw 48 executions during her time in office,  commented in 1993 when refusing to grant clemency to Leonel Herrera, scheduled for execution in spite of a case for innocence: “He must be guilty of something.”

I could list dozens of other cases of police executions, death row executions, disproportionate sentencing, deafness to claims of innocence, and consistent racial profiling as warrant for the terrorizing and murder of people of color. As Michelle Alexander shows in her book The New Jim Crow, the criminalization of people of color, and especially Black men, since the civil rights movement has generated a regime of segregation and vigilantism that works through the criminal justice system. To deny someone due process–of which execution by cop (or cop-wanna-be) is the most extreme example–on the argument that because they are Black or brown renders racial minority members as less than human, as threats to an orderly society, as people guilty “of something” warranting imprisonment, violation, or death, regardless of actual innocence.

The racist backlash against those making these connections has been virulent and profound. But we must stand our ground.

Office Hours (for my students in feminist theory and rhetorical criticism)

Resistance to the regulation
of women’s bodies
grows in the red chair.
We prepare for world traveling
where, like Maria Lugones said,
we learn to love each other,
to listen for the contexts of oppression,
to avoid the arrogance of the therapist,
to study the words
–and other actions–
of women resisting the colonization of everything,
including ourselves,
to recognize, like Vandana Shiva said:
The seed is both metaphor and
real life.

REMAINS TO BE SEEN: “Our Body” as ideology

Katie (who gets credit for this title), Samantha, and I got sucked into the “OUR BODY” exhibit at UT’s Stark Center, which houses a “museum” dedicated to the instillation of norms of human “fitness.” Named after fitness gurus Joe and Betty Weider, its galleries include a huge, rotating plaster cast of a statue of Hercules, a reading room featuring sports history and periodicals; its walls are graced by posters of athletes and groups of men and women working out.

The call to fitness contextualizes the experience of the OUR BODY exhibit. Only during our making our way through the exhibit did its other investments become apparent. Of course, like all exhibits, it is rhetorical, guiding spectators teleologically through its scenes. Lighting, technology, and walls of quotations from philosophers, artists, and anatomists all give dignifying credence to the display.

But there are numerous problems with this series of representations. Numerous scholars and journalists have attended to how the plastinicization of corpses as a way of preserving them for display, the selection of “fit” bodies posed in athletic endeavors, and the pedagogical revelation of “diseased” bodies all may be aligned aesthetically and ideologically with Nazism. They are bodies made to work in the name of freedom from superstition and romance. (See https://sites.google.com/site/stopbodyworlds/media-coverage/body-worlds-body-aesthetics, and the excellent rhetorical/anthropological analysis at http://blog.lib.umn.edu/sphpod/sphpod/schulte-sasse.mp3).

In addition, the gender politics of the exhibit are alarming. Almost all of the “plastinates” as critics call them are male; penises and testes dangle matter-of-factly from most, with signs identifying the penis at every one. The female body is reserved for and sequestered in the “prenatal” area, marked off with warnings about the material within being sensitive and commanding reverence from viewers. Parents are exhorted to escort their children or protect them from this content. Inside this small display, one gets a look at the female reproductive system, with strange emphasis on the vulva, labia, and even pubic hair.

Then there are fetuses suspended in plastic at various stages of development. A wall sign describes the changes in fetal development week-by-week; except for the title of the display outside, the fetus is referred to as “the baby” after the blastocyst stage. The reservation of femininity for reproduction and the reverence dictated toward gestation have clear ideological import. (At the same time, the display of fetuses–shrimplike even at 8-12 weeks–would give pause to any abortion opponent looking for ammunition.)

In other cities around the world, the exhibit has gone under a number of names and has included varying numbers of plastinates. In some exhibits, the donors of corpses and their release forms are put into the foreground. In Austin, however, there is no mention of where the bodies came from. One is struck by the fact that they are overwhelmingly male and Asian in their features and coloration. (There is something seriously disturbing about seeing a corpse holding its own removed skin draped over one extended arm.)

A little digging reveals that it is likely that the bodies in the Austin exhibit (with the exception of the fetuses, of course) are those of Chinese convicts, numbers of whom could have been political prisoners, who were executed or died in prison. There is no way that these once-persons gave their “consent” to participate in this ostensibly educational, scientific project.

According to Boston Herald journalist Darren Garnick, German scientist “Gunther von Hagens’ factory in Dalian, China’s third largest port,
reportedly employs 260 medical school grads to work the “Body Worlds” assembly line. Factory workers get $200-$400 a month to peel skin,
scrape fat off muscle and replace bodily fluids with soft plastic. Based on a presumed 40-hour work week, that comes to $1.25 to $2.50 an hour for what has to be the grossest job in the Eastern Hemisphere” (https://sites.google.com/site/stopbodyworlds/media-coverage/the-working-stiff; see also http://www.postgazette.com/pg/07175/796418-109.stm).

This fact more than any other reveals the exhibit as a for-profit enterprise mounted by the self-aggrandizing inventor of the plastinicization process. (Not incidentally, visiting the exhibit is not cheap.)

Finally, the exhibit cultivates pornographic voyeurism, which, one could argue, all such representations do. I am not embracing a scopophobic stance, however. Numbers of groups have protested this exhibit where it has appeared (notable among them are religious groups for the unavoidable materialism of the display). Given the heinous provenance of these bodies, the employment of sweatshop labor in the tranformation of them into objects, and the posing of the dead as physically fit Barbie dolls, protest is a reasonable response.

At the very least, we should encourage spectators to recognize the rhetoricity of the display and to question the conditions of its production and the social relations of its consumption.

At UT, the exhibit is called: “OUR BODY: The Universe Within.” Marketed as a display of “actual human bodies,” the display will, according to promotional material, make it so that “You will never look at your body in the same way again!” It is, according to the brochure, a “blockbuster exhibit!”

The exhortations to regard these molded, arranged bodies as “our bodies” and to learn a new way of seeing ourselves through these viscerally exposed models may cultivate identification with these anonymous others. However, it seems to me that the import of the title “OUR BODIES” is the claim to ownership, wherein property and propriety intersect.